Cleary Explores JONAH Case in Honor of Pride Month

June 29, 2023

Cleary Gottlieb hosted its Pride Month celebration, “Exploring Cleary’s JONAH Case Challenging Conversion Therapy,” with Cleary partners Lina Bensman and Thomas Kessler.

Cleary partner Maurits Dolmans provided welcome remarks, associate JD Colavecchio moderated the discussion, and pro bono attorney Nigar Shaikh delivered introductory and closing remarks.

Lina and Tom, who have both been instrumental in representing the pro bono plaintiffs, provided a historical overview of Cleary’s decade-long consumer fraud litigation against Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH), a first-of-its-kind lawsuit challenging the provision of gay-to-straight “conversion therapy,” and the precedent it created for successfully challenging other conversion therapy organizations’ fraudulent and unconscionable practices.

Cleary, along with co-counsel the Southern Poverty Law Center and Lite DePalma Greenberg & Afanador LLC, represented four young men and two mothers harmed by JONAH in 2012. For over a decade, JONAH preyed on vulnerable gay men in the orthodox Jewish and other religious communities, peddling a dangerous and pseudoscientific program that did not provide the promised “change from gay to straight.” Lina’s and Tom’s trial team secured a unanimous jury verdict in 2015, and JONAH was ordered to close.

But the defendants incorporated a new organization and continued JONAH’s practices—violating the court order. The Cleary team uncovered this and obtained additional relief from the trial court, and the defendants’ appeal of that order ultimately was rejected by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

As part of these victories, the Cleary team obtained court orders excluding so-called experts who promote the false, unscientific claim that homosexuality is a mental illness—orders that can be used to fight conversion therapy in other courtrooms and forums.

Lina, Tom, and JD also discussed other pro bono efforts and advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community, in particular the firm’s work in the area of transgender rights.

Cleary is committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. The firm regularly hosts important cultural events and guest speakers whose presentations afford opportunities to broaden awareness, heighten the level of discussion, and establish a culture of inclusion at the firm. To learn more about Cleary’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, click here. To learn more about pro bono at Cleary, click here.