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Fraud complaint filed against ex-gay group

The website for People Can Change, an ex-gay group.
The website for People Can Change.

A coalition of LGBT rights filed a federal claim against People Can Change, alleging the so-called ex-gay organization defrauds consumers.

People Can Change is a Virginia-based group that preys on LGBT people and their families, claiming it can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The three groups filed a federal consumer fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission arguing that PCC practices junk pseudoscience known as “conversion” or “ex-gay” therapy.

“Conversion therapy is abusive, harmful to children and we urge the FTC to join our call to ban its practice once and for all,” stated Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

The complaint alleges PCC’s advertisements and business practices, which claim the group can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, constitute “deceptive, false and misleading practices” and can cause serious harm to consumers, all in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The complaint also alleges PCC, like other practitioners in the “conversion therapy” industry, falsely claims:

  • Being homosexual, bisexual or transgender is a mental illness or emotional defect that needs to be cured — a false claim rejected for decades by the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Services have a basis in science and fails to disclose practices can lead to depression, substance abuse and suicide.

The complaint said PCC exploits highly vulnerable groups, including LGBT youth, who already experience bias and rejection at alarming rates, and uses unsubstantiated testimonials and endorsements.

PCC, according to its website, sells group coaching, telephone conferencing, webinars and “experiential healing weekend” programs, as well as refers people to counselors.

The groups asked the FTC to take enforcement action and stop PCC’s practices, as well as investigate other organizations that practice and promote “ex-gay” therapy.

“This historic complaint is not only the first clear opportunity the Obama administration has had to end these deadly practices for good, but, if investigated fully, could very well be the final nail in the coffin of the entire conversion therapy industry,” said Samantha Ames, coordinator for NCLR’s #BornPerfect Campaign.

On its website, People Can Change issued a statement calling the fraud complaint “nothing but politically motivated bullying against our community of adult men — gay, bisexual, ex-gay and same-sex attracted men — for holding beliefs and choosing life paths that are at odds with the goals of these mega-million-dollar political organizations.

“We hold no animosity whatsoever toward LGBT communities and individuals. We simply choose to walk a different path and to respond to our same-sex attractions in ways that are consistent with our faith and personal life goals rather than anyone’s political agenda. Their attack on us is an attack on our First Amendment rights to free speech, free assembly and free exercise of our faith. We deserve as much respect as anyone who is ‘out and proud,’ and frankly, we deserve to be left alone to live our lives as we see fit.”

Earlier this year, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Cory Booker of New Jersey, joined by U.S. Reps. Jackie Speier and Ted Lieu, sent a letter to the FTC urging the agency to use its authority to take “all actions possible to stop the unfair, deceptive and fraudulent practice of conversion therapy.”

The lawmakers’ request followed a Department of Health and Human Services report calling for an end to “ex-gay” practices.

“After decades of advocacy, the voices of conversion therapy survivors have carried all the way up to the highest levels of government,” Ames said.

In the states

California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia have enacted laws protecting LGBT minors from the practice of “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in more than 20 states introduced similar legislation in 2016. Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to protect youth from the practice.

— L.N.

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