Lubavitcher Chassidic Dr. Conversion Therapy Lawsuit – Is He Treating to Heal or Shaming Into Trauma- The Nature of His Practice and Religion


Lubavitcher Chassid Sues New York Over Conversion Therapy Ban

In a society where privacy is at a premium, unpopular views are shouted down in public venues, and the most personal facts of people’s lives are casually revealed on social media, the therapist’s office has been one of the last bastions of safe speech. Psychotherapy patients can converse with their chosen counselors without fear of exposure, shaming, or outside interference.

That has been changing, and a recent New York City law currently being challenged in federal court goes further than ever in dictating the parameters of private therapy sessions. The unsubtly titled “Counseling Censorship Law” prohibits mental health counselors from helping individuals with homosexual feelings or gender identity issues work to overcome them.

Unlike so-called “conversion therapy” bans in other jurisdictions – to date, 18 states and more than 50 cities and counties have enacted them – New York’s law applies not only to minors but to patients of all ages. It also carries stiff financial penalties for practitioners.

One of those practitioners, Brooklyn psychotherapist Dr. Dovid Schwartz, an Orthodox Jew and a member of the Crown Heights Lubavitch community, has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleging that the law violates his and his patients’ rights to free speech and free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. The plaintiff also assails the law’s vagueness in failing to define subjective terms like “identity exploration and development” and “change,” which makes him vulnerable to prosecution.

The city’s ban, says Roger Brooks, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) which is litigating the action, “intrudes into the privacy of a counselor’s office to censor an entirely voluntary and very personal conversation between an adult and the counselor or psychotherapist he has chosen.”

The lawsuit – like the plaintiff, his patients, and the therapy they pursue – is animated by principles of faith, specifically Torah laws and values. “[T]his case is not just about whether a menorah can go up in a public square,” says lead local counsel Barry Black, of Nelson Madden Black LLP, who is working together with ADF. “It involves the essence and core of religious practice.”

Virtually all of Schwartz’s patients are Orthodox, including many fellow Chabad adherents. A small subset of them seek his help, either initially or in the course of ongoing psychotherapeutic treatment, to deal with unwanted feelings of “same-sex attraction.” (That is the term of choice favored by Schwartz and many in the religious world, revealing a far less rigid view of human sexuality than the terminology used by the defendant and the culture at large.)

In his affidavit, Schwartz asserts that he “does not attempt to increase opposite-sex attraction or change same-sex attraction in patients who do not desire his assistance in that direction,” and “never promises that these goals will be achieved.” He further notes that some of his patients have succeeded in reducing or eliminating their unwanted attractions, while some have not or have chosen not to continue the process.

Moreover, the lawsuit stresses that the plaintiff’s counseling sessions with his patients consist solely of talking and no other interventions. This is significant because reports from New York City’s Commission on Civil Rights relied on by the City Council and cited by the defendant refer repeatedly to the fact that conversion therapy, known by its critics as SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts), has in the past been associated with electro-shock treatment, castration, and other painful practices designed to dissociate individuals from their impulses. One of the key questions the court must decide is whether talk therapy alone is a form of speech – and thus constitutionally protected – or commercial conduct, which is subject to regulation.

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A Mandatory Event, Yeshiva U’s Gay Conversion Therapist Speaks at Parent Ed. Night, Practice is Banned in Many States

Gay Conversion Therapy Provider Spoke At Parent Meeting At Prominent Orthodox School

Yeshiva University’s high school hosted a gay conversion therapist at a recent Parent Education Night, the Forward has learned.

Dr. Gavriel Fagin, who runs a Brooklyn-based counseling service, spoke to parents of students at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy, stylized as MTA, at a mandatory event Monday.

The website for Fagin’s practice, Tikun Counseling, advertises that his services include “Individual therapy for a wide range of sexual issues… These issues include… same-sex attraction.” A page on the website also lists recommended reading for “Same-Sex Attraction” — listed between recommended reading pages for Anger Management and Sexual Abuse — which includes the title “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.”

In January, New York made it professional misconduct for mental health workers to try and change a minor’s sexual orientation or identity, sometimes referred to as “reparative therapy.”

“I don’t know if there was some nefarious agenda to expose all the parents to someone who does conversion therapy,” said Mordechai Levovitz, executive director of Jewish Queer Youth, a nonprofit that works with Jewish LGBTQ people, particularly high school and college students. “But I don’t know how you can look at his website and not see that he does conversion therapy.”

In an emailed statement, MTA wrote, “The discussion on Monday night for MTA parents focused on raising awareness about the challenges adolescents today face, learning to become better listeners, and opening barriers between parents and children to make children feel comfortable approaching their parents to discuss anything they may be experiencing. At YUHSB we strive to help provide a comfortable environment for all of our students — we do not endorse reparative therapy.”

Conversion therapy is based on the premise that sexual identity can be changed through therapeutic treatment, and that heterosexuality is the preferred outcome. Conversion therapy can often cause or exacerbate mental health issues in the people being treated, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Nearly 700,000 U.S. adults aged 18 to 59 have received conversion therapy, according to a study from the Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law. Roughly half received treatments as adolescents. The practice is banned in 15 states.

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Shimon Cowan – Western Civilization, No Homosexuality, Bigotry and A Letter



Dear LM:

I have a couple of suggestions for you about the Shimon Cowan article (“Rabbi urged to face facts about sexuality”.) The suggestions are relevant if you have the ability to amend past posts. If not, just ignore them.

  • You have posted the AJN article about the reaction to Cowan’s book as a .jpg image. I have observed that it is too small to read properly at its original size and, if you enlarge it, the resolution is too poor to read it enlarged. Why don’t you upload the pdf copy of the article (which has a much better resolution) to your site and turn the jpg image into a clickable link that can be used to download the pdf or open it in another browser tab. To facilitate that, I am attaching the pdf for you.
  • Please see my comments below:

The rabbi who is the subject of the attached article from this week’s Jewish News is Shimon Cowan (son of the late former Governor General, Sir Zelman Cowan.) His extremist attitudes are the hallmark of the religious zealotry that often characterises the ‘born-again’ who either adopt religion or change their religious allegiance to (ultra-)Orthodoxy in middle adulthood.

This was the case with Shimon Cowan, and it so happened that I, unwittingly, played a tiny role in that transition of his. It was back in the distant days when I was still (at least to some degree) part of the Yeshivah community. I was in the Yeshivah shule on the evening of Tisha B’Av, and the reader, the late Reb Isser Kluwgant, noticed that I was the only one there in possession of a book of Kinnot with an English translation. (It contained the Book of Lamentations and other elegies comprising the special evening service that ushers in that fast.) He pointed to a stranger about my age and asked me to sit with him so he could follow the English translation of the service from my book. If I ever get the opportunity to remind (the now Rabbi) Cowan of that evening, I will tell him that I regret having played any part, however minor, in that transition of his, for it turned him into an intolerant bigot.

This is not a sudden conclusion that I came to from reading the attached article; I came to it gradually many years ago, and it was subsequently reinforced a little over a decade ago when I made the acquaintance of a former victim of his bigotry. She was then a Melbournite, but is now living in Israel. She goes by the Hebrew name Devorah, but that is not her birth name, for she was born anatomically male. I gradually became acquainted with her story. For years she struggled with her identity and against the body she felt imprisoned in, knowing even in early childhood that she felt female, but not knowing of the medical solutions to her very severe quandary until after attaining adulthood, when she surgically transitioned. For many years afterwards, she struggled to maintain her former allegiance to Orthodox religious belief and practices in the face of rejection by some, or at best, a cold, distant, awkward tolerance by others. But none approached the hostility with which she was treated by Shimon Cowan.

The late Rabbi Yitzchok Groner, to his credit, had issued a halachic ruling that she be accommodated in the women’s section of Chabad House services, and not be shunned or driven away. Despite this ruling, Rabbi Cowan summoned her to his house – a summons she dutifully obeyed, albeit with some trepidation, and he unceremoniously and most uncharitably challenged her motivation, bluntly asking, “why are trying to infiltrate the frum community?” To which she tearfully responded, “I’m not trying to infiltrate, I’m just trying to remain frum (observant).” By the time I met Devorah, a little over a decade ago, this was all past history for her. But I happen to know, because we remained in touch over the intervening years, that she kept trying to maintain that allegiance until only a few years ago, when the repeated rejections she encountered finally defeated her. She still identifies with Judaism, but not with Orthodoxy.

So, at long last, Shimon Cowan has had his victory. I hope to acquaint him of this fact some day and to also give him a piece of my mind about it, just as honestly as he has revealed his true mind in his new book, “Homosexuality, Marriage and Society,” which has engendered the responses reported in the attached article. If only Chabad had shown him the same kind of “welcome,” all those years ago when he was dipping his toe into Chabad-style Orthodoxy, the rejection might have changed his mind and some of those who were the subsequent victims of his acquired bigotry and intolerance might have been spared many tears.