By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Four men filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit this week against a New Jersey group over “conversion therapy,” which purports to turn a gay person straight, even as a Philadelphia-area lawmaker is hoping to ban the therapy for minors in Pennsylvania.

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“People who are gay, bisexual, transgendered…it’s part of their makeup,” says Pennsylvania state representative Babette Josephs (D-Phila).

She says that many times churches, parents, and others in authority will subject young people to the therapy, which experts say can be dangerous.  She introduced a bill in Harrisburg last month that would ban conversion therapy on those under 18.

“Minors deserve special protection,” says Josephs.  “Nothing should be done to them that’s contrary to acceptable medical practice.”

Christine Sun is deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Her group represents four men who sued the New Jersey-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (“JONAH”).  They allege that JONAH’s practice of offering therapy services to cure homosexuality are deceptive consumer fraud, which violates New Jersey’s consumer protection statute.

“When you look at the ‘scientific methods,’ they are patently absurd — the treatments such as standing around naked with other young men, cuddling sessions, beating a pillow that represents your mother with a tennis racket,” says Sun.  “We brought this case because these so-called scientific methods are junk science.”

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Sun says the conversion therapies can cost up to $100 a week for individual sessions and $60 for group sessions, offered by life coaches who are not licensed medical professionals.

She says they are suing for the costs of the therapy, as well as for the emotional damage that resulted from undergoing JONAH’s treatments.

“Our clients experienced clinical depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide and attempted suicide as a result of undergoing JONAH’s treatment,” says Sun.  “Our clients were told if they just tried hard enough they would be able to change their sexual orientation.  Of course the treatments did not work , but JONAH blamed our clients, which only caused them to become more depressed.”

Sun says the SPLC plans to file other similar suits across the country to stop the practice.

JONAH said it was preparing a written statement responding to the lawsuit.

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