April 18th, 2013
John Paulk, a former board chair at Exodus International and lead spokesperson for Focus On the Family on promoting the ex-gay movement, has renounced his ex-gay past in an interview with Portland’s PQ Monthly:
Paulk’s emailed response to PQ’s interview questions suggest that he might, in fact, be moving toward accepting who he is.
“Until recently, I have struggled all my life in feeling unloved and unaccepted,” Paulk said. “I have been on a journey during the last few years in trying to understand God, myself, and how I can best relate to others. During this journey I have made many mistakes and I have hurt many people including people who are close to me. I have also found a large number of people who accept me for who I am regardless of my past, any labels, or what I do.”
Paulk continued, “I no longer support the ex-gay movement or efforts to attempt to change individuals — especially teens who already feel insecure and alienated. I feel great sorrow over the pain that has been caused when my words were misconstrued. I have worked at giving generously to the gay community in Portland where I work and live. I am working hard to be authentic and genuine in all of my relationships.”
Misconstrued? Which words were misconstrued? Were they the messages he promoted when in 1995 he was first elected to the chairmanship of Exodus International? Or when, as an employee of Focus On the Family, he launched a traveling series of conferences called “Love Won Out” in 1998, which travelled to a half a dozen cities per year for the next decade and a half, convincing parents and teens that he and his cohorts knew how to make them straight? Was it in 1998, when Paulk and his wife, “ex-lesbian” Anne Paulk, appeared as a happy cover in a major newspaper and billboard advertising campaign to promote the ex-gay community, a campaign which culminated in them landing on the cover of Newsweek?
Or was it in 2000 when the Love Won Out was making a stop in Washington, D.C., and LGBT activist Wayne Besen took Paulk’s photo as Paulk fled a gay bar near Dupont Circle, after Paulk was spotted flirting with patrons for more than an hour?
Paulk lost his chairmanship at Exodus International, but remained on its board of directors. He also, after a probationary period, continued working as head of Focus On the Family’s Homosexuality and Gender division, and he remained the coordinator and a speaking for its ove Won Out conferences until 2003. Paulk left Focus On the Family and the couple moved to Portland, where John Paulk started a catering business, Mezzaluna, in 2005.
Paulk has more or less dropped off the map since then, although his wife continues to publish books and remain active in the ex-gay movement. In 2012, after Exodus International began acknowledging to that change in sexual orientation was not possible, Anne Paulk helped to form a break-away group comprised of former Exodus ministries. She now serves on the board of directors of that dissident group, Restored Hope Network. The Paulks are reportedly separated, and former employees of Paulk’s catering service alleged that Paulk had engaged in inappropriate conduct with his employees. Others however defend him:
“Chef John is an amazing person to work for,” said Jeremy Neel, Mezzaluna’s openly gay catering captain. “He is very compassionate, friendly, caring, encouraging, and supportive…. I love my job. It is sad that some people in the LGBT community are saying negative things about him yet have not given him a chance. One’s past should not define who they are.”
Kurt Granzow, aka “Sister Krissy Fiction” of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, has a background similar to Paulk’s. “I was in the ex-gay movement and a conservative Christian minister for over a decade before I moved to Portland and came out,” Granzow said. “I’ve been trying to support John in his process of leaving that stuff behind. I remember what it was like to look in the mirror with shame and self-loathing. The process of learning to be who you are is tough. I’ve just tried to be a compassionate friend.”
Paulk still has his detractors. Besen has issued a list of demands, including that Paulk denounces the Portland Fellowship, an former Exodus International ex-gay ministry that is now affiliated with Restored Hope Network; embark on a speaking tour with LGBT advocates, and supporting an Oregon bill that would ban Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) for minors. Roey Thorpe, former director of Basic Rights Oregon, told PQ Monthly:
John Paulk isn’t just a conflicted man who hasn’t been able to reconcile his sexuality with his faith — we are all sympathetic to that and many of us have had that struggle. This is different,” Thorpe said. “Thousands of young people have been forced into religious conversion programs, shamed into believing they are sinners. Families have been encouraged to reject their children, and queer kids end up on the streets or committing suicide. Others live silently, filled with shame. This is how the Paulk family has made their living. I have dear friends who have been through hell and are still exiled from their families because of John Paulk. It’s important for people to know who they are doing business with.”
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