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Another Former Ex-Gay Leader Recants

Jim Burroway

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?

Anyway

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.”

 

Comments

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Ben In Oakland
April 18th, 2013 | LINK

Yes. The non-apology apology. Ken Mehlman is doing something to atone. what are you going to do, Chef john?

Jim Burroway
April 18th, 2013 | LINK

I actually don’t see an apology here. He seems to be recanting his former beliefs, but I don’t take this as an apology. (Hence the headline)

Ryan
April 18th, 2013 | LINK

Why would he need to apologize? Unlike Mehlman, he didn’t deliberately deceive anyone. Mehlman hid the fact that he was gay and helped demonize other gay people for power and profit. Paulk belived he could really change. He was the one who was deceived, but the people in his church who told him this change was possible, and convinced him his soul was in peril. . Thank God he finally figured it out, after decades of self-loathing, and hopefully now he’ll be able to prevent others from following in his path.

TampaZeke
April 18th, 2013 | LINK

Ryan, Paulk has been living OUT for YEARS now. He’s known that what he promoted was not true for many years now.

Andrew
April 18th, 2013 | LINK

And again we are back to the question of “when do we forgive, and what do we forgive”? Do we try to be graceful in “victory”, or do we expect atonement for outrageous behavior before giving someone a second chance? Where do we draw boundaries?

I’ve said that it’s a case by case basis for me… on the plus side that means that we get to revisit this core question, which I think is an important part of the process, and one that will change over time, as well. On the negative, it can bleed into total subjectivity and arbitrariness.

I will say this. The question here is not one of sincerity. It’s a question of the scope and scale of harm done, and the acknowledgement of that. Saying “oops my bad” and tossing around some loose change doesn’t cut it here. What I would look for from Poulk is to put his very capable public speaking skills to good use – to hit the road, just as he did before – to communicate what he has learned, and to communicate broadly what the harmful effects of his past work were.

I don’t mean to draw comparisons in severity… but the re-integration of Germany into Western society after WWII had everything to do with making sure that the German people took an active role in accepting their role in what was done, even when it was passive (“just following orders”), and to actively work to atone (as much as anyone really could – different order of scale entirely to what we’re talking about here) for what was done – to make reparations not just in monetary terms, but actions and outreach.

With respect to those who have worked to harm our community, the contrition I expect is kind of the mirror of what was done.

And, I think we, as a community, cannot afford to think in black/white terms. We need grey spaces where we can put people to allow them to move forward from their past, but without quite welcoming them into our hearts and hearths.

Poulk has a lot to answer for here. It will take time. I’m glad to see he’s gotten started. Let’s see how he progresses from here.

Ben in Oakland
April 18th, 2013 | LINK

A good post, andrew. my only quiblle is that i dont know the man and dont wantto. so whatever he does or doesn’t do is on his own. My hope is that he will do something to undo the damage he did. If he doesn’t, and his name should cross my lips, it won’t be with approval, but with opprobrium. Same as I feel about everyone who knew he was gay and nevertheless worked to harm gay people.

In fact, for that matter, people of any orientation who have worked to harm others, and who now know they were wrong for doing it.

Ryan
April 18th, 2013 | LINK

@TampaZeke,

I didn’t realize that. That definitely changes my opinion. He’s as bad as Mehlman, then.

Soren456
April 18th, 2013 | LINK

Has ANY of these people ever made an honest recantation? I’m willing to be informed, but in my memory it has never happened.

Brandon
April 19th, 2013 | LINK

I came out at 19 in 1998, to parents who worshipped James Dobson and gave a lot of money to Focus on the Family. I had that Newsweek magazine shoved in my face, as well as plenty of material from FotF sent to me, and demands that Iattend their seminars. Paulk was a big part of that, and a big reason that my parents and I were estranged. I’ll forgive him when he gets back on the cover of a national magazine so I shove that in my parents face.

AlexH
April 19th, 2013 | LINK

Andrew said it best. Poulk needs to take his public speaking skills and turn it against Exodus Int’l and others like it. I remember him and his “wife” being featured on “20/20″ or “Prime Time” or some magazine show and they showed hideous pictures of him in drag, and he was defiantly stating that “homosexuality is a choice and could be changed” and he was the shining example.

I also know many kids who were on the street because they were thrown out of their homes who had to turn to prostitution to survive and ended up either in jail, dead, or HIV +, and all because their parents believed that this was a “choice.”

It’s not enough to just say “oops, my bad…” and move on. Think about the lives he and that repulsive organization helped destroy.

Coxhere
April 20th, 2013 | LINK

I think that this guy is still all messed up. His ambivalent, demonic behavior, feelings, and thinking are a result of the power of the good-loving-christian-hate of fundamentalistical evilgelical religions. I don’t know that this guy will ever be able to exorcize the brainwashing of his boyhood religious “tradition.”

As far as forgiveness in concerned, I think we forgive others for our own mental health, not for one to whom forgiveness is directed. I think that it is a part of the self-process of letting go. Should we ever trust him, in a word “NO.” He’s too dangerous and conflicted. But forgive, for our own inner, peace of mind, I think we might think about forgiveness. For some, it might not be an appropriate thing to do. But, for me, due to all the anger and rage I carry around inside myself because of homophobia, I need to at least attempt to forgive.

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