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Former Ex-Gay Spokesman Issues Formal Apology

Jim Burroway

April 24th, 2013

John Paulk, the former ex-gay leader who last week recanted his earlier beliefs in the ex-gay movement’s message that change in sexual orientation was both possible and necessary, has followed up with a more full, formal apology for the damage those messages caused:

For the better part of ten years, I was an advocate and spokesman for what’s known as the “ex-gay movement,” where we declared that sexual orientation could be changed through a close-knit relationship with God, intensive therapy and strong determination. At the time, I truly believed that it would happen. And while many things in my life did change as a Christian, my sexual orientation did not.

So in 2003, I left the public ministry and gave up my role as a spokesman for the “ex-gay movement.” I began a new journey. In the decade since, my beliefs have changed. Today, I do not consider myself “ex-gay” and I no longer support or promote the movement. Please allow me to be clear: I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people.

I know that countless people were harmed by things I said and did in the past,
Parents, families, and their loved ones were negatively impacted by the notion of reparative therapy and the message of change. I am truly, truly sorry for the pain I have caused.

From the bottom of my heart I wish I could take back my words and actions that caused anger, depression, guilt and hopelessness. In their place I want to extend love, hope, tenderness, joy and the truth that gay people are loved by God.

Today, I see LGBT people for who they are–beloved, cherished children of God. I offer my most sincere and heartfelt apology to men, women, and especially children and teens who felt unlovable, unworthy, shamed or thrown away by God or the church.

I want to offer my sincere thanks to everyone who encouraged me to take this initial step of transparency. Even while promoting “ex-gay” programs, there were those who called me on my own words and actions. I’m sure I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but they have helped me to realize this truth about who I am.

This is a life transition that has been and will continue to be, challenging. Sadly, my marriage of 20 years is in the process of ending. I want to take the time to make sure my next actions come from a place of truth and authenticity. Therefore, I’m drastically limiting my public engagement until my own personal life can be settled. After that I eagerly anticipate giving back to the community.

Finally, I know there are still accounts of my “ex-gay” testimony out there being publicized by various groups, including two books that I wrote about my journey. I don’t get any royalties from these publications, and haven’t since I left the ministry nearly ten years ago. I discourage anyone from purchasing and selling these books or promoting my “ex-gay” story because they do not reflect who I am now or what I believe today. 



John Paulk

To understand the significance of this statement, it’s important to review how deeply embedded Paulk had been, not just in the ex-gay movement in particular, but as an important spokesman for anti-gay activists broadly. Paulk first became active in the early 1990s when he appeared in the infamous 1992 video, The Gay Agenda, which was produced by the Family Research Council. That video was used with great effect by the backers of Oregon’s failed Measure 9, which would have amended the state constitution to prohibit all anti-discrimination measures or other so-called “special rights” for LGBT people. In 1993, Paulk appeared in another video, Gay Rights Special Rights, which proved highly influential as it made the rounds on Capitol Hill during the debates about gays in the military which eventually led to the  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gays serving openly. That same year, Paul was interviewed for a Wall Street Journal article in which he described his drag-queen past and successful marriage to Anne Paulk his “ex-lesbian” wife who he married the year before.

By the late 1990s, Paulk became a principle spokesman for Focus On the Family on anti-gay issues. He headed Focus’s Gender and Homosexuality division and was elected to two terms as chairman of the most prominent ex-gay organization, Exodus International. In 1998, he helped to found Love Won Out, a traveling ex-gay roadshow and infomercial conducted jointly with Exodus International, which was staged in a half a dozen cities across North American each year for the next thirteen years. That same year, he and his ex-lesbian wife, Anne, again became the face of the ex-gay movement in a massive publicity campaign that culminated in their landing on the cover of Newsweek

In 2000, Wayne Besen photographed Paulk as he was leaving a gay bar in Washington, D.C. After a brief hiatus due to the highly embarrasing public scandal, Paulk returned to ex-gay ministry, and continued working at Focus On the Family and speaking at Love Won Out conferences for the next four years. But the Paulks eventually left Focus On the Family and moved to Oregon, where John started a catering business, while Anne continued writing books and speaking on the ex-gay circuit. In the past year, Anne helped to form a break-away group of former Exodus ministries following Exodus president Alan Chambers’s acknowledgment that change in sexual orientation was not possible. She now serves on the board of directors of that dissident group, Restored Hope Network.

As Paulk’s latest statement indicates, he and Anne, who are the parents of three boys, appear to be going their separate ways, professionally as well as personally.

Comments

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Bose in St. Peter MN
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

Golly. I don’t envy his path, and I appreciate his determination to limit his ‘public engagement’.

I see a parallel between this point and my unplanned but abrupt coming out in 1993 — I was married, had known no gay people or even had encounters — making it awkward that I was outed to friends and family as “he thinks he’s gay, but not sure, and starting with a therapist,” over a 72-hour period.

I’m willing to accept that a decade-plus of deliberately compromising his own mental health for the sake of his public face and livelihood cost John dearly. It’s what gay people have learned to do for centuries, though John’s is a particularly convoluted, if not sinister, example. His process now will be slow and complex.

And yet, I also can’t think of John Paulk without acknowledging the havoc wreaked by the ex-gay movement on me and my loved ones in the 1990s and since.

A few of my closest family members responded to my coming out by devouring any ex-gay info and media they could get their hands on. They laughed off the possibility that any info on orientation originating from anywhere but extreme Christian or ex-gay sources could be trusted, or even read. They immersed themselves in the support of local ex-gay leaders and families.

For them, the perception never changed that I was the stubborn one, the defective one who refused to change or be fixed. I was the one solely responsible for first forming the marriage despite my suspicions, and then ending it, because my then-spouse would happily continue it if I became a godly ex-gay man.

It wasn’t Paulk who was interfering personally with my family, but it was the image and words of Paulk and others giving them solace, safe harbor and peace about dehumanizing me. It feels personal, and I’m OK living with it for the time being, looking forward to seeing where things go next, wishing the best for all of the Paulks.

Justice McCartney
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

I commend him for stepping forward and apologizing. I’m sad for him that it took so long. I can only remember my own self loathing when I was trying to pray the gay away. I wish he and his soon to be ex wife a happy life.

Priya Lynn
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

Last I heard Anne Paulk was still pointing to her marriage to John as proof that gays could change their orientation and lead happy heterosexual lives. Her dishonesty is profound but I suppose its in keeping with the ethics of the entire “exgay” industry.

Soren456
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

There are many people who could use this letter as a template for their own apologies. It’s a decent start, although the suicides MUST be mentioned in order to acknowledge that he knows his role in them.

But words have a way of remaining only words with these people. What he has done against us requires corrective action on his part. I’ll be more favorably impressed when I see him undoing the damages.

Mike Blanchard
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

Regardless of our collective and/or personal feelings about what this man has done, there is only one thing for the lgbt community to say:

“Welcome my brother.”

M

Mike Therrien
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

Remarkable journey. While Paulk may have done injury to many. I feel it should not escape our thoughts that he too was a victim of this insidious doctrine. I am certain he really wanted it to be true. By the dogma he felt he was an outcast. Wanting to belong he was willing to do what ever he needed to be healed, right, corrected what ever vernacular you choose. However, what he discovered as many of us do, myself included, is that we are miserable. The only thing that is truly broken is our perception of ourselves. Once we have accepted our identities and learn to love ourselves right where we are. Only then can we embrace the peace and serenity that follows. It is my sincerest hope that Mr. Paulks and those in similar situations once they have settled themselves will use the tragedy that has come upon them as a tool to teach others to ovoid such traps.

Jimcracky
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

As one who shared a similar, if much less visible pathway I was an ordained minister), I can only be happy that John has finally seen the error of his ways. So many of us bought the lie fostered on us as children that to please God we had to deny our God-given sexuality. Once you have bought that fundamental lie, the rest follows like water runs downhill because people you trust reinforce it and you so want it to be true. You stake your life on it. Now, I hope he will, as I have, invest time and energy into undoing the damaging stereotypes and misinformation he promoted. His apology is a very good start. He should next lend his national recognition to groups working to undo the damage.
Welcome, John. It’s time to get busy.

John W
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

Awesome story. Reminds me that any of us can turn around. I have to make one point, though. Homophobia is not synonymous with Christianity. My beliefs are mine It’s funny that my parents and I read the same Bible, and the Jesus they believe in is happy when they stand against homosexuality and mad that their son likes guys. The Jesus I know is happy when I’m less of a dick today than I was yesterday, hates it when i mistreat people, and spoke FOR separation of church and state. Groups like this don’t display Christianity. The mark of my faith doesn’t lie in making others believe what I believe. Much more about how I treat people who are way different than me.

Mark F.
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

Glad to see the apology. Well said.

Priya Lynn
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

John said “Homophobia is not synonymous with Christianity.”.

I think extremely few of us think it is. I hear a lot of christians complaining that many people think that way, but its really a straw man.

Richard Rush
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

John said “Homophobia is not synonymous with Christianity.”

While I would agree, the fact remains that it is fairly synonymous for a large swath of Christianity.

A poll conducted by the Barna Group, a prominent Christian polling organization, cited the perceptions among younger people of Christianity in 2007.

Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians.

Gay people did not create those perceptions. A large multitude of Christians did it all by themselves with their well-financed relentlessly aggressive campaign of persecution.

http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/16-teensnext-gen/94-a-new-generation-expresses-its-skepticism-and-frustration-with-christianity

Tara TASW
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

I agree with Soren: this isn’t a “sorry if you were offended” non-apology, but a genuine acknowledgement that he did a lot of harm. (And he did: the false promises of the “ex-gay” movement have destroyed many lives.) I hope he finds a positive direction for his life.

CPT_Doom
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

You only have to contrast the two pictures in this post, of Paulk now and on the Newsweek cover, to see the weight lifted off his shoulders. I was appalled at his earlier statement but see the real contrition in this one – more than Ken Mehlman as been able to say. Having tried and failed at the “ex-gay” thing I know the shame and guilt from failing. I can only imagine what he went through to get to this point and I am sympathetic. He hurt a lot of people, but the most hurt were himself and his kids – can you imagine the tension in that family as Mom continues her anti-gay work?

Now the best thing Paulk could do is broadcast widely how anti-gay groups continue to misuse his story.

F Young
April 24th, 2013 | LINK

Wayne Besen at Truth Wins Out is asking for the entire Truth in Love campaign that sponsored the ads to apologize.
http://www.truthwinsout.org/pressrelease/2013/04/34625/

In my view the least they could do is pay for full page ads retracting what they said and apologizing for the hurt they did.

PRESTON
April 25th, 2013 | LINK

I cannot in good faith immediately jump on the welcome wagon and accept Mr. Paulk’s apology as sincere, particularly as it took 10 years of “encouragement from others” for it to happen. I suspect it is nothing less than an attempt to once again allow him in the limelight that seems to feed his overinflated ego and low self esteem. Words without actions are of no value. Just how do you plan to give “.. back to the community.”? By discouraging anyone from “..purchasing and selling these books.”? Read between the lines is “I have a new book coming out soon that I WILL get royalties.” This is akin to Hitler telling Jewish persons, “OOPs..my bad. I’ll be turning the concentration camps into high price resorts,so make your reservations now.” Some closets need to remain inhabited.

Jim Burroway
April 25th, 2013 | LINK

Wow. That’s impressive. Preston begins arguing a contrary view which hadn’t been expressed before in this thread, and before anyone even has a chance to argue with him, he breaches Godwin’s law. Which means that he argues and loses his argument all in one comment. Congratulations Preston, you’re the most efficient commenter ever!

Priya Lynn
April 25th, 2013 | LINK

*snort* hee hee!

PRESTON
April 25th, 2013 | LINK

OK…I’ll state a more online socio-politically correct analogy. John Paulk is akin a spineless worm that needs to crawl back into the primordial ooze. Better?

chiMaxx
April 25th, 2013 | LINK

This is a huge thing. As others have pointed out, no apology can undo the damage. But the work to truly undo the damage cannot begin in earnest until the apology is made. I’m sure getting to this place was a difficult journey for John. Welcome, Mr. Paulk. Thank you for the forthrightness of your apology. Now, there’s a lot more still to be done.

Jay
April 26th, 2013 | LINK

I am glad that Paulk issued a real apology as opposed to the previous non-apology. But he did so because he was relentlessly hounded by Wayne Besen and people in the blogosphere who called BS to the non-apologies and have finally forced himself to take responsibility. I share Preston’s suspicions. Paulk is a consummate con-man. Why should we believe him now when we know his history of lies? He comes from an Evangelical Christian tradition that rewards people for having been horrible sinners. The Christians lauded him when he talked about the degradation he experienced as a homosexual prostitute. Now he expects us to laud him as he confesses to all the horror he perpetrated on US in the past. I am glad he has been exposed and has apologized. But I would not trust him any further than I could throw him.

Reed
April 26th, 2013 | LINK

Golly, who licked the red off Preston’s candy?

Priya Lynn
April 26th, 2013 | LINK

Jay, how about this:

Support him as long as he does the right thing, withdraw your support if he stops doing so.

Ashley
April 26th, 2013 | LINK

I am so happy John is now at peace with who he is, and I am so thankful he has publicly addressed the issue. I hope his bravery give other gay Christians the strength to come out and stand against ex-gay “ministries” as well!

Charles Cody
May 13th, 2013 | LINK

The man is an odious liar and con-man. Yes, he’s gay and we always knew it. His public confession doesn’t evoke compassion or understanding from me. I am not proud he is among us. He promoted the Christian bigotry against gays that still stinks up Fundamentalism to this day.

meonthissite
May 14th, 2013 | LINK

I can forgive but I cannot forget how he and his message caused such problems pain and mental anguish of so many young men in the midst of spiritual crisis with nowhere to turn. These kinds of people make me sick, they go on public display spreading lies that the so called christian parents latch onto because they are ignorant and bigoted and don’t spend the time researching a subject, and then pop off the wagon train to be themselves and think it’s perfectly fine that they destroyed these lives and that a single public apology will make it all better like a bandaid!

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