Former Ex-Gay Spokesman Issues Formal Apology
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.
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.