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Former Ex-Gay Spokesman Schools Perry On Ex-Gay Therapy

Jim Burroway

June 20th, 2014

John Paulk used to be the head of Focus On the Family’s Gender and Homosexuality Division, and chairman of the Board of Exodus International. In 1998, co-found Love Won Out, a traveling ex-gay roadshow and infomercial conducted jointly by Focus and Exodus, which, at its height, staged a half a dozen conferences per year in cities across North American drawing audiences of two thousand or more. But after having renounced and apologized for his prior work, he is now living as an out and proud gay man. Today, Paulk addresses the controversy over the Texas GOP’s adoption of a pro-conversion therapy plank in its platform and Gov. Rick Perry’s comparing homosexuality to alcoholism in an essay in Politico:

Oh, I was a believer: Homosexuality was just WRONG. And I was Exhibit A, a self-declared convert who had managed to overcome my own shameful gay past. I even appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine in 1998, posing alongside my wife as a poster boy for “going straight.” And I was happy to do it: Those stories gave me a national platform to advocate for what is called “gay reparative therapy”—basically, convincing gay people that they were sexually “broken” and could be provided with a way to change. …

But I was in denial. It wasn’t in fact true, any of it. Worse than being wrong, it was harmful to many people—and caused me years of pain in my own life. Which is why I have this to say to the Rick Perrys of the world: You don’t understand this issue. At all.

Sure, I was gratified to hear that at an event this week, Perry appeared to regret his remarks comparing homosexuality to alcoholism. “I stepped right in it,” he admitted. But this wasn’t just some political mistake. What worries me more is the ignorance betrayed by Perry’s comments—an ignorance that I believe is still widespread among conservatives in the straight world—about what being gay means. The kind of ignorance revealed by those in Perry’s Texas Republican Party who recently inserted a plank in their party platform declaring homosexuality to be a “chosen behavior” and recognizing the “legitimacy and efficacy” of gay reparative therapy. … It is a form of self-inflicted torture that has haunted me my entire life, and I do not want young gay women and men today to go through what I went through. I want to tell them—and Rick Perry: We are not broken, damaged, inferior or throwaways. We are created in the image of God—just like everyone else.

The whole essay, of course, is not addressed just to Rick Perry. It just starts out that way. It’s mainly a very close-up and personal account of what it was like to be in the ex-gay movement’s leadership from the inside:

For all my public rhetoric, I was never one bit less gay. Behind closed doors, many of us in the “ex-gay” leadership at Focus on the Family would even admit this to each other — and we had this conversation many times: “We know our orientation hasn’t really changed. What has changed is our behavior. Our way of life. How we see ourselves. Our sexuality has not changed.”

You really should read the whole thing.

Comments

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Eric Payne
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

And, like Beetlejuice, he appears.

A month or so ago, when the ex ex-gay voice(s) last appeared, I noted they would be re-appearing when they needed their media”fix.”

Yesterday, it was Alan Chambers and the “it’s been a year since Exodus closed down!” observation made by BTB. Today, it’s Paulik.

Don’t these guys have the good graces to just live their lives now in anonymity?

Ben in oakland
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Eric, better that they live their lives in atonement. and at least, Paulk is being explicit about the lies he told.

Eric Payne
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Ben — They want to atone? Fine.

They should all track down five men they had a personal hand in “counseling” who had their lives ruined by the failure to become straight… then they open their checbooks and they pay damages — just as they’d do if all they did was break a vase or run into their car.

Jay
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Eric, the world doesn’t work that way. Learn to deal with it. The best thing people like Paulk can do is repudiate their former rhetoric and shed light on those lies. By doing so, they can help prevent the kind of harm they once helped cause.

Besides, we don’t know what kind of personal apologies Paulk, Chambers, etc. have made to the individuals they hurt. That’s not our business, anyway. That’s between them and those specific individuals.

Eric Payne
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Actually, Jay, that’s exactly how the world works — when a party intentionally inflicts damage, that party makes recompense to the damaged party in an attempt to make the damaged party whole.

Exodus, Paulik and Chambers, both as individuals and as an organization, intentionally inflicted additional damages on men who were, arguably, already “damed” in terms of their sexual orientations and physical attractions. They, as individuals and as an organization, publicly rebuked and ridiculed men who renounced “reparative therapy.”

They did all this, according to their own admission, knowing they were, essentially, peddling spiritual snake-oil.

So, yes, they owe reparations. That’s what responsible adults do when they damage what belongs to someone else.

Timothy Kincaid
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

I commend Paulk for publicly seeking to refute the lies that he once told – both to himself and to the public. I commend him for moving his life out of the public sphere and finding a fulfilling career. I commend him for his openness to the pain he caused. I commend him for making himself available to those he once hurt – though he had no idea at the time that he was doing so.

I’ve erred in the past. I suspect we all have. I accept his apologies and am happy for him.

Regan DuCasse
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

He’s in serious contrast to those gay men and women still selling the ex gay bit.
Like Matt Moore.

I get Moore’s essays in emails, and comment on his threads. He recently was so proud of himself going to a high school and extolling his experience with Jesus as a gay man.
He asked for support for another project he’s working on, and he emailed me directly.
This time, there was some smugness in his response.
That I was ‘angry, bitter and upset that I didn’t have the influence on him and the young people he’s addressing”.

He gets a lot of validation from the attention he’s seeking as, what I consider, a neutered gay man.
He’s not going to attend political strategy meetings or courts.
He’s not going to challenge what is religious authority.
In other words, he knows his place and he’s not going to participate in anything that will go against those who have influence on HIS freedoms and needs.
I can forgive a gay person caught during a very weak and vulnerable time, which can be more constant perhaps than for others.
And they are tempted by the promises of faith communities.

However, I cannot when they are going along to get along, and engage young people in the very thing that’s led to so much bullying, suicide and other socially harmful problems for gay kids AND their straight allies.

These results DO make me angry. But I don’t and can’t appreciate a person like Moore using it as an epithet and insult.

As if my anger is petty and unreasonable when it comes to the very pain and isolation, and threat of physical violence that goes on with teens, especially.
And what Paulk himself was spiritually and emotionally enduring.
I could NEVER, I mean NEVER put myself up as some kind of expert on what it’s like to be gay.
But there is much in common that most people have with each other who cares about those things and empathizing.

Anger, sometimes, can be channeled into some very effective activism towards social justice.
Anger at whose foundation is love, empathy, a sense of justice and sometimes it gives one considerable courage.
Guess Moore wouldn’t know about THAT.

Regan DuCasse
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Am I being blocked from commenting?

Jay
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Eric, I was referring to your idea that, in this case, compensation would be defined as writing a check. The world doesn’t work that way.

I think it’s fair to say that most people, myself included, have emotionally wounded another person during the course of their personal lives. Throwing money at the problem doesn’t make it go away. Usually, apologies and changes in behavior are the best way to move forward.

Granted, what ex-gay leaders did was on a much larger scale, but the principles are the same. Recanting their lies and working to prevent future abuses will do a lot more good than paying people off.

Eric Payne
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Jay,

What you ignore is the intention behind “emotionally (wounding) another person during the course of (their) personal lives” and the actions of Paulik, Chambers and Exodus, International.

Even allowing for the possibility Exodus, International, believed their counseling and therapy was a success, Paulik and Chambers had first-hand knowledge the therapy didn’t, and couldn’t, work. But Paulik and Chambers continued to administer that therapy to spiritually fearful men and their families.

As kids would say; They did it on purpose!

Even children know: “When you break something on purpose, you have to pay for it!”

Jay
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

I have the sense that you haven’t lived in a fundamentalist Christian communities or organizations. It’s kind of a situation where everyone realizes the Emperor doesn’t have any clothes, but everyone is afraid of what consequences will befall them if they say it. (And, more importantly, everyone also assumes that they’re the only one who can’t see the clothes, leading to the self-perpetuating cycle of fear and isolation.)

Does that absolve Paulk and Chambers of guilt? No. But I think those of us with experience with fundamentalism, specifically with things like faith healing and ex-gay therapy, know that you don’t always peddle falsehoods out of pure greed. There’s a large culture of fear there, and there’s also the hope that if you repeat the lie to yourself often enough, it’ll be true. Definitions of “intention” become hard to define then.

Jim Burroway
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

No Regan, you’re not being blocked. I found your comment in the Spam folder and retrieved it. I don’t know why it got sent there. (Good thing I hadn’t cleared out the folder for the day!) I’m sorry for the inconvenience.

Eric Payne
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Jay,

Your feeling is wrong — I lived with my uncle, (my mother’s youngest brother) from April, 1978, until September, 1977, in Pearland, TX. He and his family were Pentacostal, and went to church every night of the week. Even after I got my own place in Alvin, they would swing by to take me to church… and if I didn’t want to go, they’d just sit out in the car — my Uncle Bobby’s Mustang — reading their Bibles, until I relented and joined them.

(A comical aside: One Friday evening, on an especially hot, humid night, I began coughing and couldn’t stop. My breathing became labored; Bobby asked me to come out to a prayer room with him to receive healing. I stood up… and immediately passed out, completely unconscious. I don’t know how long later, but I came to, opened my eyes, and saw what looked like hundreds of hands all trying to touch me. My first, and only thought before I passed out again was: GEE-Zus Christ!!. To this day, I don’t know if I vocalized that thought or not, but when I came to next, I was in an ambulance, oxygen mask on my face, on my way to Pearland Hosptal’s CCU.

I understand the “groupthink mentality” you want to drape over Paulik and Chambers. I don’t buy it. They’ve got no absolution coming from me.

Oh, and my Uncle Bobby ultimately divorced Helen, his 15-year older wife, when he discovered she had been sleeping with another church member; he’s chosen not to find out, but the daughter who celebrated her 2nd birthday during the year I lived there, May, genetically, not be his, though he chose to love an raise her. Bobby’s a good guy.

Eric Payne
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Oops… Fat fingers. April, 1978 to September, 1979.

jerry
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

**Even children know: “When you break something on purpose, you have to pay for it!”**

Many children understand that punishment can happen when they make an error. They also learn to avoid punishment by denying they had anything to do with an event.

Your idea of reparations is not realistic. How much does Paulk have to pay. How do you decide the level of damage?

Then there is the question of who else is responsible. What about all of the gay men who lived quietly with long time partners but who never admitted to being gay and who said nothing to counter the erroneous claims of the Paulks of the world?

He rang the bell and like everyone knows, you can’t unring it you can only apologize for creating the disturbance.

Jay
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

So you understand, but I still view your definition of “intention” with suspicion. And I definitely don’t think that it’s right for us to say, “You haven’t really atoned until you’ve paid people money.” Again, it’s not my business. I hope that Paulk has individually reached out to those he hurt and allowed them to set the terms for what his apology should look like. It’s not up for us to say what he should do. It’s up to the people he’s seeking forgiveness from.

L. C. Burgundy
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

I’m more with Eric. Politico having John Paulk lecture us on the stupidity of Rick Perry. Not much to like there. It does seem like a “media fix” need.

Timothy Kincaid
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

There is no reason to believe that Paulk or Chambers or any of them intentionally inflicted harm on anyone. I find that extremely unlikely; few of the ex-gays I’ve encountered were sociopathic and any harm they were inflicting on other was also inflicted on themselves.

I would find it more comparable to advocates of a fad diet who were also on the fad diet. And they all got together to tell each other how good they felt and how healthy they were and how much weight they’d lost. Until they realized it wasn’t working.

And that’s the point. They eventually realized it wasn’t working.

There’s some merit to the accusation that “they continued to push ex-gayness even after they knew it wasn’t working”. That is true… for some period of time. And then they didn’t.

But it really is only that portion of time in which they pushed a product they knew did work for which anyone has much right to be angry. I find it difficult to accuse someone of peddling snake oil for the time that they were gulping down the snake oil and genuinely thought that this snake oil was helping others and themselves.

It’s fair, I suppose, to be upset that they didn’t stop on the very moment that they realized their efforts were futile. But, for most, I doubt that there was an exact moment.

They came to realize the truth and reached a point where they were certain of the truth and their consciences wouldn’t let them continue. So they quit.

And then most needed time to heal themselves. And now we see them returning to apologize and warn others from going that direction.

I can’t tell anyone not to hate them. Those who find hatred to be motivating will do so anyway. Haters will be haters.

But as for myself, I see no point in being angry at someone who was a victim of their own unhappiness, who lied to their own selves, but who eventually healed and recanted their error.

Eric Payne
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Timothy Kincaid says:

They came to realize the truth and reached a point where they were certain of the truth and their consciences wouldn’t let them continue. So they quit.

Or, another scenario just as (and, probably much more) likely:

After stashing away enough money to live on, they quit. Then waited a year and, within days of each other, issued their public apologies. (Remember, Chambers had all but shut down Exodus at the annual conference the year before their last annual conference, when he actually shuttered the operation.)

Jim Burroway
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Re: (Remember, Chambers had all but shut down Exodus at the annual conference the year before their last annual conference, when he actually shuttered the operation)

Not really. I attended the conference the year before, and they were still going pretty strong and there were no signs whatsoever that they were on the path to closing down.

Priya Lynn
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Timothy said “There is no reason to believe that Paulk or Chambers or any of them intentionally inflicted harm on anyone. I find that extremely unlikely; few of the ex-gays I’ve encountered were sociopathic and any harm they were inflicting on other was also inflicted on themselves.”.

Yeah, I don’t think its as simple as that. They knew they were intentionally counseling people to do something that didn’t work. They may not have thought it would cause harm, but it did so they are not completely innocent of intentionally causing harm.
Further, just because you are inflicting the same harm on yourself that your inflicting on others it doesn’t mean you not guilty. The fact that you are inflicting the same harm on yourself is in no way a mitigating factor.

Timothy Kincaid
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Priya Lynn,

I was speaking as to whether the harm was intentional.

Soren456
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

To the best of my knowledge, Paulk has never uttered the word “suicides” in any of his frequent apologies.

“Pain,” yes. “Suicides”—he doesn’t seem to have noticed.

Until he acknowledges the FULL range and the worst parts of the damage he provoked (and it isn’t hidden from him), his “apologies” need always to be noted with quote marks around the word.

I can stand corrected; if anyone can direct me to a place where he’s noted the suicides, I’ll look.

Eric Payne
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Jim Burroway:

Just yesterday, you wrote of the end of Exodus, International:

(That) chapter opened eighteen months earlier when Chambers appeared at a conference of the Gay Christian Network in Orlando and acknowledged that “the majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.” He also acknowledged that he, too, was still attracted to other men (while also remaining in love with and devoted to his wife). Later that month, Chambers withdrew his organization’s support for the particular form of conversion therapy known as Reparative Therapy…

Like I said — Chanbers had already, effectively, hut down by the 2012 annual conference; at the 2013 conference, he just made it official. That the 2012 Annual Conference was “still going pretty strong” and showed no signs of “closing down” at least six months after Chambers — according to Chambers’ own public apology in 2013 — further enhances the observation Chambers was financially motivated.

Jim Burroway
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Eric. You have developed a very long record of claiming I wrote things that I didn’t write in your very short time here.

In 2012, there was no reason for anyone to believe that Exodus was close to shutting down.

If there was a straw that finally broke, it much more likely later in the spring of 2013 when Chambers sought a meeting with a group of exgay survivors and apologized personally to them. It seems that holding that meeting and agreeing for it to be taped and televised was more likely the final straw for many supporters.

Eric Payne
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Jim,

Are you saying I didn’t cut-and-paste that section directly from your piece yesterday? Really?

Go back and look at your paragraph 3 (exclude the block quotes); that paragraph begins:

The formal apology ended with a note of more announcements later that night at the conference, which we later learned was the close of Exodus’s final chapter…

Then, follow the timeline. If Chambers is saying, in 2013, that the closure of Exodus is the culmination of events that began 18 months previously, then at the 2012 conference, Chambers knew reparative therapy didn’t work, and that Exodus was a sham (though if Chambers’ apology is read, all by itself as a statement, he “knew” that for much, much longer.)

Jim Burroway
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Well then let me do some blockquoting:

Chambers had all but shut down Exodus at the annual conference the year before…

Which he had not. And that is what I’m responding to.

Exodus was still full of options in 2012.

Withdrawing support for just one particularly harmful form of conversion therapy known as Reparative Therapy is not tantamount to throwing in the towel. Nor was being honest about the prospect of change in and of itself suicidal for the organization. Courage (UK) successfully transitioned from being an ex-gay organization under the Exodus umbrella to being a neutral non-condemning/somewhat supportive religious organization to finally becoming a pro-gay religious organization over the course of several years. Exodus could have followed at least part of that path — or at least that option was still open in 2012.

From what I’ve been able to determine, it wasn’t until the springtime of 2013, when Alan Chambers agreed to meet with ex-gay survivors for three and a half hours, to listen to the groups individuals stories, apologize personally to them, and to agree for that meeting to be made public later that summer was the die truly cast.

Eric Payne
June 20th, 2014 | LINK

Jim,

You’re right — there existed the potential for Chambers to re-work the Exodus brand… but that’s not what happened, is it? Instead of working itself into a different model, Exodus’ hard-core simply began a NEW “reparative” wing in 2012, and spun it off into its own brand, free of the taint of association with the Exodus name. Then, a year later, comes Chambers’ public mea culpa and Exodus’ final dissolution.

The same claim could be made of Paulik and the “Love Wins Out” brand: the potential existed for that “tour” to re-work itself into a gay-friendly spiritual strengthening program… but the Pauliks chose another path.

Potential always exists but potential unrealized? Big deal.

Eric Payne
June 21st, 2014 | LINK

Hmmm… doing a Goigle search on “Exodus international” brings up a “home page” that’s more than a little bizarre.

http://wespeaklove.org/exodus/

It’s for the new Allan Chambers/Randy Thomas endeavor “Speak. Love.” Yet that endeavor lists itself under the headline “Exodus International.”

“Speaks. Love.” Has a mission statement which reads: “We serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about faith, gender, and sexuality; and partnering with others to establish trust, reduce fear, and inspire hope.”

Then, immediately, asks for money.

jutta
June 21st, 2014 | LINK

** Your idea of reparations is not realistic. How much does Paulk have to pay. How do you decide the level of damage? **

And to whome? And on which basis?

You need concrete persons who claim a concrete damage. And you need a clear string auf cause and effect. After all they themselves decided to undergo “reparative therapy” or their parents made them untergo it. Paulk and others just gave them bad ideas.

Ray
June 21st, 2014 | LINK

I applaud what Paulk does in this article. I hope he keeps apologizing for the rest of his life. He won’t be able to un-do the damage, but when I think about all those people who hate us, who know they are lying about us, and who will never, **ever** apologize, Paulk has a lot more integrity than they do. Imagine Tony Perkins or Maggie or Matt Barber or Porno Pete doing this. That’s right. You can’t imagine it because it will never happen. I’ll take John Paulk over those evil bastards any day of the the week.

Paul Douglas
June 22nd, 2014 | LINK

John Paulk is growing in integrity and facing his demons. I applaud his courage in renouncing his past. Leaving a cult is a lot more difficult than getting in, and people need to be given some slack as they move out. John Paulk is demonstrating he can own up to his past. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve been uncharitable, I’ve hurt people in my life and I’m not about to keep throwing stones at someone who is trying to make amends for doing the same things.

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