Former Ex-Gay Spokesman Schools Perry On Ex-Gay Therapy
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.
Former Ex-Gay Leader Comes Full Circle
May 6th, 2014
A man of many lives, John Paulk’s first adult life began as “a prostitute, a female impersonator named Candi and an alcoholic who tried to kill himself.” At least that’s what he was saying in 1993 to fellow evangelical ex-gay audiences that love a good redemption story. His story included marrying his wife Anne, a self-professed ex-lesbian, having children, moving to Colorado Springs, and eventually becoming the head of Focus On the Family’s Gender and Homosexuality Division, and chairman of the Board of Exodus International. In 1998, he helped to found Love Won Out, a traveling ex-gay roadshow and infomercial conducted jointly by Focus and Exodus. At its height, Love Won Out staged a half a dozen conferences per year in cities across North American drawing audiences of two thousand or more. That same year, he and Anne landed on the cover of Newsweek as part of a larger billboard, newspaper, magazine and television advertising campaign promising “change is possible.”
In front of the crowds and cameras, Paulk was the image of certainty. But backstage, he was faltering. More than that, he knew he was lying.
“It’s funny, for those of us that worked in it, behind closed doors, we knew we hadn’t really changed,” he says. “Our situations had changed—we had gotten married, and some of us had children, so our roles had changed. I was a husband and father; that was my identity. And the homosexuality had been tamped down. But you can only push it down for so long, and it would eke its way out every so often.”
…“I would be in hotel rooms, and I would be on my face sobbing and crying on the bed,” he says. “I felt like a liar and a hypocrite. Having to go out and give hope to these people. I was in despair knowing that what I was telling them was not entirely honest. I couldn’t do it anymore.”
In 2000, he walked into a Washington D.C. gay bar — “not looking for sex, which is what people thought —- but because I was missing my community” — where he was spotted and photographed by Wayne Besen. That got him removed as Exodus chairman, but he remained on the board, kept his job at Focus, and he continued to be the featured speaker at Love One Out for another three years. In 2003, he left Focus, moved his family to Portland, started a catering business, and dropped out of the ex-gay world, although his wife continued to write books and appear on the ex-gay speaking circuit.
In 2013, John Paulk renounced his prior association with the ex-gay movement, and followed that a week later with a formal apology to the “countless people were harmed by things I said and did in the past. …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.” Newsweek fills out that point:
The tragedy that Paulk lives with to this day is that organizations like JONAH often specifically target minors, with summer camps and teen programs. “For 25 years I felt guilty and filled with self-loathing, trying to reject this part about myself. I’m culpable -— I spread the message that my sexuality had changed, and I used my marriage as proof of that,” Paulk says.
That marriage ended last summer. Anne Paulk remains active in the ex-gay movement, after having helped to found a break-away group of former Exodus ministries following Exodus president Alan Chambers’s acknowledgment that change in sexual orientation was not possible and banned reparative therapy. She is now the executive director of that dissident group, Restored Hope Network.
John Paulk is the latest in a line of former ex-gay leaders who have left the fold and issued formal apologies. In 2007, three former ex-gay leaders — Exodus co-founder Michael Bussee, Exodus ministry leader Darlene Bogle, and British former ex-gay leader Jeremy Marks — issued a joint apology to those “who believed our message that there is something inherently wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.” In 2011, John Smid, who used to operate the Memphis-based live-in ex-gay ministry Love In Action (since renamed Restoration Path), issued a formal apology, renounced his previous work at Love In Action, and now lives as an openly gay man in Texas. As for Exodus, Chambers apologized for “the trauma that I have caused” and disbanded Exodus last summer. Exodus’s former vice president Randy Thomas issued his own formal apology a month later.
Congratulations to the Paulks
June 24th, 2013
Usually congratulations are given upon marriage, not divorce. However, I want to offer congratulations to John and Anne Paulk for ending their marriage.
John and Anne were, in the 90’s, the public image of the ex-gay movement, appearing on television shows and on the cover of Newsweek. They were Exhibit A for the restorative power of Christ (and reparative therapy) to cure homosexuality. John was even president of Exodus International from 1995 to 2000, until Wayne Besen photographed him coming out of a gay bar.
But in recent years they have had increasingly differing perspectives. Anne has become involved in Restored Hope Network, the organization of militant anti-gay members of the ex-gay movement, while John has recanted his former claims and has apologized for the harm he caused.
To stay together would obviously not be healthy for either of them. A house divided against itself cannot stand as, indeed, the Paulk house could not. On Thursday their divorce became final.
I believe that a divorce – in this instance – is what is best for both John and Anne Paulk and that they will be both much happier. I wish them both congratulations and best wishes for their future apart.
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.
Another Former Ex-Gay Leader Recants
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.”