Burlington, Vt. – Truth Wins Out commended former “ex-gay” poster-boy John Paulk for taking an important first step in being honest about who he is, but stated that Paulk must do much more to make up for the damage he, his estranged wife and the Religious Right have done to the LGBT community over the last twenty years.
In a piece in PQ Monthly, Paulk, who has perhaps done more to hurt LGBT families than any other single person in the “ex-gay” industry, states for the record that he no longer endorses efforts to change people’s sexuality:
“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.”
While John Paulk is to be commended, after so many years, for finally being honest, Truth Wins Out believes much more needs to be done. According to Truth Wins Out Executive Director Wayne Besen, “It is not enough to simply send an e-mail that says, ‘I’m sorry.’ John Paulk must work to atone for the damage he has done to LGBT families by taking a public role in renouncing and working against the harmful ‘ex-gay’ industry by embarking on a speaking tour to show that he truly has changed. Further, he should advocate for a bill in Oregon that would ban so-called ‘reparative therapy’ for minors. Only then can he start to repair the damage he has done to countless LGBT people and their families.”
John Paulk was at one time the most well known and influential person in the “ex-gay” industry, appearing on the cover of Newsweek with his wife Anne in 1998 under the headline, “Gay For Life?” He was instrumental in forming the Love Won Out “ex-gay” roadshow, which subjected countless LGBT youth and their families to misinformation, indoctrination and lies, and which destroyed many families in the process. In 2000, Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, photographed John Paulk coming out of a Washington, DC, gay bar, and the lies began to unravel. Though John resigned from the board of Exodus International following this incident, the Religious Right continued to use the Paulks’ story as evidence that the “ex-gay” life was a fairy tale rather than a nightmare, and many LGBT people and their families have been damaged or destroyed over the years as a result.
John and his wife moved to Portland, Oregon, shortly thereafter and lived relatively quiet lives as John built a catering company called Mezzaluna, staffed by curiously attractive gay men. John and Anne didn’t really disappear from the “ex-gay” scene, though. John spoke in 2010 at the Evergreen “ex-gay” conference, and in 2012, Anne was a co-founder of the Restored Hope Network, a group of “ex-gay” ministries that defected from Exodus International when Alan Chambers began to tell the truth, that reparative therapy and “ex-gay” ministries do not change anyone’s sexuality. Indeed, Anne seemed to double down on the lie at the group’s inaugural meeting, telling the crowd:
“I never thought I would be married and the mother of three sons,” she told the eager crowd mixed with anti-gay extremists and the hurting parents of gay children.
Anne Paulk continues to propagate a false narrative of her own “ex-gay” life in order to stay in the spotlight and make money off of suffering LGBT people and their families.
During this same time period, Truth Wins Out had been receiving reports that John and Anne Paulk had split up, and that John was living as an out gay man in Portland, frequenting gay bars and propositioning men for sex. In 2012, Truth Wins Out attempted to give Paulk an opportunity to set the record straight and come out with dignity, instead of continuing the lie that his family was an “ex-gay” success story, a narrative that the Religious Right uses to this day. When that offer was ultimately refused, Truth Wins Out released the results of an investigation that showed that ongoing narrative of “ex-gay” healing in the Paulk family was fraudulent, as John had been pursuing relationships with men who worked for him, buying them things and asking them for sexual favors.
Focus On The Family and others on the Religious Right have had ample opportunity to remove the Paulks from their literature and to stop using them as poster children for the lie that “ex-gay” programs work. While John expressed in the recent investigation that he no longer wanted to be associated with his “ex-gay” past, he was unwilling to publicly correct the record, and his estranged wife has continued to peddle their false story to any “ex-gay” charlatans who will listen.
In light of John Paulk’s announcement, Truth Wins Out also calls upon Anne Paulk and the rest of the Religious Right to immediately cease using the Paulks’ story to sell harmful “ex-gay” therapy to vulnerable people. “Anne Paulk and her Religious Right cohort must immediately cease lying to people about the false ‘ex-gay Paulk fairy-tale,’” said Truth Wins Out Associate Director Evan Hurst. “Indeed, both Paulks should become poster children for the very real nightmare that has been the ‘ex-gay’ experience for so many LGBT people.”
Truth Wins Out is a nonprofit organization that fights anti-LGBT extremism. TWO specializes in turning information into action by organizing, advocating and fighting for LGBT equality.