Once Poster Child for Ex-Gay Industry, John Paulk Renounces His Support

On the heels of Exodus International leader Alan Chambers renouncing “ex-gay reparative” therapy last year, another poster boy for the ex-gay industry has come out against the effectiveness of praying away the gay.

In an interview with PQ, a Portland, Oregon gay paper, John Paulk said: “I no longer support the ex-gay movement or efforts to attempt to change individuals—especially teens who already feel insecure and alienated.”

Paulk founded Love Won Out, an organization that ran a series of conferences around the country, supported by Focus on the Family, preaching against gays and lesbians. He was also a chairman of the board for Exodus. Paulk and his “ex-lesbian” wife Anne once appeared on the cover of Newsweek and have been on shows like Oprah and 60 Minutes to spread the ex-gay message to anyone who would listen. Paulk’s downfall began when he was spotted by journalist Wayne Besen (who now runs Truth Wins Out) at a gay bar in Washington, D.C. in 2000. He gave the weak excuse that he had simply gone into the bar to use the bathroom. Paulk soon disappeared from the ex-gay scene, though his wife still tours giving the ex-gay message.

Paulk, his wife, and their sons now live in the Portland area where Paulk runs a catering business called “Mezzaluna.” He has come back into the spotlight after he was spotted in a gay bar in Portland.

Stephen Cassell, a public relations expert and queer activist approached Paulk and challenged him to renounce his support for ex-gay therapy and speak out against it. Paulk told him he couldn’t for fear of ruining his relationship with his sons.

“I told him by not saying anything he validates the work that his wife does against our community,” Cassell recalled. “He then offered me an apology for the damage he caused if he hurt me. He was tearing up.”

Paulk repeated that apology to the paper in an email writing:

“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.”

Paulk also said, “I feel great sorrow over the pain that has been caused when my words were misconstrued.”

Feeling “great sorrow” isn’t enough for some, like Besen, who said:

“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.”

“Indeed, both Paulks should become poster children for the very real nightmare that has been the ‘ex-gay’ experience for so many LGBT people,” echoed TWO’s associate director Evan Hurst.

Paulk’s weak “I have to think of my children,” argument against a redemption tour belies the fact that he has spent too much of his time hurting other people’s children. His cowardice and unwillingness to make it right are what should make his sons ashamed of him.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)