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"Ex-gay movement" poster boy John Paulk renounces conversion therapy, apologizes

PORTLAND, Ore. – John Paulk, the poster boy for the so-called “ex-gay movement” for a decade, has issued “A Formal Public Apology by John Paulk” and renounced conversion therapy.

Paulk founded the Love Won Out ministry through the anti-gay group Focus on Family, appeared on countless television shows and conducted numerous interviews touting that he was converted into a heterosexual man through prayer and “ex-gay therapy.”

He married an “ex-lesbian,” Anne, and they became parents of three children.

From 1997 to 2000, Paulk was the outspoken chairman of Exodus International North America, giving him a bully pulpit for promoting the therapy practices that have been universally condemned by reputable psychology associations as being junk science.

Paulk’s reputation took a direct hit on Sept. 19, 2000, when Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen confronted Paulk at a gay bar in Washington, D.C. Witnesses confirmed that Paulk was flirting with other men. Paulk was summoned to appear at the Focus on the Family headquarters, where he eventually admitted to being at the gay bar and flirting with men. Focus on the Family and Exodus International punished Paulk for a “serious lapse in sound judgment,” triggering his downfall as a spokesman for the “ex-gay movement.”

John and Anne Paulk moved to Portland and started a catering business in 2005.

In the April 2013 issue of PQ Monthly, he said he no longer supports conversion therapy.

Today, GLAAD released “A Formal Public Apology by John Paulk” on his behalf. Here is the text:

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. 

John Paulk

Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.