FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BURLINGTON, Vt. – Truth Wins Out urged sponsors of a failed 1998 “ex-gay” advertising campaign to apologize to the LGBT community after its former poster boy, John Paulk, came out today as gay a man and offered an official apology to the people that he had harmed.
“We are pleased that John Paulk is finally taking personal responsibility and trying to undo some of the damage caused by his insidious lies,” said TWO Executive Director Wayne Besen. “This was a good first step that will help end the harm and ensure the Truth in Love ad campaign will be remembered as a monumental failure.”
In 1998, Paulk was starred alongside his “ex-lesbian” wife Anne in the cynical “Truth In Love” campaign, sponsored by more than 15 anti-gay organizations and led by Janet Folger (now Janet Porter of Faith2Action), which claimed that people could “pray away the gay.” The couple was on the cover of Newsweek under the provocative headline, “Gay for Life.” Paulk was the chairman of the “ex-gay” organization Exodus International and founded Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out program, which blamed molestation and bad parenting for causing homosexuality.
“The organizations that perpetrated this ugly fraud destroyed families and ruined lives,” said Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director Wayne Besen. “They should follow Paulk’s lead and apologize for the significant damage they caused gay people and their families. You cannot make gay people straight through prayer and therapy, but these organizations can finally be straight with the American people and admit they were wrong. Furthermore, the media that pounced on this campaign should have the decency to follow up and report the dismal results of the Truth in Love campaign.”
Paulk’s “ex-gay” career quickly declined after he was photographed in a Washington, DC gay bar on Sept. 19, 2000 by TWO’s Besen. He moved to Portland with his wife and started Mezzaluna, an upscale catering company. A TWO investigation this in December 2012 revealed that Paulk was living as an openly gay man and soliciting business from LGBT organizations, yet had not addressed his past or taken the initiative to ensure LGBT people were no longer being damaged by his “ex-gay” materials, which are still widely available on the Internet.
Paulk made a semi-apology, last week in a PQ Monthly article, but it was marred because he claimed that his toxic words were simply “misconstrued.”
Here is Paulk’s full apology.
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.
Among the groups that should apologize for the Truth in Love campaign, that ran full-page newspaper ads in several newspapers, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Miami Herald, and The New York Times, include:
Alliance for Traditional Marriage, American Family Association, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, Christian Family Network, Christian Coalition, Citizens for Community Values, Colorado for Family Values, Concerned Women for America, Coral Ridge Ministries, Exodus International, Family First, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Kerusso Ministries, Liberty Counsel, Mission America, and the National Legal Foundation.
In 2003, a TWO investigation, with the assistance of Virginia attorney Michael Hamer,
revealed that a second star of the Truth in Love campaign, Michael Johnston, was not “ex-gay” as advertised. He was meeting men online for sex in various Virginia motel rooms.
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.