HRC Calls On Far Right To Stop Promoting Fraudulent “Ex-Gay” Ministries After Series Of Public Embarassments and Failures

Premier “Ex-Gay” Spokesman Dismissed From Exodus Leadership After Trip to D.C. Gay Bar

WASHINGTON–Exodus International, the worldwide umbrella group for “ex-gay” ministries, removed John Paulk this week from his leadership position after the group acknowledged he misled the organization about a trip he made to a Washington gay bar. Paulk’s demise follows the coming out of another prominent “ex-gay” leader in August. In light of these recent failures, the Human Rights Campaign calls on the far right to stop promoting these harmful ministries that have ruined the lives of many gay and lesbian Americans.

“The far-right has been anything but straight in their deceptive, politically motivated promotion of these failed ‘ex-gay’ ministries,” said HRC Associate Director of Communications Wayne Besen. “The ‘ex-gay’ myth has been unmasked and we call on the far right to take the moral highroad and abandon these programs that have caused a great deal of harm to those unfortunate enough to have been seduced by their lies.”

Earlier this week, the Exodus board of directors disciplined Paulk by voting to remove him as board chairman. According to an Exodus press release, he will be able to remain on the board, but he will no longer be able to vote or attend meetings. Paulk’s troubles began after he was discovered in a gay bar on Sept. 19 by three HRC staffers. Paulk originally told Atlanta gay newspaper Southern Voice, and later Newsweek, that he did not know the establishment was gay and had stopped by to “use the bathroom.” However, the story was subject to speculation after witnesses said Paulk was in the bar for nearly an hour.

“That statement was widely doubted by both other Exodus leaders and by the gay community,” said Exodus Director Bob Davies in a press release. “John’s unwillingness to tell the truth from the beginning was most unfortunate, as it has further undermined his public credibility.”

Paulk’s dismissal from Exodus leadership also puts in jeopardy his position as head of Focus on the Family’s Homosexuality and Gender Public Policy Department, according to an article in today’s Gazette, a Colorado Springs-based newspaper.

In the article, Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for Focus on the Family, said the Exodus board’s action was appropriate. He then discussed whether Paulk would still run the organizations anti-gay traveling road show called Love Won Out–where Paulk used his testimony of “change” to argue against gay and lesbian equal rights.

“I believe John eventually will be leading the Love Won Out ministry again,” Minnery said in the Gazette, clearly insinuating that Paulk was no longer in charge of this program, although he remains on the group’s staff.

Paulk first made headlines in 1998 when he and his wife–self-described “ex-lesbian” Anne–appeared on the cover of Newsweek. The Paulk’s were prominently featured that same year in a $500,000 right-wing newspaper ad campaign that appeared in major dailies such as the New York Times and USA Today. The couple also appeared on popular shows like 60 Minutes and Oprah, and Paulk is the author of, “Not Afraid to Change: The Remarkable Story of How One Man Overcame Homosexuality.”

“If the authors of ‘ex-gay’ books are failing, imagine how astronomical the failure rate is for those who are reading the books,” said Besen. “These ministries are rejected by all respected medical and mental health organizations. The only thing they had going for them was the integrity of their testimony, and they no longer have that.”

In addition to Paulk, in August, high-profile “ex-gay” spokesperson Wade Richards came out in an interview with the Advocate magazine, once again damaging the already shaky credibility of the “ex-gay” ministries and “reparative” therapists who say they can make gay people into heterosexuals through prayer and treatment.

The “ex-gay” ministries have also been recently setback by the new formation of groups of former “ex-gays” who say the ministries do not work. According to a recent Boston Globe article: “In Washington and California, ex-ex gays have created support groups and others have taken their gripping testimonies to the Internet.”

In July, the Human Rights Campaign released a comprehensive report on the “ex-gay” ministries and “reparative” therapy, “Finally Free: How Love and Self-Acceptance Saved Us From the Ex-gay Ministries.” “Finally Free” is a landmark publication that features the personal stories of people who have survived the “ex-gay” ministries and have come forward to expose the harm done by these groups.

The “ex-gay” ministries have long been embroiled in embarrassing episodes of scandal and failure, says HRC. Gary Cooper and Michael Bussee, who helped found Exodus, fell in love with each other while counseling other gay men. They left their wives for each other in 1979, and wore matching wedding bands until Cooper’s death several years ago.

In 1998, according to a July Los Angeles Times article, a La Mirada, Calif. family sued Desert Stream Ministries, alleging that a minister had sexually abused a teenager while the youth was undergoing religious therapy to turn him from his homosexuality. The family settled its lawsuit against the ministry last fall for an undisclosed sum.

Additionally, the onetime leader of Homosexuals Anonymous, Colin Cook, was ousted for having sex with male counselees.

“We urge Paulk and other ‘ex-gays’ to come out next week for National Coming Out Day,” said Besen. “We want Paulk and others to know that we will be there to help them on their journey to self-acceptance long after the Religious Right abandons them.”

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