The "Ex-Gay" Myth and Why it Failed Me Read More!

john-paulkJohn Paulk, once the poster-boy for Focus on the Family’s “ex-gay” organization, “Love Won Out” has written a formal apology and renounced his formal ex-gay past. In it, he writes that during his tenure at the top of the country’s most famous conversion therapy organization, his “life did change as a Christian,” but his sexual orientation did not.

Paulk has been featured on the cover of Time Magazine, and was one of the faces that I had in my mind when I was wrestling with whether to accept myself as a gay man. I eventually came to terms with my sexual orientation. Now, we learn that John Paulk has come to terms with his own.

He has been criticized heavily by Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out over the years, most recently because he apparently had been living life quietly as a gay man without recanting or acknowledging his ex-gay past. Today, John makes a critical step — not only acknowledging his past at the top of the ex-gay predator chain, but declaring that it is harmful.

“I am truly, truly sorry for the pain I have caused,” he says. John is truly a sensitive soul, and the little that I have talked with him reveals this. He’s been out of the ex-gay world for a decade now. His apology is one that will be a point of healing for the countless thousands of people whose lives were negatively impacted by the lies of the ex-gay culture of fabrication.

There will undoubtedly be those who demand more from him. There will also be those who feel he has completely rejected his faith and Christianity as a whole. For now, though, I see a man who is beginning a path to freedom — and on his way to healing. And wholeness.

For those who will still demand to have his head on a pike, I understand. The lies of the ex-gay movement have done and continue to do great harm to LGBT people all over the world. And John’s going to get hit from all sides, especially from those who see him as THE reason they began their ex-gay life, only to end up with frustration and bitterness.

My prayer is that the healing will begin — not only for John, but for everyone. For now, it’s a true encouragement to see a him take this important step. There is freedom in truth. John knows it. We all know it. Jesus said it. And now we can all begin to walk in it a little more.

Thank you, John.

The full apology is below.

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

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64 Responses to A Formal Apology from John Paulk

  1. Jerry Reiter says:

    Wow, a great step forward for the truth about LGBT people. Well done, John.

    • Aaron Ashcraft says:

      Yes, John. Well done!

    • Yeb Beirta says:

      I'm not willing to so easily give him a pat on the back. He made a living at the expense of the lives of our gay youth. His actions truly and very directly enabled the suicide and hurt of so many of our gay children. He did that knowingly and willingly and now that he can come to terms with his sexuality, suddenly everyone else is allowed to as well. Apologies without concrete action are just empty words on paper….and this man has done way too much damage toward LGBT youth to simply forgive and forget so easily.

    • His words are still out there doing their damage. Notice the "Christian" post has been eerily silent on him. They normally have a gazillion articles on all things gay, yet somehow they missed this one. Hmmmmm. Paulk needs to do more than apologize. He should be in Albany right now testifying in favor of a bill making "reparative therapy" illegal for minors. He also should donate a portion of every penny he earns until an amount equal to what he earned on the ex-gay circuit is repaid. Then he needs a job where he's completely out of the public eye and certainly not be catering gay events.

  2. Paul John Kurf says:


  3. Freedom is a beautiful thing.

  4. John, many hugs and much encouragement, and a lot of support for you in your truth. We all know that Wayne Besen, Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer, and their ilk are going to give you hell, if they can (and they will), and you'll probably have many on "our" side who will still be angry and say mean things. But I applaud your courage, and I can only just encourage you to hang in there. Your authenticity will speak for itself in time. If ever I can be of service, you can find me under my name on FB. I was extreme conservative fundamentalist for almost 30 years before my marriage failed, and I came out 15 years ago, so I have a feeling of some of the things you may god through. My heart and my prayers are with you, brother. When I made the decision to come out, the overriding theme I kept hearing in my heart was the words of Jesus: "The truth shall set you free." Much love in Jesus.

    (Note to David W. Shelton: if John doesn't follow the blog comments, please convey my heart to him.)

    • Astacia Carter says:

      Wayne Besen wanted him to come out. He is against the ex-gay "miniistry," not the men who renounce it. Perkins and Fischer are holding the standard of hate for the far right.

    • Sonny, I've passed on the message. He's getting a lot of support, which is wonderful.

    • I really do not think it's appropriate to criticize Wayne Besen. I stand by him, whole-heartedly. It is absolutely a fact that John left the movement, a movement he profited from(literally PROFITED from), and then went about living amongst 'us' as if it was all dandy, and hunky dory. He even went so far, brazenly I think, to solicit the business of gay friendly charities and persons. Wayne's criticism is absolutely fair, one hundred percent so. Once the dust has settled, and he's divorced his 'ex-gay' lesbian wife, he should(if he's strong enough, and feels comfortable) make public appearances addressing this subject, that will help people, truly help people. Then, maybe then, he can make up for some of the irreversible and reprehensible harm he contributed.

    • Jeremy, I see the importance of both — this is a major first step, and I encourage John to keep going. He has a powerful voice, and it's absolutely critical that we continue to share the truth that "ex-gay" does not work. John needs to continue his journey. But hes made a lot of progress to get to this point.

    • I accept his apology, I do. But forgetting is different then forgiving. In a way though, and I suspect it's worse for him than us on some level, he can never truly make up for what he contributed to, and what he did.

    • Yeb Beirta says:

      David, how about the lives of young gay people destroyed by what this man did? Have you ACTUALLY sat down with people who went through the pains of ex gay conversion programs? Child abuse is putting it mildly. Sadly, many kids who endured it didn't even come out alive to tell their story. Maybe if you sat down and truly listened to their horrific experiences…you'd be less reluctant to applaud and easily overlook years of systematic anti gay bullying and homophobic abuse by the likes of this man. Regardless of where he stands today, an apology will NOT even chip at the surface of the damage done.

    • Mimi Johns Bicknase says:

      Jeremy Adkison It's another person's life that has no requirement to live up to your standard. Aren't you asking from him the same thing that you hated him asking from you? Be what I think you should be. Step back, remember what you are fighting for. When I see people who hate to be judged, judging someone else, it makes what they are saying less credible to me.

    • If you want complete forgiveness go to church, I'm with the Jews, I believe in guilt. Forgetting is different than forgiving.

  5. Kathy Wilson says:

    Love you John AND David!

  6. Kevin S Wood says:

    This only proves to me as higher evidence that I cannot change myself, and furthermore there is nothing to change. I was a lost person when I began converson therapies and am becoming less and less lost as the days go by. I applaud what he did. It took courage and a great deal of strength. I only hope that others will feel the same way.

  7. And I too, would like to say "BRAVO". Well said John. Thank you. Love you.

  8. Today, John Paulk issued a formal apology via a press release distributed by GLAAD.
    for his involvement in the ex-gay movement.
    Read the John Paulk, PQ Monthly Exclusive here:
    #exgay #proudqueer

  9. Thank you, David Shelton.
    I hope the community will allow John back where he should have always been.
    I hope his soon to be ex-wife always remembers him with fondness, knowing there is nothing she could have done… and nothing he could have done if he wanted to be honest.

  10. Susan Norman says:

    "The truth shall set you friee." Thank you John for stopping living in the lie you were in. Only when we are absolutely honest about who we are can we be true Christians and true human beings! Thank you!

  11. Stefanie Zajac says:

    As a Christian I can only say…so proud of you John! You are loved…as is. Thank you for being authentic and I pray that you feel the support that is there. You are God's handiwork and let no man say otherwise.

    • Stef, my son played soccer on a team with John Pauls'

    • Oops. Let me start over :) My son was on a soccer team with his son and he's a genuinely nice guy and his wife was a sweetheart. With that being said, I think we need to clarify some definitions that are being thrown around. #1. I do not believe that reparation therapy works in 99% of cases. I believe that sexual orientation is so ingrained that you cannot just change it. However, I do think that through intensive therapy any deep seated or ingrained feeling, emotion or whatever you want to call them can be lessened to a point that they don't control your life. (If that is what you desire). #2. God does love and accept everyone as we are. He created us perfect but because we live in a fallen universe we are no longer perfect as He created us but all of us have flaws whether physical, psychological or whatever. #3. While we cannot help any of our feelings, we can help our actions. I believe the Bible clearly states that homosexual activity is a sin. Therefore as Christians I do not think we should encourage our Christian brothers and sisters who are homosexual to "be true to themselves" by acting on their feelings. Does that mean I should be true to myself and act on my feelings of selfishness? Or covetousness? Or lust towards my neighbor even though I am married? I think we need to think through what we are saying and take it to its logical end.

    • No, you're wrong. The only sexual minority in the Bible comparable to modern day homosexuals were Eunuchs, and neither the Old or New Testament cared about them. And even if it did lady, even if it did- I'm not going to allow a 2,000 year old book, from a new stoneage society that upheld the virtues of slavery, and letting your daughter be gangraped by mobs, dictate either my morality or my understanding of something as complex as human sexuality.

      Thanks, but no thanks.

    • Susan Kistler, in response to your comment, I'd like you to read this article from last night, where I discuss a similar conversation with some local pastors. Very relevant.

    • I find it particularly repugnant that after this man's pain ridden journey this woman's only response is, basically, he didn't try hard enough. * Eye roll. *

    • Jeremy, I agree — it's very easy to use theology and theory to say "he should have had more faith" or whatever. The fact is — that having walked that path of "Jesus is all I need," the fact is… He IS NOT all we need. We need each other. And we need that companionship.

    • Yeb Beirta says:

      Susan Kistler…I hope you realize it's your exact manipulative, controlling, calculating words that is responsible for the DEATH (yes, DEATH) of gay youth. You realize they are born gay, it is indeed a natural inherent trait, and you want to strip them of their ability to authentically be themselves, all to please a MAN MADE organized religious choice YOU made in YOUR life. You want gay people to suppress and oppress their emotions, and not be with the one they love, while you go get married, sanction your marriage by the state, andhave a gaggle of kids. You perfectly illustrate why I can't grasp religious gays, and why they'd want to align themselves with dictatorships like yourself. It baffles me, as my being part of the LGBT community (filled with acceptance, compassion, diversity, and freedom) far trumps the treatment gays endure by a large majority of religious ilk. Yet some go back…like battered women syndrome. To the religious people reading this: you have a right to practice your religion. You do NOT have a right to practice on others.

  12. John Taylor says:


    Here's wishing you the very best. Thank you for stepping up, stepping out and speaking out. The healing process can be just as, if not more painful than the oppression. So thank you for your courage.

  13. Danny David says:

    The highest form of honesty and trueness is acceptance of oneself. After this you can just soar as high as you can in the eyes of God and certainly the eyes of man.

  14. Martha Sherman Gerstein says:

    I'm sorry, but this is too little, too late! He should have written this when he left the public ministry in 2003 or shortly thereafter — when he knew it was all a lie.

    • Yeb Beirta says:

      Finally, someone who gets it. Let's post a picture of all the beautiful gay, lesbians, trans faces that died as a direct result of this man's practices throughout the year? An apology is supposed to erase that? No, those kids did not die in vain for us to not hold a man like this to complete accountability for his history of hate.

    • Mimi Johns Bicknase says:

      SHOULD is a cruel word…I thank God that he didn't feel so guilty or depressed that he hurt himself or something worse. The point is, we're all here on this earth to learn. We learn what we learn when we learn it, not a second before… and even then we have to go through convincing ourselves that we can live with this knowledge and also live with ourselves. I am a straight woman so I don't know how he felt but I do know that when you can bring yourself to admit to you who you are…to love who you are…and live with who you are, it is a benefit to all. When he was ABLE to do this he did this and it isn't up to anyone else on earth to decide when that is or SHOULD be. We have to remember that other people do not live their lives on our schedules.

    • Kieran Revell-Reade says:

      Ever been in his shoes? The fact he has come out now SHOULD be good enough. I struggled with my sexuality when I was younger, in a weird polar opposite, I thought I was gay when I was actually straight (yeah, I was that confused) I thought I could "wish" myself gay, you can't change your sexuality, only your mind.

  15. […] John Paulk, the former ex-gay leader who last week recanted his earlier beliefs in the ex-gay movement’s message that change in sexual orientation was both possible and necessary, has followed up with a more full, formal apology for the damage those messages caused: […]

  16. Shannon Shane Shields says:

    Two Thumbs Bud, sad that it took so long to come to that realization. but better late than never right.

  17. It's about time, thank you.

  18. Good, and thank you.

    Best of luck, John.

  19. Teddy McLean says:

    What a truely Christian act. More power to you for being exactly as God made you!

  20. Rene Siracusa says:

    I hope for light & love in John's life, and the peaceful rest that comes with being honest with yourself and others. And I hope he finds forgiveness, not only forgiving himself (if he's angry with himself), but that others forgive him, too.

  21. James Peron says:

    I first exposed the ex-gay movement in 1978, and have been opposed to them every since. But, Paulk left behind all that. It was clear for sometime that he moved away from his wrong position. I think some who continued to hound him were unfair to him and were trying to hurt him. I'm a atheist, gay, and an opponent of the fraudulent exgay movement, but I saw no reason for the personal vindictiveness that some gay activists have shown toward Paulk.

    Having escaped a fundamentalist background, when I see people struggling I know that they too are victims of that theology. I forgave Paulk a long time ago. I've watcher his career for sometime and personally think he appears, by all indications, to be a decent man, who got wrapped up in the wrong movement. Everyone makes mistakes. I'm glad to see his statement, but he had my forgiveness the moment he left that movement behind and stopped being toxic. I saw no reason to keep beating someone up AFTER they had changed.

    • I don't understand how if people can see thru the myths of ex-gay they can't see thru the lies the church says about gays and understand that is not the heart of God. Simply put, you don't have to throw the baby Jesus out because you are gay. This is about relationship, not religion.

  22. Marc Wheeler says:

    Thank you John. This is beautiful. I cannot commend you enough for saying this and I look forward to seeing what the next chapter in your life looks like as you being afresh and make amends in ways that have yet to unfold. I applaud your honesty and your commitment to rectifying a situation that truly was harmful for so many people. It took guts for you to make this public statement. The healing can begin now…. for all of us.
    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  23. SORRY, but it took you 9 years since leaving the ''ministry", to finally have the guts to acknowledge all the pain and suffering you caused, while you lived in your quiet little closet? (I know I'm in the VAST minority on this) Many will argue, it took guts, and bravo! But this is not about someone joyfully "coming out", this is a man who was our enemy for YEARS, then he lied for 9 more years. TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE!

  24. Stuart Haley says:

    He said he wasn't a prostitute, then he admitted to being a prostitute. He said he wasn't a drag queen, then he was seen prancing around Columbus and performing at the Ruby Slipper. Then he claimed that he was born again and straight. And then he got caught hustling drinks at Mr. P's. Reparative therapy works, and now it doesn't. If past behavior is an indicator of future behavior this remorse will be replaced by something else. He can't help himself. This is his illness. This is his pathology. And he is not to be believed or trusted.

  25. For Immediate Release.

    Contact: Ed Ness, Communications Director.

    The Evangelical Network on John Paulk, Ex-Gay Therapy.

    To admit that you have made a mistake is difficult for most people. Acknowledging that you have hurt people can be even harder. In such circumstances the repercussions often include a high price, but this can also be necessary in truly understanding God’s grace. John Paulk’s apology to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community for his involvement in Exodus and ex-gay or reparative therapy programs is a big step in that direction.

    Todd Ferrell, President, The Evangelical Network explained,”In 2012 I engaged in an ongoing dialog with John Paulk. It was obvious that he had been on a journey toward self-acceptance as a Christian gay man. No doubt that has been a difficult journey. Many of us have struggled with self-acceptance. I am glad that he recognizes the hurt that he has caused people in the past and is willing to publicly apologize for his past stance opposing homosexuality, and diverse gender identities.”.

    Paulk’s apology will not erase the pain suffered by many Christian LGBT people who believed the false teachings which claimed through prayer, counseling, and group therapy that their sexual orientation or gender identity would change. This will take time. Ferrell concluded, “People who were impacted by Paulk should be able to voice their frustrations, and release those emotions. It is important to remember however that we are all human. We have all made mistakes. We should reflect that Jesus taught forgiveness. Forgiveness is at the core of how we as Christians are to interact with each other including those who have hurt us. John, the road ahead will no doubt be perhaps the roughest you have ever traveled. The Evangelical Network will always be there to listen and not judge you as you move forward.”.

    Since 1988 The Evangelical Network has been a support organization for LGBT Christians and especially those who come from an evangelical background. If someone is struggling with reconciling their Christian faith with their sexual orientation or gender identity please feel free to contact us. We believe there is no conflict with being Christian and LGBT.


  26. Kathy Carter says:

    Someone said it was all a lie. Well it was all a lie for him. But that doesn't mean it is for everyone. But I have a question…..If a person has no choice over their sexual attraction is….then how do some people be both…or Bi-sexual as it were? I mean if you are born homosexual, ok…but how is one born to want both men and women? Just curious.

  27. Anyone can just apologize. Is he willing to be as much of a poster child for exposing "ex-gay" lies as he was for promoting them? He could start by flying to New York and testifying on behalf of the bill that they're trying to pass making ex-gay abuse ("therapy") on minors illegal.

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