John and Anne Paulk were the king and queen of the so-called “ex-gay” industry. Anne had appeared in the Religious Right’s 1998 “Truth in Love” campaign with a full-page ad in the New York Times headlined, “I’m living proof that Truth can set you free.” She was on the cover of Newsweek with her husband, John, who was the founder of Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out program and the Chairman of Exodus International. John had also appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America, and 60 Minutes, dissembling about how he prayed away the gay and married his “ex-lesbian” wife, Anne.
On Sept. 19, 2000 the lie abruptly ended when I photographed John in Mr. P’s, a Washington, DC gay bar.
Well, we thought the fraud had ended.
Paulk was interviewed by James Dobson on Focus on the Family radio, where the group claimed that Paulk had simply “slipped” into temporary sin. On the show, John plead for forgiveness and claimed that he had made a mistake by walking into “Satan’s Trap.”
A couple of years later, the Paulk family moved to Portland, Oregon where John started a new life as a chef and opened Mezzaluna Catering, which featured a staff of highly attractive male models. For years, the Paulks were left alone to move on with their lives.
However, they never really did move on. John spoke at a 2010 Evergreen “ex-gay” conference. Anne continued peddling the lie that one can “pray away the gay.”
Earlier this year, I debated Focus on the Family’s Timothy Dailey on a radio program. During the show, Dailey claimed that despite the Mr. P’s incident, the Paulk family was an example of an “ex-gay” success story and that John had returned to heterosexuality.
This was odd, because people had contacted Truth Wins Out claiming that John Paulk was part of the gay night scene, with a special affinity for Silverado, a gay strip club.
In Sept. 2012, Anne Paulk helped found the Restored Hope Network, a group of “ex-gay” ministries that were defecting from Exodus because its leader, Alan Chambers, claimed that Exodus did not successfully convert homosexuals into heterosexuals. While speaking at the inaugural Restored Hope Network meeting, Anne misled the crowd by exploiting her crumbling marriage from the stage:
“I never thought I would be married and the mother of three sons,” she told the eager crowd mixed with anti-gay extremists and the hurting parents of gay children.
Anne’s version of their marriage was bizarre, because several people in Portland had told me they had recently split up.
Tired of the continuing lies, I contacted John and asked him to come out with dignity, so his tale of change could no longer be used to justify anti-gay discrimination or promote “ex-gay” programs. I asked John to contact Focus on the Family and tell them the truth — that he was a gay man — so they would no longer promote his story.
John refused several offers to publicly tell the truth about his life on his own terms.
Thus, I investigated the Paulk family and found the truth. John is gay. Anne is selling a bogus story of family bliss. Focus on the Family is misleading its members by misrepresenting the facts about their “ex-gay” poster-family.
Last week I interviewed a several men, including Dan Burrell, a former employee of John Paulks:
“He said I fit a certain aesthetic image that he was looking for and asked me if I wanted to work for him,” said Burrell. “It didn’t feel right…my instinct was telling me that something wasn’t right. I just had to find out and experience it.”
And was John gay?
“He definitely was interested in men,” Burrell explained. “Was interested in having a relationship with me. I didn’t want a relationship with him. I wanted to simply work for him. But not be in a relationship with him.”
The purpose of this investigation is to have the Religious Right stop falsely portraying the Paulk family as a model for sexual conversion. To ensure that no products that contain Paulk propaganda — which includes books and videos — are sold to innocent families, and to halt the fantasy that is now being peddled by Anne at the Restored Hope Network.
We hope that this investigation will entice the Paulk family to stop lying and for John to finally live openly and honestly. But, these are the Paulks and integrity is not something that appears to be in their DNA. Indeed,the consumer fraud continues with Anne scheduled to speak March 15-16 at Janet Boynes Ministries “Power of Change” conference. No doubt, she will try to win converts by telling them about her wholesome and “healed” family.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”