Monday, September 19, 2011

Eleven years ago, an 'ex-gay' leader walked into a gay bar and changes lgbtq equality

While everyone is celebrating the fact that DADT will be officially repealed tomorrow, today marks another anniversary of something in regards to the gay community which is near and dear to my heart.

From Box Turtle Bulletin:

John Paulk
An Ex-Gay Leader Walked Into A Bar: In 1998, the supposedly “ex-gay” John Paulk and his “ex-lesbian” wife Anne were the centerpieces of a massive publicity push by Focus On the Family to promote the pray-away-the-gay therapy offered by Exodus International. They appeared on 60 Minutes and Oprah, as well as in full-page newspaper ads and on a 1998 cover of Newsweek. Their 1999 book, Love Won Out, became the title for a series of promotional ex-gay conferences put on jointly by Focus and Exodus International. Paulk was an employee at Focus, serving as manager of the organization’s Homosexuality and Gender division, and he had also served as Board Chairman of Exodus International since 1995.

John Paulk busted
On September 19, 2000, Paulk traveled to Washington, D.C. on Focus business when he walked into a dark and seedy gay bar known as Mr. P’s in the heart of D.C.’s Dupont Circle gayborhood. A few of the patrons there, employees at the Human Rights Campaign, recognized him immediately and watched as Paulk ordered a drink and struck up conversations with other bar patrons. One of the HRC staffers called Wayne Besen, who was also working at the HRC at the time and who had already written about the ex-gay movement. When Besen finally arrived at the bar 20 minutes later, he found Paulk on a barstool chatting with patrons. Besen confronted Paulk and tried to photograph him, but the bar’s bouncer, citing house rules prohibiting photography, stepped in and asked Besen to leave. Besen waited outside the bar and when Paulk finally came out the front door, Besen snapped another photo as Paulk was leaving.

Besen immediately called several reporters. The first to express an interest was Southern Voice’s Joel Lawson, who broke the story two days later. In Paulk’s first public statement, he claimed that he only went into the dark and seedy bar to use the restroom, despite the presence of brightly lit coffee shops and hotels with public restrooms on the very same block. Besen countered, “I didn’t know that using the bathroom involved 40 minutes of socializing in a bar and offering drinks to strangers.” Paulk was called back to Focus headquarters in Colorado Springs where he was placed on probation and removed as Board Chair at Exodus International (although he remained a member of the board on probationary status). But he somehow managed to weather the controversy. Paulk remained in his position at Focus, and he continued to be the principle organizer and featured speaker at Love Won Out conferences until 2003, when he finally decided to step down from Focus. The John and Anne Paulk are still married today. While Anne Paulk continues to write and advocate for ex-gay ministries, John no longer works in the ex-gay industry. He is instead a catering chef in Portland, Oregon.

Allow me to take it from there.

Besen not only broke the story of Paulk's "indiscretion," but used it to pen the monumental Anything but Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth - the first book of its kind to take on the "ex-gay" industry.

And the world of lgbtq equality has never been the same.

Anything But Straight was a massive success. Besen toured across the United States with his book. One of the places he stopped in was Columbia, SC where I was fortunate to meet him. It was from him that I got the idea to write my own self-published book, Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, which came out in 2007.

I had been wanting to write about religious right lies pertaining to the gay community in a way which went beyond the "ex-gay" industry for the long time. I wanted to focus on how they distort studies and rely on junk science. Meeting Besen helped give me that final push. 

Unfortunately, the book idea didn't come out as well as I expected. But a year before Holy Bullies was published, I had the bright idea to create a blog to market it.

As the book faded, the blog caught on. Five years later, it is still going strong with over 500,000 hits and a huge national and worldwide readership. And most of all, I feel that this blog is at the forefront of educating not just the lgbtq community, but the heterosexual community on the specific ways in which religious right groups demonize our community. A lot of folks are a bit more attuned to the techniques of the so-called "pro-family" crowd thanks to this blog.

I guess that when Paulk entered that bar and Besen caught him, it caused a butterfly effect which changed my world by leading me to this.

So the next time Peter LaBarbera or any of the other folks rage against what I write, I'm simply going to point to Paulk and say "it's his fault."

Bookmark and Share


«DRG» said...

Good stuff, Alvin! I remember when Paulk "fell from grace." I even had the great misfortune of attending a Love Won Out conference in Dallas around that time. I was being just as disingenous with myself as he was. Fortunately, I am free. Sadly, apparently at least, he (still) is not.

Anonymous said...

S'funny how people that we'd NEVER expect to inspire us, do.

I attribute my attitudes to a pair of former employers.