John Paulk, one of the leading spokesmen for the “ex-gay” movement for two decades, has an article in Politico Magazine explaining why he left the movement and went back to being what he was all along, which is a gay man. His (presumably soon-to-be ex) wife continues to pretend God magically turned her straight.
There was a time in my life when I used to sound a lot like Rick Perry. In fact, for more than ten years I was one of the nation’s leading spokesmen for the “ex-gay” movement. I traveled the country telling audiences that being gay was a preventable condition, and it could be treated if only you followed a simple plan, obeyed God and sought repentance for your sins. “Ladies and gentlemen, homosexuality is not a genetic, inborn condition,” I would say. “It is the result of traceable causes that, once unraveled, can bring about understanding and transformation in the life of one who is motivated and submitted to God.”
Oh, I was a believer: Homosexuality was just WRONG. And I was Exhibit A, a self-declared convert who had managed to overcome my own shameful gay past. I even appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine in 1998, posing alongside my wife as a poster boy for “going straight.” And I was happy to do it: Those stories gave me a national platform to advocate for what is called “gay reparative therapy”—basically, convincing gay people that they were sexually “broken” and could be provided with a way to change. My wife Anne—herself an ex-lesbian—and our three sons were often put forward as evidence of how to accomplish this. Anne and I even wrote a book together preaching the gay-to-straight gospel, Love Won Out: How God’s Love Helped 2 People Leave Homosexuality and Find Each Other.
But I was in denial. It wasn’t in fact true, any of it. Worse than being wrong, it was harmful to many people—and caused me years of pain in my own life. Which is why I have this to say to the Rick Perrys of the world: You don’t understand this issue. At all…
Luckily, it’s true that across our nation, life is dramatically and rapidly improving for gay people, and it’s encouraging that same-sex marriage has found favor in courts across the land, and is coming to be viewed as legitimate by a majority of Americans, according to polls. But we are not through yet. As long as this widespread misunderstanding in the straight world about homosexuality persists, that it is a choice or a “lifestyle,” as Perry put it, not only will we never be fully accepted by society, some of us will remain unable to accept ourselves. It’s internalized homophobia: you hate what you are. It is a form of self-inflicted torture that has haunted me my entire life, and I do not want young gay women and men today to go through what I went through. I want to tell them—and Rick Perry: We are not broken, damaged, inferior or throwaways. We are created in the image of God—just like everyone else.
That last line is nonsense, of course, but I’m really glad he’s speaking out loudly and strongly against “ex-gay” therapy, which does enormous damage to young people who need acceptance, not judgment and psychological torment.