John Paulk (born April 13, 1963) is a gay man who, from 1998 to 2003, was an advocate of the ex-gay movement and conversion therapy. In April 2013, Paulk disavowed his belief in gay reparative therapy and issued a formal apology for his role as an advocate of the movement.
He founded and led the ministry Love Won Out, which was launched by the organization Focus on the Family. From 1998 to 2003, he was chairman of the board of Exodus International North America. His 1998 autobiography Not Afraid to Change addressed his sexuality and attempts to change his same-sex desires. Later that year, after it was revealed that Paulk attended a gay bar, both organizations disciplined him, but he remained with Focus on the Family until 2003. He resigned as Exodus board chairman but continued his elected position until his term was completed. In 2005, Paulk opened a catering business in Portland, Oregon.
A native of Columbus, Ohio, Paulk attended Fort Hayes High School for the Performing Arts and The Ohio State University, where he majored in music/voice. During the late 1980s, Paulk managed Cocolat, a San Francisco patisserie owned by Alice Medrich.
Paulk claimed that he overcame his homosexuality following his conversion to Christianity, through a combination of counseling, groups, prayer, and his relationship with God. He identified himself as a heterosexual. Paulk's wife, Anne, also identified as ex-gay. John Paulk co-wrote the books Not Afraid to Change with Tony Marko and Love Won Out with Anne Paulk.
Paulk became involved with Focus on the Family, where he was manager of the organization's Homosexuality and Gender Division. In August 1995, Paulk was elected Chairman of the board of Exodus International North America for a three-year term. He was subsequently re-elected to a second three-year term in 1998. As an employee of Focus on the Family, Paulk toured the United States, speaking of his conversions at Love Won Out conferences. Paulk and his wife became the faces promoting Exodus ministries in major daily newspaper full page ads. The couple appeared on the cover of Newsweek (August 1998), when the publication covered Exodus and the ex-gay movement. That year, Christian right groups including the Family Research Council and the American Family Association spent $600,000 on advertising promoting conversion therapy.
Paulk left "ex-gay" ministry work in 2003 and moved to Portland, Oregon, with his wife and family. The couple started a catering business in 2005, and he appeared regularly in cooking segments on Portland television. In February 2015, Paulk appeared on the Food Network program Cutthroat Kitchen, hosted by Alton Brown. Paulk came in second place,.
Washington, D.C. incident
On September 19, 2000 while on a speaking tour, Paulk was seen sitting inside at the Washington, D.C. gay bar Mr. P's. A patron recognized him and contacted Wayne Besen of the Human Rights Campaign, Truth Wins Out, and other gay political action organizations. When Besen arrived at the bar 40 minutes later and confronted Paulk, Paulk denied that he was John Paulk, instead insisting he was "John Clint". Upon exiting the bar, Paulk's picture was taken as evidence that he had been in the bar. When confronted by Besen about the incident and the photographs, Paulk admitted being in the bar, but stated that he didn't know that it was a gay bar, and he had simply stopped in for a moment to use the restroom. However, eyewitnesses reported that Paulk stayed for more than an hour, flirted with other men, and—when questioned about his sexuality—said that he was gay.
Paulk was called back to Focus on the Family headquarters and questioned by James Dobson. At first, Paulk reportedly avoided giving a direct answer about the incident; however, he later confessed that he had been in the bar for the purpose of finding connection with other men. Paulk reduced his activities for six months and then resumed his position as manager of the Homosexuality and Gender Division of Focus on the Family.
An Exodus press release soon followed:
John's actions represent a serious lapse in sound judgment. His decision to enter a gay establishment for any reason opens him up to all kinds of speculation by both other Exodus leaders and also the gay community.
The incident received national headlines in newspapers and news magazines. Paulk remained in his position as manager of the Homosexuality and Gender Department until choosing to leave that position in 2003.
In April 2013, Paulk disavowed his belief in gay reparative therapy, announcing that —while he remains a devout Christian— he also identifies as a gay (not "formerly gay") man and believes that reparative therapy is both futile and harmful. He announced that his marriage was ending and he issued a formal apology for his role as an advocate of the movement.
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- Paulk, John, (Marko, Tony) Not Afraid to Change: The Remarkable Story of How One Man Overcame Homosexuality Winepress Publishing, ISBN 1-57921-097-X
- Paulk, John, (Paulk, Anne) Love Won Out: How God's Love Helped 2 People Leave Homosexuality and Find Each Other Focus on the Family Pub, ISBN 1-56179-783-9
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- "Rejecting Gay Feelings, Some Strive To Change" (Letter to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch), by Alan Chambers (President, Exodus International), June 23, 2006, retrieved from "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-02-07. Retrieved 2007-12-27.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) on December 17, 2007
- Brydum, Sunnivie (2013-04-24). "John Paulk Formally Renounces, Apologizes for Harmful 'Ex-Gay' Movement". The Advocate. Archived from the original on 2013-04-27. Retrieved 2013-04-25.