`Ex-gay' John Paulk rejoins board of Exodus International
BY BETH BERLO | APRIL 5, 2001
Bay Windows staff
The allegedly "ex-gay" man who was once a drag queen going by the name "Candy" -- and who was caught red-handed last year cruising in a Washington, D.C., gay dive bar -- has been welcomed back into the fold at Exodus International, the umbrella organization for ex-gay groups.
After appearing on "Oprah" and the covers of several national news magazines touting his own "ex-homosexual" success story, John Paulk was seen in Mr. P's, a popular D.C. gay bar last September sitting on a bar stool chatting up some of its patrons. The incident prompted ex-gay ministry Exodus International to remove him as board chair, but now he's back in its good graces.
Identified, then photographed, by two quick-thinking Human Rights Campaign (HRC) staff members who quickly ran and got a camera after recognizing him, Paulk ran from the bar and was soon questioned by higher-ups at Exodus. In a disciplinary action, Paulk was removed from his voluntary post until further notice. But Exodus Executive Director Robert Davies announced last week that Paulk has satisfactorily met the conditions laid out when it first put him on probation six months ago and he is now back on the board.
According to Davies, that was not the first time Paulk set foot in a gay bar while serving an Exodus board member. "He admitted to being in that bar (Mr. P's in D.C.'s Dupont Circle neighborhood) at least one other time six months prior," Davies said. He reported that Paulk said he was not seeking a same-sex encounter, rather "a familiar social atmosphere similar to what he experienced 15 years ago when he was part of the homosexual community."
While the term "relapse" is often linked to gays who go through ex-gay programs and re-appear in the gay community or in a gay relationship, Davies balked at the notion that Paulk was experiencing a relapse. "I would not say he had a relapse into the lifestyle. He took a step backwards in that direction," he said. "We're a recovery ministry and like any similar type of ministry such as A.A., you're getting a lot of clients who are dealing with such deeply ingrained behavior [and] there's always going to be successes and failures. It just goes with the territory."
Paulk, 37, first gained national attention after he claimed he became heterosexual and married an alleged former lesbian and had children. His wife, Ann, has repeatedly refused to provide the names of anyone who could verify that she was ever a lesbian, leading many activists to speculate that she is merely a heterosexual woman posing as Paulk's "ex-lesbian" beard.
Besides being on the board at Exodus, Paulk is an official with the anti-gay Christian group Focus on the Family. Focus on the Family refused to comment.
"I think it's rather tragic the way Focus on the Family and Exodus handled this," Wayne Besen, an HRC spokesperson who is writing a book on the ex-gay movement and its detriments, said. "Not once have they publicly or privately, to my knowledge, questioned whether these ministries fail, and it's hurting people. They're more interested in politics."
Besen, who was one of the HRC staff members who photographed Paulk at Mr. P's, accuses both organizations of ignoring more serious questions. "And, I think it's indicative of how it has spiraled from something that was religiously based at the beginning to something more of an industry now," he said.
"We need to take a step back and ask why they got involved in Exodus in the first place," Davies said when asked why he thought there were so many incidents involving people who have abandoned Exodus and spoke out against it later.
He explained that the bulk of people that Exodus draws are usually in deep conflict with their religious beliefs and sexual desires. "We are an option for those who want to hold on to Christian belief and live in accordance with what they believe are Biblical standards of sexual behavior," Davies said. "We're here as an option for those who want to come out of homosexuality, but I think sometimes people come to us for the wrong reasons and they think it's going to be simpler and quicker than it is. They don't realize that this is going to be one of the most difficult things they will ever attempt as a Christian."
Exodus is an interdenominational Christian organization promoting the message "Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ."
Davies says when a person calls the ministry and asks for a guarantee that they'll be straight within a few years, he tells them no. "If that's their motivation, I caution them against coming here," he said. "I think the main reason that people need to come to Exodus is because they have already come to a firm conclusion that homosexuality will never be an option for them." At Exodus, he promised, they would be supported in living out that conviction. "I think the primary motivation is, `I want to live a life that is in harmony with my deepest held Biblical and religious convictions,'" Davies said.
Besen said, "As long as people are made to feel ashamed, these ministries will exist."