‘Ex-Gay’ Poster Boy John Paulk Apologizes for the Pain and Harm He Caused at Focus on the Family

John Paulk, the longtime leader of Focus on the Family's 'Love Won Out' 'ex-gay' ministry and former Exodus International chair has apologized for the pain and harm he caused. Paulk recently said he no longer supports the "ex-gay" movement but this is his first real apology.

PaulkSays Paulk in a post on Skipping to the Piccolo, in part:

Please allow me to be clear: I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people.

I know that countless people were harmed by things I said and did in the past,

Parents, families, and their loved ones were negatively impacted by the notion of reparative therapy and the message of change. I am truly, truly sorry for the pain I have caused.

From the bottom of my heart I wish I could take back my words and actions that caused anger, depression, guilt and hopelessness. In their place I want to extend love, hope, tenderness, joy and the truth that gay people are loved by God.

Today, I see LGBT people for who they are–beloved, cherished children of God. I offer my most sincere and heartfelt apology to men, women, and especially children and teens who felt unlovable, unworthy, shamed or thrown away by God or the church.

I want to offer my sincere thanks to everyone who encouraged me to take this initial step of transparency. Even while promoting “ex-gay” programs, there were those who called me on my own words and actions. I’m sure I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but they have helped me to realize this truth about who I am.


  1. Francis #1 says

    This is all well and nice, but time to make some amends. Serious amends. The damage ex-gay quackery has and continues to cause is not going to be washed away with an “I’m sorry”.

  2. Alex Parrish says

    This is an actual apology — much more so than the prevaricating words published here about a week or so ago. I prefer to think that people CAN really change and I hope he is given a chance to prove the truth of this apology. Good luck to him.

  3. Francis #1 says

    I mean, he’s essentially admitting he’s gay now, and now that he’s finally coming to terms with being gay, he wants to make amends with us and be one with us after all this time. He wants to be in the community when he’s devoted his life attacking it.

    50 percent of LGBTQ teens are rejected by their parents when they come out and it’s men like John Paulk that are to blame for that. Yes, the apology is nice after that BS “apology” a week ago. But it’s not enough.

  4. I'm Layla Miller I Know Stuff says

    Aesop’s Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)
    Perry 51 (Chambry 81 *)

    There was a snake who used to lurk around the front door of a farmer’s house. One day the snake struck the man’s son, biting him on the foot.

    The boy died on the spot. The boy’s parents were filled with immense sorrow and the grief-stricken father seized his axe and tried to kill the malevolent snake.

    When the snake fled his pursuer, the man hurried after him, raising his weapon, determined to strike, but as the farmer was about to deal the snake a deadly blow, he missed and managed only to cut off the tip of his tail.

    The man was terrified at the thought that he might have killed the snake, so he took cakes and water along with honey and salt and called to the snake, wanting to make peace with him.

    The snake, however, only hissed softly at the farmer from where he had hidden himself in the rocks and said:

    ‘Man, do not trouble yourself any longer:
    there can be no possible friendship between us any more.

    When I look upon my tail, I am in pain.
    The same is true for you: whenever you look again upon the grave of your son, you will not be able to live in peace with me.’

    The fable shows that no one can put aside thoughts of hatred or revenge so long as he sees a reminder of the pain that he suffered.

    Note: There is an even more detailed explanation of the story’s motivation in an Indian version of the same fable in Book 3 of the Panchatantra: when the man’s son realizes that the snake is able to bestow wealth, he becomes greedy and decides to kill the snake in order to take all the snake’s treasure, but instead the snake kills him.

  5. candideinnc says

    When I feel I have been wronged, if someone gives me an apology, I try to accept it and move on. I think in this case, we do need to move on. This man has to deal with his past. As far as I am concerned, he will have to deal with his demons. I would say, leave him alone and let him deal. I certainly would do nothing to keep him in the public spotlight. His behavior has been an embarrassment to himself and to our community. A quiet private life is something he should try to seek out.

  6. Jack says

    What you naysayers are saying that when someone has done you wrong, they might as well not have wasted their breath saying “I’m sorry,” no matter how sincere. (a): I don’t believe you don’t really want to hear those words, and (b): you merely continue the hurt by not letting bygones be bygones.

  7. Jay says

    This is a step. Sure – he spent so much time in his life devoted to “helping” gay people “come out of homosexuality”, the next step is to see him work for queer causes, particularly would like to see him either work with teens or “heterosexually married” queer individuals. He can never repair the damage he has done. He can prevent his past (in this internet society, his past is everywhere) from causing any more damage in the future.

    I accept and forgive…but I will not forget until you give an equal part of your life to repairing the ongoing damage you created for so many many people.

  8. Jordan says

    Here’s how you can right this wrong….bring back to life all the gay kids who DIED as a result of your brutal, vile actions.

    Bring them back and we’re even. Until then, you had a hand in murder.

  9. Mass T. says


    Now that society is inching closer to equality, these bigots (and in this case, former homophobic Nazis) want to sit in on the cool table.

  10. Mass T. says


    Now that society is inching closer to equality, these bigots (and in this case, former homophobic Nazis) want to sit in on the cool table.

  11. Taryn says

    So wait..all these people bitching about how an apology isn’t enough..You never hid in the closet? You were never scared and confused and convinced you’d lose everyone you love if you came out? You never ached to be so called “normal?” If you say that coming out was easy and painless and complication free, then you’re an idiot, a liar, or you’ve never done it. In order for him to have tried being “ex-gay” my bet would be he surrounded by people who told him it would cost him his soul if he didn’t try. Blaming him for reacting badly to how he was raised is asinine. It’s a very Republican thing to do. He got himself together, he wants to make things right. Instead of acting like assholes and judging him the way WE ALL hate to be judged, try rising above and embracing him, and showing the world that the LGBT community is truly a safe place where people can find support and love.

  12. Alex says

    This apology means very little to me, considering his horrific actions throughout the years, which very easily could be argued led to the destruction of life of many a gay youth.

    What are his actions going forward? ANYONE can fluff up an apology letter. This man has a lot….and I mean A LOT of work to do to even think about being forgiven for his past actions.

  13. Steve-ATL says

    I feel sorry for any apologist who accepts this apology as a sincere concern for gay youth. This man doesn’t care about gay youth. He is saying this because HE can’t fight HIS urge for penis any longer and has come to terms with the fact that he’s gay, so now that’s HE’S gay it’s okay to be gay.

    Back when gay 13 year olds were killing themselves because their families kicked them out on the streets because of this monsters claims…..he was silent and enabling it.

    Go take a seat!

  14. IonMusic says


    F-CK U you piece of dirt! Don’t you DARE compare those of us who have struggled with our sexuality to a man who made a CAREER out of persecuting gay people and gay children. You are a sick, sick, SICK soul just like him

  15. IonMusic says


    F-CK U you piece of dirt! Don’t you DARE compare those of us who have struggled with our sexuality to a man who made a CAREER out of persecuting gay people and gay children. You are a sick, sick, SICK soul just like him

  16. HM2 Matt says

    Words are worthless, actions matter.

    That said, good on him. I’m glad he’s knocked off the nonsense. Now he needs to seriously use his former stature as the “ex-gay poster boy” to denounce the anti-gay movement. He needs to work with Equality organization and use the weight he has to help the people he wronged. Public apologies are a start but, outside of gay-centrict news sites, who the hell is going to know about it? Use the political and media connections of National Pro-Equality Orginizations and I would respect him.

  17. Scott Johansen says


    There’s so many flaws in what you wrote that there truly isn’t enough space or time to combat it; but I will leave you with this: many of us may have been closeted, and fearful to come out, but it was precisely because of the actions of individuals like THIS man that we were forced to hide deep in the closet. Know the difference. Until you do, you’re correlation is insulting at best, and heartless at worst.

  18. Leo says

    Oh an apology letter? OH GOODY! All is forgiven! Thanks SO much for taking the 10 minutes to muster up this apology letter. This TOTALLY undoes the years of damage and pain you caused gay children and ignorance and hate you planted in their parents heads.

  19. Observer says


    There’s a difference between a person scared in a closet. A closeted gay person who is homophobic. And a closeted gay person who is homophobic and actively, routinely and religiously makes a living off of directly hurting the livelihood and health of gay people everywhere. That you can’t grasp the difference is rather startling.

  20. Veteran Man 1976 says

    I’ve heard way too many apologies in my 30 year queer life from bonafide hate mongering bigots to accept apologies on face value anymore.

    The LGBT community has to hear a new polished apology every day.

    From now on; apologies are a moot point. PROVE you’re sorry to our community with actions. Apologies schmopologies.

  21. morton says

    A book release is coming. I can just smell it.

    Where was he when gay people were requesting he stop making money off destroying the life of innocent LGBT? He was too busy cashing his hateful checks.

  22. DatDude says

    @ Taryn

    We must have been two very different closet cases. When I was in the closet, I knew I was gay, was struggling with it due to societal homophobia and was figuring out how to come to terms with a fact in my life. I nor any of my gay friends went around passionately belittling and bashing all gay people, and attempting to cure them of a disease. I don’t know WHAT you were doing when you were closeted, but blanket statements about gay people isn’t helping your cause.

  23. senyoreluis says

    He’s still harping about religion and making gays welcomed in the church. From personal experience, religious gays are FAR more militant about their religion ad faith than hetero religious people. My guess is, gay religious people over compensate for being gay by being supremely religious and making sure you know it, and making sure you know you can be exactly like them. Calm down. We already know we can be religious…most of us had 18 years of indoctrination in our household. We don’t need a gay guy preaching the gospel AT us in adulthood.

  24. says

    The apology, however sincere, doesn’t matter much one way or the other, except to him. And forgiveness is irrelevant, too, except to him and those around him.

    He can’t change his history and the harm he caused by being the long-time poster boy for ex-gay quackery (much different than simply being scared and closeted), which he was obviously also a victim of–now, it only matters whether he will use his voice to keep telling the truth about how ex-gay is nothing but a sick lie that inflicts injury on vulnerable young people. In that way, he has a chance to be of use.

  25. Lars says

    @Taryn, ignore the haters. People around here are much better at anger and revenge than they are at forgiveness and redemption.

    John delivered an awfully poisonous message about ‘change’ (I know, I sat through one of them in college). He made a career out of his own internalized homophobia — and that is despicable. But it does not place him beyond the realm of salvation. I’m willing to take his apology at face value (it appears sincere), and now demand that he work 10x harder to make up for all the crap her did during his ex-gay period.

  26. AG says

    @ Taryn

    You must be new here to say. “Blaming him for reacting badly to how he was raised” is NOT “a very Republican thing.” This is an essential Towleroad thing. It is a key feature of the hateful community that posts here. There’s a repugnant individual here who never misses a chance to insinuate that any gay person not agreeing completely with the latest set of the Democratic party talking points was badly damaged by his parents. Deal with this, Taryn, this is the quintessential Towleroad/Democratic thing.

  27. christine says

    We are all on separate journeys and it has to be acceptable to grow and to change. I am very proud of this man for having the strength to admit that he was wrong and the conviction to allow himself to grow. It’s never easy to admit you’ve hurt someone, usually it’s easier to stay on the wrong path and keep your inner doubt a secret. Well done, sir. Good luck on your journey through life.

  28. Rick says

    I believe some of us need to get our hate in check. When legal equality is achieved who are you going to hate then? It won’t go away and then you will destroy yourself. The importance of this guy taking a stand is the very fact of who he is and what he has done. The idiots of the world who will never liste. To the gay community has to at least listen to this man who is telling them that the system is flawed.

    Just saying if are not careful we will become just like that which we hate.

  29. redball says

    never heard of him before so now i’m wondering: did he (a FULL-GROWN ADULT) truly believe that ex-gay therapies work or was he just supporting that industry for a blood-soaked paycheck?

    either way, it’s still sick and sad, so the answer probably doesnt matter too much.

    i was just curious.

  30. says

    So why are we so determined to change hearts & minds if, once we succeed, we are going to tear people apart & refuse to help them atone for the past? Are atonement and forgiveness impossible for people like him or Ken Mehlman or others? I too share the anger, but we have to be willing to bring “defectors” of the anti-gay ranks into our ranks, once they cross over, and to help steer them toward doing GOOD instead of HARM. This feeding frenzy is really appalling, and it happens again & again in our lgbtq community.

  31. says

    So, the tide turns. Sorry, in this, as with Mehlman, I am not moved by his apology nor am I forgiving. Gays who work so hard against their own, are not, and can not be sincere. They are pariah’s. In their tenure against their own, many gays have died, not only by their own hands, but by others who may have been indirectly influenced by them or their beliefs. If some of you want to forgive, feel free, but remain hesitant. A leopard cannot change its spots. DO NOT embrace with open arms.

  32. Ed P. says

    Lord, please don’t you guys come down on me for my opinion, but it’s from my own experience. Being a Southern Baptist and a Mississippian to boot, coming out was difficult for me. Thankfully, my Dad’s comforting words to me was, “well, you’re still my son and that won’t change my love for you.” But that’s rare, at least in these parts!
    I was told by friends and co-workers to seek ex-gay therapy. I refused, saying this is who I am and I was born this way. Growing tired of the “you’re going to hell if you don’t change,” I was satisfied, confident and happy with the way I was and the direction my life was going.
    But I learned this: Those fundamentalists will not ever believe what a gay person says, as they truly believe gays can be changed. But when those who did the ex-gay thing, realized it doesn’t work, and then apologized for being a part of it DOES INDEED have an impact! I think those not accepting of John Paulk’s apology definitely need to reconsider their opinion by thinking not how gay people think, but how fundamentalists think!

  33. B-Street says

    I love when the apologist self hating gay crowd comes out in these stories and DEMANDS gay people forgive, forget, and completely just wipe away YEARS of hateeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee against our gay children. Notice these types of gays would never force other groups to face their hate mongers and instantly forgive them.

    What’s the matter? us gays are acting to UPPITY for you, holding accountable a man who risked the lives of gay children.

    The apologist gay crowd ARE the homophobes as far as I’m concerned.

  34. Pauley says

    Oh to hell with all this bull about gay people ‘being the bigger person’ and forgiving every & any person who asks for it. No, you earn it.

    And let’s get something perfectly clear here. He worked for Focus on The Family. The modern day KKK of homophobia which is responsible for the death of LGBT abroad, and the most hateful campaigns against us in the states.

    Shame on ANYONE who guilts gay people for not embracing someone who was a prominent member of that hate group. You need to evaluate your own values before lecturing our community.

  35. J.T says

    A straight man who doesn’t know what it’s like to be gay, and the prejudice faced…mobilizing against us is vile.

    A GAY man who KNOWS what its like to be gay, and still promotes more prejudice while knowing he is harming children is a monster.

    It’s gonna take more than an apology bud.

  36. Marcus says

    As the product of the intense mental damage caused by ex gay conversion programs, who thankfully got out in time, to those saying this man’s former vices are no different than anyone else’s: explain to someone like ME how what he did is any different than child abusers.

    I want to hear this. And remember, you’re talking to someone who personally experienced his exact brand of ex gay programs.

  37. Mary says

    Those of us who were on the “wrong side” of any issue can never really make up for any damage we caused people by our previous beliefs. All we can do is work toward justice from this point forward. If Mr. Paulk is serious we’ll be hearing more about what he’s doing to achieve LGBT equality. But for those who are not celebrities/public figures already, many of us who switched sides on gay rights are working quietly (and even secretly) to undermine homophobia. We can do good in ways that people who are openly pro-gay can’t because homophobes are not aware of what we’re doing. The gay community has allies everywhere – socially conservative organizations,…even evangelical churches.

  38. GlobalBeauties says

    I find it insulting that anyone would be angered by the anger of the gay community toward this man and his history. But I also realize some gay people truly believe humans are ENTITLED to homophobia and they deserve to be celebrated for not being a despicable human being.
    No, homophobia, especially at the level this man practiced, is not an innate human trait. It is a choice. A choice he made to ruin lives.
    Some gay people come from sch a place of privilege they can’t grasp how homophobia could and actually does harm many gay folks out there. Keep sitting pretty in your comfy Manhattan gay friendly burbs, thinking every corner of the country is so open minded.

  39. V05 says

    LOL @ some of the idiots on here who are perfectly satisfied with this apology write up, and are so easily willing to overlook ages of harm he caused our people; all because he typed three pretty paragraphs. Oh the stupid. It burns!

  40. atomic says

    We need to be clear about what it means to ‘accept’ an apology. On the basis of his words, do I think he is sincere? Mostly, yes. Do I think he truly understands the scope of his actions? No, I do not. These are not mutually exclusive notions.

    Do I “forgive” or “accept” his apology? I don’t think that’s relevant. Ultimately, he does have blood on his hands, and his crimes can never be washed clean. Contrition cannot change that fact no more than it can bring back or repair those we have lost as a result.

    That said, I find it largely pointless to dwell on the anger and hatred for his actions. Yes, anger can be a powerfully motivating force for positive change. ACT UP was an example of this. But anger can also paralyze. The question of what to do about Mr. Paulk–how to regard him or his apology–surely is unimportant compared to the need for each of us to be more active in the fight for equality. What Mr. Paulk’s experience teaches us is that we need to do a better job of outreach, to combat the forces of bigotry before they create twisted, self-loathing people like him. And it teaches us that we don’t need to pass judgement EITHER WAY. To debate the matter is to waste our efforts.

    The goal is to take what we have learned from our past in order to prevent such things from happening again in the future. We must stop self-loathing among our own. And the easiest way to do this is to live the best lives we can, openly, freely, lovingly. We should strive to be role models for those that are not as strong. And whenever possible, we have to wrest the weak from the grip of dogmatism, hatred, and religious indoctrination.

    Leave Mr. Paulk with the knowledge that his words killed people. I don’t need his apology to make ME feel better. What would make me feel better is doing more to combat the homophobia and self-loathing that creates people like him.

  41. Duration & Convexity says

    Why should I forgive him?

    WHERE in this apology did he outline what specifically he’s planning on doing to reverse all the harms he committed?

    Where is his outlined plan of action. What has he done so far to earn our trust?

    Why did he release this apology without evidence to prove he’s taking action to help our vulnerable and impressionable GLBT youth he targeted?

    An apology? My niece apologized for eating all the cookies in the cabinet. When I turned around, she was having a bite of another cookie.

    An apology is nothing short of empty words on paper, if CONCRETE and proven action is not displayed with them. Especially in context with this man’s past.

  42. Junior says

    I care more about the feelings of the gay kids who cried to sleep every night because of how miserable the actions of people like this guy made them feel, than I do about the feelings of a grown man who pocketed BIG money at the expense of those kid’s lives.

    Know that.

  43. MehranNTX says

    Marcus above brought up a poignant point. He endured traumatic experiences by the practices of this man and people like him. So how is he any different than a child abuser? Are we so eager to accept the apology of a former child abuser as fact just because they say so, or is a mandated rehabilitation process needed to be proven before we make that decision?

    I’m simply reading an “I’m sorry” from a child abuser who claims he’s not one any more.

  44. Yellow Mellow says

    @ Marcus
    Don’t expect to get any answers. Some gays on here loath the gay community so much that they jump for joy and want to give a badge of honor to ANY person who says “I don’t believe we should kill gays”
    Nevermind this dude was systematically destroying the life of gay people, who cares. He now doesn’t want us dead and thinks we’re (wait for it) not choosing to be gay. WHAT A HERO. so much strength! so much courage! wow! what an angel this man is! (barf)
    But no. Don’t expect the apologists on this site to EVER hold a homophobe accountable for their sh-t.

  45. pat says

    I agree with others.

    In this case, the damage was so extreme and so hurtful to so many lives that an apology is……….really hot air.

    What are you planning on doing and have you done to correct your ways?

  46. Alejandro says

    Sorry as someone who saw a close friend literally have their soul completely destroyed by these ex-gay programs, I can’t flippantly accept this apology. Not yet anyway. The type of person who tells a gay child to change who they inherently are, and punishes them the entire process with senseless and cruel acts of mental torture is not someone who can just easily change. It’s a process and I am not so easily jumping on the “good for him!” bandwagon.

  47. David Hearne says

    I would need to know how much money he made from his anti-gay activities. For a million dollars I would sell the bunch of you out in a heartbeat.

  48. Lazlo says

    @I’m Layla Miller I Know Stuff

    Interesting comment. I’ll need to look into that Indian version you mentioned.

    Also Peter Davids run on X-Force rocks. I’m guessing Layla is your favorite character? :)

  49. Thomas says

    Taryn–I think your heart may be in the right place, but please read up on what this man’s history was. He basically lived as a gay man (albeit as the kind who engages in male prostitution), then converted to Christianity and decided he was also converted out of the “gay lifestyle.” By marrying and heading Exodus for a few years and being involved with FOF he was really *the* face of the ex-gay movement. He was a massive fame whore about it. Over a good 15 years of his adult life he left a trail of misery and lies. So, this isn’t about the struggles of coming out at all.

  50. evan_la says

    This miserable prick is my age. His generation and younger, no. No excuses. No apologies. Just shut up. Shut up and go away. Didn’t listen to him then. Not listening to him now.

  51. Dan CCobb says

    This guy is obviously so unstable and corrosive that he’s been back and forth with anti-gay and pro-gay positions his entire life. My guess is that he is fraught with mental pathologies –probably because he was a gay boy/young man raised by gay-haters… that’s enough to f*** anyone up for life. But this guy must be so flighty and so without any internal compass that life must be miserable for him… in or out of the supportive gay closet. And in that respect I feel sorry for him.

  52. Dan CCobb says

    Also, I think he was riding the place that paid him the most money. I”m sure the born-again right-wingers paid him fairly well for being a gay (“ex”-gay) man who told the world that changing one’s sexual orientation was possible.

  53. Rob says

    I’ll tell you what he can do to earn redemption. Be an inside whistleblower. Destroy Focus on the Family by divulging the incriminating emails he must have on his hard drive. He should drop off his laptop to the Southern Poverty Law Center with a little bow on it. Or is protecting his fellow criminals too important?

    I’m sure he made plenty of money in expert witness fees when the controversy he created with his own two hands went to court. That could be accounted for, down to the penny, and paid directly to HRC and the SPLC.

    If he refuses either of these, his hypocrisy is alive and well.

  54. Tim S says

    I am glad he apologized. I hope he redeems himself with doing good works for the gay community.

    Now I need to find out where his restaurant is, so I don’t accidentally go there.

    I still don’t intend to patronize this turd.

  55. Billyw says

    Just another eexample of how religion poisons everything

    Now he cums out. Tks but wish he had done so before. According to NGTLF about 30 – 40% of kids subjected to this religious child abuse commit suicide within a year.

    right wing xtianity is the Islam of the west and a mass murderer of children.

    just lke the catholic and baptist churches who rape children because they think they are infallible ,



  56. says

    You want to know why so many of us on here are “hating on him”?

    This guy is the equivalent of a Jew that ratted out their other Jews to the Nazis, then enjoyed the perks he got for selling his people out while they were being dragged to the gas chambers.

    A simply apology isn’t going to cut it. Once he starts speaking out publicly against ex-gay therapy and taking part in the effort to stop gay teen bullying and suicide, then his apology will actually mean something.

  57. says

    You want to know why so many of us on here are “hating on him”?

    This guy is the equivalent of a Jew that ratted out their other Jews to the Nazis, then enjoyed the perks he got for selling his people out while they were being dragged to the gas chambers.

    A simply apology isn’t going to cut it. Once he starts speaking out publicly against ex-gay therapy and taking part in the effort to stop gay teen bullying and suicide, then his apology will actually mean something.

  58. Betty Treacle says

    Well it’s nice to see the world getting marginally less silly.

    But really, her ideology was as dated as her hairstyle…

    She’s said her piece. We’ve all had our chance to forgive or sniff and feel haughty and superior. Now let’s move on to discussing something nicer.

  59. Stu says

    No. John Paulk is not sorry. From the first day since I met him in the fall of 1983 in Columbus, Ohio, he has used everyone around him to gain whatever he needs, and he needs attention. By his own admission, he has solen, lied and betrayed numerous people, and I see nothing, and I mean nothing to indicate that he is capable of any type of real remorse. John is first and foremost a narcissist borderline personality disorder, and there is no recovery for that.

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