% IssueDate = "11/6/02" IssueCategory = "World" %>
by John Paulk Welcoming Committee
The anti-gay symposium was led by "ex-gay" spokesman John Paulk, who was caught in a gay bar two years ago, despite appearing on Oprah, 60 Minutes and the cover of Newsweek magazine saying he had gone from gay to straight.
Several signs condemned Paulk's hypocrisy and urged him to stop deceiving and deluding people - including himself. One sign reading "John Paulk Hit On Me", was carried by JPWC organizer Daryl Herrschaft. The sign memorialized Paulk's September 19, 2000 trip to Washington's Mr. P's, the oldest gay bar in the city.
Another said "I Saw J. Paulk in a Gay Saloon."
Yet another said, "Paulk, Unlike Focus, We Love You For Who You Are."
"Our message made it to dozens of conference goers, some of whom were visibly depressed and conflicted," said Herrschaft. "They conversed with protesters and were drawn to the feeling of openness, acceptance and free expression that the demonstration provided. John Paulk and his cronies aren't helping these people or the other conference goers, they are hurting them and providing the tools and the justification for them to hurt others."
Close to 1,000 people attended the seminar at Immanuel Bible Church, in suburban Fairfax County, Virginia. The grass roots demonstration encompassed a coalition of groups and individuals throughout Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
There were also "ex-ex-gays" on-hand; people who have been through the "ex-gay" ministries and say these groups are harmful and ineffective.
Protesters came from as far away as Roanoke, Virginia., and ranged in age from senior citizens to high school students. Dozens of local youth attended the protest with an array of colorful signs.
Many of the signs focused on religious messages such as: "God Made Me This Way" and, "God Loves Me, And I'm Gay", while others signs like, "Straight, But Not Narrow" and "Celebrate Who You Are, Not Who You Are Not," highlighted the diversity of the crowd. Chants at the rally included, "Who do we want? John Paulk! Where do we want him? Mr. P's!"
"These conferences tell vulnerable and desperate people that they are defective when it is, in fact, the message of Focus on the Family that is broken and in need of change," added Besen.
"Tragically, these road shows are about making money and gaining political power for the extreme right wing. No matter how fringe or disreputable, they will probably continue as long as extremist groups are profiting off the backs of gay people."
The American Psychological Association say efforts to change sexual orientation can cause "depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior." The American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and the American Association of Pediatrics also condemn "reparative" therapy and say it can often be harmful.
From the very beginning, the "ex-gay" ministries have been enmeshed in a series of high profile failures. In addition to the crestfallen Paulk, the following are the most well publicized defections and scandals in the colorful annals of "ex-gay" history:
But Cook's efforts collapsed in 1986 after he was exposed for giving clients nude massages. Cook moved to Colorado and made a comeback in 1992 by helping Colorado for Family Values and Focus on the Family promote their anti-gay agenda. But in 1995, Cook's efforts unraveled, once again, after several of Cook's clients accused him of phone sex and inappropriate hugs.
"Those who do not study history are destined to repeat it," said Herrshaft. "And the history of the 'ex-gay' myth is clearly one of extreme sadness and failure. We implore Focus on the Family to stop this campaign of ill will and tell the truth: Many people escape the 'ex-gay' hoax and go on to live satisfying, spiritually-fulfilling lives as openly gay men and women."