johnston-724359.gifBy Wayne Besen

The anti-gay groups, the American Family Association and Americans for Truth should be immediately shut down for committing wanton and craven acts of fraud. They are unabashed con artists duping their own members by selling a product both groups have admitted was misleading.

The merchandise in question is the AFA’s anti-gay video “It’s Not Gay,” which is described on the box as “former homosexuals tell a story few have heard.” Unfortunately, the story most Americans have not heard is that Michael Johnston, the supposedly ex-gay star of the video, is a fake that witnesses claim participated in unethical and possibly illegal sexual behavior.

In the late 1990’s, Johnston was the founder of Kerusso Ministries and National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day. He worked closely with Rev. Jerry Falwell and filmed an anti-gay television commercial for Coral Ridge Ministries. In 1998, he appeared in an ex-gay ad campaign under the headline, “From Innocence To AIDS.” The ad discussed how he had contracted HIV while living out of the closet, only later to find spiritual restoration though Jesus Christ.

In August 2003, the facade came crashing down. Michael Hamar, a Virginia attorney, called me to say he had a client who had been having an affair with Johnston, not realizing, at first, Johnston’s true identity as a prominent ex-gay figure. I was also introduced to another young man who claimed to have had unprotected sex with the ex-gay leader. While in Virginia, I was shown a video of a man that looked eerily similar to Johnston having unprotected sex with several men. Hamar’s client signed an affidavit swearing the man was Michael Johnston.

(Under 18.2-67.4:1, Code of Virginia of 1950, as amended law, any person who, knowing he is infected with HIV, has sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, analingus or anal intercourse with another person without having previously disclosed the existence of his infection to the other person is guilty of criminal offense, and subject to fine or imprisonment)

The news broke in Southern Voice, Atlanta’s gay newspaper, which interviewed Johnston’s right wing benefactors.

“He obviously had a moral failing, that’s true,” said Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth, which had been affiliated with Kerusso.

“I don’t think the message is changed at all, though of course the messenger is certainly harmed,” said Buddy Smith, American Family Association administrator. “I don’t foresee he would ever be back in a place of public ministry, especially in an outreach to homosexuals like the ministry he had.”

Think Again.

It is astounding that both groups have resuscitated this vulgar video and are selling it on their websites. Indeed, Johnston is making a comeback on the “speaking team” of Pure Life Ministries, a sex addiction facility in Kentucky. It is Orwellian that a man who has lived the most reckless, hypocritical and filthy life imaginable would have the impudence to speak under the bogus banner of “Pure Life.” When it comes to his moral values and treatment of other human beings, it would be more appropriate to call his ministry “Pure Death.”

How can the AFA and American’s For Truth’s President Peter LaBarbara claim Johnston is a “former” homosexual, when he took part in unprotected gay sex after the video was filmed? Why is there no mention of his moral mudslide in the advertisements for the product? Don’t the members of these organizations have the right to know the whole story? This is an unadulterated swindle designed to scam gullible people and bilk them out of their hard earned money.

The AFA and Americans for Truth should follow the example of therapist Dr. Warren Throckmorton, who filmed the ex-gay video “I Do Exist.” Throckmorton recently learned that one of the stars in his video, Noe Gutierrez, was having second thoughts on what he called the “divisive message of the ex-gay ministries.” Although I rarely agree with Throckmorton, at least he had the integrity to announce he was retiring his video. (Though, understandably, he cited other face-saving reasons for nixing this flimsy film)

Of course, don’t expect such decency from the AFA or “Porno Pete” LaBarbera, who seems to spend half his life in gay smut dens conducting “research.” The only measure that may stop the gross deception and moral depravity of these organizations is interventions by state anti-fraud divisions, which I plan to alert this week.

It is crucial that such chicanery be exposed at a time when the ex-gay industry is targeting innocent children. Indeed, performance artist and former ex-gay Peterson Toscano is alleging that “inappropriate” incidents that “revolved around interactions between adult and youth participants in an Exodus member ministry” recently took place.

Exodus President Alan Chambers has yet to publicly respond to the grave allegations. Like the AFA and Americans for Truth, Chambers’ moral compass is pointed permanently south. Legitimate concerns have been raised about the interaction of repressed adults and naive youth in his quarter-million dollar Exodus Youth program, and his only answer is to plan more ex-gay summer camps. (In a twist of cruel, surreal irony, one Exodus Youth retreat, Refuge, can be found at the website “A Safe Place.”)

If Toscano’s explosive allegations prove accurate, Chambers must explain why Exodus concealed this embarrassing information. Chambers now has an obligation to act like the moral leader he purports to be by either robustly refuting the charges or apologizing for dereliction of duty by irresponsibly putting vulnerable children in harms way.