August 17, 1998 issue of Newsweek. (Chris Buck / Newsweek)

August 17, 1998 issue of Newsweek. (Chris Buck / Newsweek)


CHICAGO — Truth Wins Out today thanked Newsweek for publishing two extensive follow-up reports (here and here) exposing the “ex-gay” industry. In 1998, under different ownership, the magazine ran a cover story, headlined “Gay For Life?,” focused on the story of John and Anne Paulk, which helped to perpetuate the fraud of so-called “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapy at that movement’s height. John Paulk has recanted his earlier support for the practice, and apologized extensively for the harm done by the movement, admitting that one simply cannot pray away the gay. Last year, when Newsweek was part of the Daily Beast family of websites, Truth Wins Out petitioned the magazine to correct the record on their 1998 story, but the magazine did not respond. This year, however, under new ownership, Newsweek has responded thoroughly with follow-up stories that do all but recant their 1998 reporting.

“We thank Newsweek and the talented reporters who worked on these follow-up stories,” said Truth Wins Out Executive Director Wayne Besen. “The American public deserves to know the truth about so-called ‘ex-gay’ therapy — that it doesn’t work, it never worked, and has destroyed countless lives in the past several decades. Newsweek has proven that they are committed to journalistic integrity and we commend them for putting in the time and effort to present their readers with the most accurate reporting possible.”

In one of today’s pieces, John Paulk, who is now living as an out gay man, explains that, even in the height of his involvement in the movement, he and other leaders knew they had not changed:

“It’s funny, for those of us that worked in it, behind closed doors, we knew we hadn’t really changed,” he says. “Our situations had changed—we had gotten married, and some of us had children, so our roles had changed. I was a husband and father; that was my identity. And the homosexuality had been tamped down. But you can only push it down for so long, and it would eke its way out every so often.”

In 2000, Truth Wins Out founder Wayne Besen photographed Paulk leaving a gay bar in Washington, DC. Today’s Newsweek follow-up explains that Paulk wasn’t looking for sex that night, but rather wanted to be with his own community of gay people:

“I went to a gay bar—not looking for sex, which is what people thought—but because I was missing my community. I was looking to sit in a place with people I felt comfortable with, and that was other gay people,” Paulk says. Though he continued to take speaking engagements, by 2003, he was burned out.

“I would be in hotel rooms, and I would be on my face sobbing and crying on the bed,” he says. “I felt like a liar and a hypocrite. Having to go out and give hope to these people. I was in despair knowing that what I was telling them was not entirely honest. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Newsweek’s other article focuses on the “ex-gay” industry as it stands today, following the story of Mathew Shurka, who endured years of pain and damage inflicted by his experiences with reparative therapists. It chronicles the rise and fall of Exodus International and the celebrities of the “ex-gay” movement, and examines the organizations that have stepped in to take its place:

First came the photo of Paulk in the gay bar. Then in 2003, Michael Johnson, founder of “National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day,” was revealed to have infected men he’d met on the Internet with HIV through unprotected sex. John Smid, who joined LIA in 1986 and eventually became its executive director, left the organization in 2008. Three years later, Smid wrote on his blog that he “never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual,” and that reorientation is impossible, because being gay is intrinsic.


In 2013, Exodus shut down, and also issued an apology. “I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection,” wrote Alan Chambers, the organization’s president. “I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives.”

Newsweek’s reporting today entirely corrects the record on the consumer fraud called ‘reparative therapy,'” said Truth Wins Out Associate Director Evan Hurst. “Anyone who wants to learn the truth about this movement, its history, its key players, and its longstanding pattern of failure would be well served to start with these two articles. We reiterate our appreciation to Newsweek for answering the call and producing such fine reporting.”

Truth Wins Out (TWO) is a non-profit organization that works to demolish the very foundation of anti-gay prejudice. Our philosophy is simple: We attack the underpinnings of homophobia by debunking harmful lies, discrediting hateful myths, and countering anti-gay organizations. By chipping away at the underlying ignorance that fuels anti-LGBT attitudes, we can ultimately win our fight for fairness and achieve full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people worldwide.