% IssueDate = "8/18/03" IssueCategory = "Viewpoint" %>
When Johnston fessed up to the American Family Association, Reverend Jerry Falwell and Coral Ridge Ministries in late 2002 that he was again having gay sex, these groups did nothing to warn the public of Johnston's demise. Months later these groups quietly directed him to a rehab center in Kentucky to help him overcome his ravenous homosexual appetite.
For at least eight months, the pious Religious Right was aware that Michael Johnston was having sex with men. They knew that in the past he had sex without revealing his HIV status and that he might do it again. The right wing also knew that their propaganda promoting Johnston was a lie. Yet, they continued to promote his myth of change, destroying families and lives in the process.
Last week, I visited Norfolk to uncover this mess and the whole ugly right wing cover-up began to unravel. The devastating new revelations panicked the right wing and instead of admitting their failures their slick PR machine went into high gear. The plan of action and absolution was to place all of the blame for this tragedy on Michael Johnston. They stabbed him in the back faster than Johnston stabbed his alleged victims in the backside.
The facts are in - and it is clear the ex-gay ministries have failed. During the 1998 ad campaign the right wing asked Americans to see the gay issue from all sides. "We're asking you to reexamine the truth of homosexuality with all the facts in hand, apart from the half-truths and hostile name calling," implores one of the ads.
Fair enough. It has been five years since this inflammatory campaign transfixed America. Aside from the Johnston fiasco what has happened in these five years?
John Paulk had been the ex-gay guru working with Exodus and Focus on the Family. During the 1998 campaign he appeared in a full-page ad with a group of "former homosexuals" under the headline "We're Standing for the Truth that Homosexuals Can Change." He and his wife Anne also took this explosive message to 60 Minutes and Oprah.
The high point of his career came when he appeared on the cover of Newsweek with his ex-lesbian wife under the bold headline, "Gay for Life?"
In September 2000, John Paulk was found guzzling cocktails at Mr. P's, a well-known Washington D.C., gay saloon. He offered a drink to Daryl Herrshcaft, a Human Rights Campaign colleague of mine, and proceeded to hit on him. Herrschaft called me from the bar, and I came by and photographed the "ex-gay." No, I didn't ask him to say "cheese".
Finally, Wade Richards, an ex-gay spokesperson who worked with right winger Peter LaBarbera, has since come out of the closet since the ad campaign and denounced the ex-gay ministries.
If we reexamine the issue, as the right wing asked, the verdict is in.
The ex-gay ad campaign that was supposed to be a knockout punch for gay rights has instead become a punchline. It is a bust of epic proportions and would be laughable if it had not hurt so many innocent victims.
These failures are just the tip of the iceberg. Exodus and other ex-gay groups regularly hide the truth about failed leaders. Just recently, the leader of the Exodus ministry in Portland, Oregon., stepped down because, according to their newsletter, he was "emotionally entangled" with another man.
Right wing leaders want to pretend that these failures are the exception. But when failure keeps habitually occurring - at some point it must be admitted that the exception becomes the expectation.
The only thing these fundamentalist groups have the ability to set straight is the record - and they can't even get this right. So, they will squirm and lie and spin their way through another ex-gay scandal. They will act pious, holier-than-thou, and walk into church on Sunday and do what they do best - prey.
Wayne Besen is the author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, due out in October. He is also a former spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign. firstname.lastname@example.org