By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly
On June 26 & 27, when the Restored Hope Network, a “pray the gay away” startup that splintered off from Exodus International, held its annual conference at the Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Clackamas County, TransActive Gender Center’s founder and executive director Jenn Burleton, along with organization colleagues and allies, occupied the sidewalk directly outside, displaying signs and distributing information.
It’s hard to imagine two groups with more dissimilar approaches to assisting families with gender variant children. Founded in 2007, TransActive offers counseling and medical referrals for such clients, as well as advocacy with schools and other institutions, assisting the children and those around them in affirming their gender identities as they emerge.
Conversely, the Restored Hope Network’s stance toward the matter is made clear on its website, which states, “In this time of history, when gender and sexual confusion is reaching new heights in all aspects of public and private life, our network of ministries stands on the beauty of God’s life-giving Word,” going on to equate what it describes as confusion with “sin’s control,” which the organization can help clients overcome through “godliness.”
The Restored Hope Network’s executive director is Anne Paulk, ex-wife of John Paulk, the former ex-gay advocate who led the ministry Love Won Out, and who, from 1998 to 2003, was chairman of the board of Exodus International North America, a large, long running “ex-gay” organization, which last year formally apologized for what it’s come to see as the harmful practice of attempting to change people’s sexual orientations.
Last year, John Paulk disavowed his previous belief in reparative therapy, confirmed his status as a gay man, and formally apologized for his role as an advocate of ex-gay ministries in a PQ Monthly expose. Anne, however, continues to be a proponent of the practice, and helped found the Restored Hope Network in 2012.
Reparative therapy has been in the news quite a bit of late, with states such as California and New Jersey banning the use of its practice on minors. While the media associates conversion therapy almost exclusively with sexual identity, its techniques are also applied to gender identity and expression. Many of the Restored Hope Network conferences’ presenters spoke of “gender confusion” as being an extension of homosexuality, for instance, which they warned could lead to “transexualism,” and the conference featured one workshop, Denise Schnick’s “Understanding Transgender Confusion,” which dealt specifically with the topic of gender variance.
It was this latter emphasis that drew Burleton to represent TransActive at the event. “We knew families would come looking for answers for gender non-conforming kids,” she says, “and we wanted to present our ideas and approach to them. These parents were told by the organizers that reparative therapy was the answer they were looking for, and that ‘gender confusion,’ as they term it, was ‘Satan at work.’ We wanted to present an approach that was healthy for children. We know that affirming children in their gender expression and gender identity can save their lives.”
The Restored Hope Network politely declined to participate with this article.
Burleton says her time outside the conference was peaceful and quietly productive, until the end of Saturday when she was visited there by Anne Paulk and Restored Hope Network board member Stephen Black. Their talk led to a bit of social media cloak and dagger play, resulting in a video Burleton has posted on TransActive’s YouTube page, which appears to demonstrate dissembling on Paulk’s part.
During their talk, Burleton told Paulk and Black she doesn’t object to adults seeking reparative therapy should they choose to, only to such practices being used on minors. “If adults want to elevate the values of their fundamentalist faith over the authenticity of their gender identity or gender expression, that’s their choice,” she says. “I don’t agree that it works, or that it’s healthy, but adults are free to do lots of unhealthy things.”
A few days later, Burleton thanked Paulk and Black for chatting with her on the Restored Hope Network’s Facebook page, and expressed her hope for an ongoing respectful dialogue. A series of messages followed, which have since been deleted, but which Burleton saved in screenshots that she includes in her
In the messages, Paulk claims Burleton agreed with her that reparative therapy should be an option for both adults and children. Burleton quickly disagrees, accusing Paulk of misrepresenting her statements. Paulk then claims to have a recording of Burleton’s statement, proving she’s agreed with her. Burleton counters by saying she suspected Paulk of making such a recording, and took the precaution of making a recording herself. She then challenges Paulk to produce her recording in its entirety. Paulk ignores the challenge, and accuses Burleton of bad faith for making a recording, before signing off and telling Burleton she’ll pray for her.
Reading the back and forth, it’s hard to disagree with Burleton’s suspicions that Paulk intended to doctor the recording she’d made to give the appearance that Burleton agreed with her, and that it was only Burleton’s precautions which prevented her.
Burleton sees Paulk’s tactics in the matter as being of a piece of the reparative therapy community’s larger mode of operating. “Their pattern is made up of taking a kernel of truth out of research or personal experience — in this case my saying I believed adults should be free to utilize their practices — and misrepresenting it in order to suit their own purposes,” she says. “Denise Schick, one of the conference’s presenters, had a bad experience with a transgender parent, and has turned it into an anti-trans hate campaign focused on children and youth. It’s not right,” she laments, “and it’s harming kids.”