Protesters say conference held during Twin Cities Pride offers shame

Thousands of people are expected to attend the festivities for Twin Cities Pride this weekend. Starting Friday, however, a group called The Restored Hope Network will be hosting a conference at a Robbinsdale church promising to help people leave the “gay lifestyle.”

Gays and lesbians gathered outside of the church Friday morning to protest conference, calling it a type of conversion therapy. Protesters say instead of hope, the group leaves members of the LGBTQ community with a sense of shame.

“My first Pride was a spiritual experience,” said Roger Sanchez, who attended the rally. “For the first time, I felt that I belong, there are people here that love me, and there was nothing wrong with me and it was so affirming, and so for me that's why I'm here [protesting].”

About 250 people are registered for the two-day Restored Hope Conference, a series of talks and workshops geared towards those struggling with same-sex attraction.  

Anne Paulk, a self-described former lesbian, is the group’s executive director. She claims they are not offering so-called conversion therapy. FOX 9 Reporter Tom Lyden met with Paulk to discuss what she says the group offers.

Paulk: We are a Christian transformational ministry. We offer the gospel, the hope of Jesus Christ to redeem people from sin of any kind, including homosexuality."

FOX 9 Reporter Tom Lyden: You would not call it therapy?

Paulk: We would not call it conversion therapy whatsoever, that phrase has come to mean coercion, torture, abuse and forceful things, none of that describes us at all … We don't pray away the gay. We do talk and we do pray.

Lyden: What do you do you?

Paulk: What do we do? We do Christian ministry for those who struggle. I came out of the gay background.

Along with her ex-husband, John Paulk, they were leaders of the ex-gay group Exodus International, which promoted conversion, or as they called it, “reparative therapy.” That is, until John got caught in a Washington D.C. gay bar. He initially said he was there to use the bathroom. The group fell apart and so did the marriage.

Paulk: He found himself his feelings that didn't go away, but mine did.

Lyden: Do you feel like you are suppressing those feelings?

Paulk: Absolutely not. No. I'm thriving more now than I did when I was a college student who was embracing those feelings.

Lyden: Do you feel like you are a sexual being, still?

Paulk: Yes. But those things have tamed for now. So, I'm a sexual being that is not acting on any feelings anywhere.

Lyden: But, if you were a sexual being, it would be with a man?

Paulk: It would be with a man. 

Lyden: And you organically have that attraction? 

Paulk: Yes, I do. 

Lyden: And that is because of?

Paulk: God moving in my life.

Lyden: It just so happens this is my 23-year anniversary.

Paulk: Really? Congratulations.

Lyden: Thank you. It's with a man, we've been legally married for 10 years. What would you say to someone like me?  

Paulk: Thanks for sharing that with me …  You know what, I care about you and even though I don’t know you, I certainly would not coerce, try to force you into something you’re not interested in or anything else. If you want to retain homosexuality that's your choice. If you want to walk out of it, we’re here to support that too. And so, quite honestly, we’re not here to coerce anyone. We want to offer help to those who are seeking it.

Paulk says the group has counselors on staff who have been trained and licensed in secular settings.

Minnesota is one of the 39 states to consider legislation that would have banned mental health professionals from offering conversion therapy. It would not have limited religious organizations. The bill died in the Senate. Four states have laws banning the practice.