Mike Johnson worked with conversion therapy group to convince teens being gay is “dangerous”

House Speaker Mike Johnson, a white brunette guy in a suit, gestures with his hands in a red room in front of an American flag and a display screen above him.
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) Photo: Shutterstock

Mike Johnson’s (R-LA) history of anti-LGBTQ+ activism and rhetoric came to light after he was elected Speaker of the House last week, and now his years-long work with a major conversion therapy organization is coming under scrutiny.

From 2006 to 2010, Johnson worked with Exodus International, a now-defunct Christian organization that had over 400 local ministries throughout the world. The group promoted the belief that being gay is a sin and its goal was to turn gay people straight. As a lawyer, Johnson provided legal advice to the group and helped them promote an anti-gay event for teens, according to CNN.

At this time, Johnson was working as a lawyer for the SPLC-designated hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). He and ADF collaborated with Exodus to promote “Day of Truth,” an anti-LGBTQ+ response to the “Day of Silence.” The Day of Silence is a yearly protest of bullying suffered by LGBTQ+ students.

“What these adult advocacy groups like the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network are promoting is a type of behavior,” Johnson said in a 2008 radio interview promoting Day of Truth. “Homosexual behavior is something you do, it’s not something that you are.”

He described Day of Truth as a counter to the “dangerous” homosexual lifestyle.

Promotional materials for Day of Truth created by Exodus and ADF included testimonials from a “former-homosexual” and a “former lesbian” and T-shirts that said, “The Truth cannot be silenced.” Johnson appeared in at least one video promoting the event, and Exodus’s website quoted him saying, “An open, honest discussion allows truth to rise to the surface.”

Johnson also wrote an editorial to promote the event in 2007, where he claimed that “advocates of homosexual behavior” want to “gild and glamorize homosexual behavior while gagging anyone who opposes it.” He called queer teens “sexually-confused” and said that Christians were being silenced by anti-bullying advocates.

“Day of Truth was really established to counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda in public schools,” he said in a 2008 radio interview.

He also blamed the fall of Rome – which happened after the Roman Empire converted to Christianity – on LGBTQ+ people.

“Some credit to the fall of Rome to not only the deprivation of the society and the loss of morals, but also to the rampant homosexual behavior that was condoned by the society,” he said in another 2008 interview.

“This directly harmed LGBTQ youth,” said Truth Wins Out executive director Wayne Besen. “This is someone whose core was promoting anti-gay and ex-gay viewpoints. He wouldn’t pander to anti-gay advocates, he was the anti-gay and ex-gay advocate.”

Exodus International fell apart in 2013. Founder Alan Chambers apologized “for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.”

Randy Scobey, a former executive vice president for Exodus, told CNN that he regrets the Day of Truth.

“It was bullying those who were trying to not be bullied,” he said. Scobey is now out as gay.

He said that he remembers working with Johnson, saying that Johnson was quiet but homophobic. Day of Truth wasn’t the only time the two organizations collaborated.

“We worked with them behind the scenes a lot,” Scobey said, explaining that ADF gave legal advice about how to practice conversion therapy. “They were very important to us as far as helping us to feel more secure legally and politically.”

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