Prior to his election to Congress, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) collaborated with an infamous anti-LGBTQ group that promoted conversion therapy as a solution to change the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian individuals.
According to CNN, Johnson, an attorney by trade, gave legal advice to Exodus International. The pro-conversion therapy organization was the leader in the “ex-gay” movement, which sought to change people’s orientations through a mix of aversion therapy, talk therapy, and religious-based counseling.
Exodus eventually shut down in 2013, with its president, Alan Chambers posting a public apology for the “pain and hurt” the organization’s advocacy caused.
Chambers would later go on an apology tour, appearing at LGBTQ and Pride events, including Capital Pride, and speaking with LGBTQ news outlets, including Metro Weekly, about what led him to change his stance on conversion therapy, which he had previously hailed as effective, citing his own marriage to a woman.
He later came out in favor of bans on conversion therapy for minors.
Johnson, who previously worked for the anti-LGBTQ organization Alliance Defense Fund — the predecessor to the modern-day Alliance Defending Freedom — not only collaborated with Exodus on various projects or initiatives from 2006 to 2010, but, as ADF spokesperson, echoed many of their talking points on the alleged efficacy of conversion therapy.
One of ADF’s anti-LGBTQ initiatives was the so-called “Day of Truth,” endorsed by various right-wing organizations, including Exodus International, Focus on the Family, and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
As part of the Day of Truth, ADF encouraged students — especially those with religious beliefs opposing homosexuality — to don T-shirts that either expressed opposition to homosexuality or said “The Truth Cannot be Silenced,” and to hand out cards to their fellow students declaring their unwillingness to condone “detrimental personal and social behavior.”
Some of the materials utilized during the Day of Truth also declared that homosexuality could be “cured” or that non-heterosexual sexual orientations could be changed, and would often direct recipients of flyers or cards to visit the websites of groups like Exodus to learn more about their services.
The Day of Truth was intended to counter the Day of Silence, a national initiative by GLSEN that called attention to the bullying, discrimination, and feelings of isolation faced by LGBTQ youth, in which participants refrain from speaking during the school day before ending the day with “Breaking the Silence” rallies.
“No one is for bullying and harassment,” Johnson said at the time, according to NBC News. “But that’s cloaking [GLSEN’s] real message — that homosexuality is good for society. You can call it sinful or destructive — ultimately it’s both.”
Audio subsequently uncovered by CNN of Johnson’s media appearances during the time frame in question show Johnson categorizing homosexuality as “dangerous.”
“It’s time for an honest conversation about homosexuality. There’s freedom to change if you want to,” Johnson said in a clip from KFUO, a Christian radio station based in St. Louis, Missouri.
In a separate 2008 interview on another radio show criticizing the Day of Silence, Johnson rejected the notion that sexual orientation is an innate trait.
“I mean, our race, the size of our feet, the color of our eyes, these are things we’re born with and we cannot change,” Johnson said. “What these adult advocacy groups like the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network [GLSEN] are promoting is a type of behavior. Homosexual behavior is something you do, it’s not something that you are.”
Throughout his career, Johnson frequently attacked homosexuality, penning columns about the threat that the expansion of LGBTQ civil rights would pose to people with religious beliefs opposing homosexuality.
He argued against same-sex marriage, as well as against ending anti-sodomy laws, in various public appearances.
While he was working for ADF, the organization wrote an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to allow a Texas law criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct to stand.
Johnson even attributed the fall of the Roman Empire to homosexuality during a 2008 radio interview, telling the host, “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.”
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