Rekers Threatens to Sue Over Beng Called ’Gay’

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday May 7, 2010

Anti-gay Christian heavyweight George Rekers reportedly hired a 20-year-old male escort from RentBoy.com and took the young man on a European vacation because, said Rekers, he had recently had surgery and was unable to lift his own luggage. However, the young man in question, Jo-vanni Roman--also known in press reports as "Lucien"--told the Miami New Times that he was not acting as a luggage porter for Rekers; rather, he was providing intimate massage for the older man.

Meantime, conservative chat sites lit up with accusations that the scandal was a plot by liberals to smear Rekers, who co-founded the anti-gay Family Research Council along with James Dobson in 1983. Rekers also served as an "expert witness" in a Florida court case challenging a state law that bars adoption by gays and lesbians; in that case, Rekers--who was paid a hefty fee for his testimony--compared gays to terrorists and said that neither same-sex couples nor Native Americans would make for fit adoptive parents.

Rekers is also a board member for the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an "ex-gay" organization that claims gays and lesbians can be "cured" of their "affliction." That claim stands in contradiction to most reputable mental health professionals, who warn that so-called "reparative therapies" are liable to damage, rather than benefit, gays trying to "convert" to heterosexuality. Media reports of Rekers' affiliation with NARTH may have led some to the conclusion that Rekers himself claims to be "ex-gay," but Miami Herald columnist Steve Rothaus reported in a May 6 blog posting that Rekers had sent in an email asserting, "I am not gay and never have been."

Rekers also said in the email that he had "been advised to retain the services of a defamation attorney in this matter," and went on to say, "My travel assistant called me this afternoon earnestly asking me to clarify on my website that he worked for me as a travel companion and not as a prostitute.

"I completely agreed with my travel assistant that it is absolutely true that I hired him and he worked for me as a travel companion and not as a prostitute," the email continued. Rekers then went on to say that, acting on advice from a friend, he had emailed the younger man a list of four questions to answer about the details of their trip together.

"Together we agreed that I in fact hired him to lift luggage when necessary as a travel assistant during the trip, because I cannot do so himself since having surgery," wrote Rekers. "We agreed that this is what my travel assistant agreed to do for pay prior to taking the trip."

Rekers continued, "We agreed that my travel assistant did in fact lift my luggage each time it was necessary, that I did not lift my luggage, and my travel assistant did all the lifting."

Added Rekers, "We agreed that I hired him as a companion and to help with luggage, and that I did not hire him as a prostitute for any sexual purpose."

Rekers had previously issued a statement to the effect that he had counseled the young man about the "gay lifestyle." Rekers reiterated that point in the email, writing, "We agreed that I explained the Christian faith to my travel assistant in conversations on several days during the trip."


Differing Accounts

Statements reportedly made by Jo-vanni Roman indicated that the young escort did not fully agree with Rekers' version of events. The Miami New Times reported on May 6 that, according to Roman, the escort provided massage services that included a technique referred to as the "long stroke." Roman reportedly explained this to the Miami New Times as a move that involved contact "across his penis, thigh... and his anus over the butt cheeks." Added Roman, "Rekers liked to be rubbed down there."

The article said that Roman denied having been hired to haul Rekers' luggage. Added the young escort, "It's a situation where he's going against homosexuality when he is a homosexual.... In all honesty, he should disassociate himself from these [anti-gay] groups."

A May 6 follow-up article at Miami New Times reported on a phone conversation between Roman and Rekers that took place on speaker phone with reporters from the publication present. The article said that the conversation took place at around 1:00 a.m. on May 6 at a private residence, and that Rekers did not know anyone other than Roman was present for the conversation. Rekers encouraged the young escort to avoid talking to the press.

"Tell them you don't want to do interviews," Rekers advised.

Roman made reference to the intimate contact the two had had together, saying, "We did the whole massage thing, and I don't know what to think about it."

"Yeah--just say 'No,' and just say, 'I've already [indecipherable] to the press,' and that's it," Rekers advised. " 'Cuz if you keep answering, it'll keep the story alive."

Rekers downplayed the impact he has had, socially and legally, on gay and lesbian individuals and their families, telling Roman that he had "stay[ed] in the background" as the Family Research Council went about the business of trying to deny legal parity to GLBTs. I never picked a fight with [gays]," he told the young escort.

The article said that as the conversation went on, Roman became more and more distraught. The young man is not out to his family, the article said, and he expressed a fear that the scandal would ruin his prospects for romantic connection in the future. However, he told Rekers that, "This isn't something I can just be silenced about!"

Rekers has claimed that he did not know that his travel assistant was an escort until the trip was already underway, a claim that seems at odds with reports that the older man found the escort through RentBoy.com. When Roman confronted Rekers about having gone to that site, the article said, Rekers replied, "Well, I'd be happy to sit down and talk to you more about that," before going on to say, "We have to deal with the situation that we have, and make sure it doesn't get worse."

At one point, Reker told the younger man that, "I've been through things like this in the past," at which point Roman reacted by interrupting him.

"Well I haven't!" the young man exclaimed. "I'm 20 years old! If you've been through this, you shouldn't have gone to that website, you shouldn't have hired me--why did you make so many choices [for me]?"

No Shame in Being Gay

It is unclear whether any suit based on a claim of "defamation" for being referred to as gay would be successful. Courts in different states have established differing precedents. A New Jersey court ruled that two radio hosts' having allegedly implied that a man was gay did not constitute defamation. The U.S. District judge in the case, Joel Pisano, ruled that saying that someone is gay--even if untrue--does not constitute defamation.

However, calling someone gay in Texas may well still be legally considered as defamation, a recent court case there established. In another case involving a radio show host, Henry Robinson, an airport security guard who was referred to as gay by Dallas radio host Rickey Smiley, brought suit against Smiley.

Smiley sought to have the case thrown out in light of the 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, a Supreme Court Case that struck down anti-gay state laws banning sexual practices between consenting adults of the same gender. But the judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor, declined the motion, noting that precedent had not been established. "No case appears to address whether imputation of homosexuality continues to be defamatory as a matter of law in the wake of Lawrence," said O'Connor. "At a minimum," he concluded, "judicial caution requires the Court to acknowledge that the imputation of homosexuality might as a matter of fact expose a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule."

If a sea-change is indeed underway in some parts of the country with regard to how gays are viewed, the legal precedents reflecting this may have begun last year with a much-publicized case in which the author of an explosive tell-all book about the late Anna Nicole Smith was accused by Smith's lawyer, Howard K. Stern, of, among other things, having defamed him by claiming in the book that Stern and Larry Birkhead--who had a child with Smith--had had sex with one another.

Rita Cosby, author of Blonde Ambition: The Untold Story Behind Anna Nicole Smith's Death, included a number of allegations about Stern in the book, one of them being a claim to the effect that Smith hired Stern out for sexual services. Judge Denny Chin ruled that Stern could pursue his suit before a jury, but also said that the allegations about Stern having had gay sex did not constitute defamation.


"Ex-Gay" Groups Respond

In the burgeoning wake of the Rekers scandal, NARTH posted a response at its website. "While NARTH is focused on the science of homosexual attraction, personal controversies often deepen the existing cultural divide on this issue," the posting read. "Such is the case in the recent news stories concerning one of our members, Dr. George Rekers.

"NARTH takes seriously the accusations that have been made, and we are currently attempting to understand the details behind these press reports," the posting continued. "We are always saddened when this type of controversy impacts the lives of individuals, and we urge all parties to allow a respectful and thorough investigation to take place."

The text went on to add, "NARTH continues to support scientific research, and to value client autonomy, client self-determination and client diversity."

Another "ex-gay" organization, Exodus International, posted a blog about the story in May 6. "It is being reported widely throughout the media that Dr. George Rekers, husband, father, NARTH Board Member, scholar, theologian and Baptist minister (to name just a few of the highlights), confirmed that he hired a 20 year-old man to accompany him on a 10-day European mission trip and extended vacation," the Exodus International blog posting read. "As it turns out, that young man happens to be a prostitute."

The blog posting continued, "He is a Christian who seems to be guilty of practicing what he has preached against. It is that fact that alone causes the deepest feelings of anger to arise no matter what side of the debate one falls. Regardless of any sexual impropriety, his actions were not above reproach and that has hurt his excellent reputation.

"This fiasco has also fueled speculation and doubt about the lives of others who have chosen to pursue a life in Christ above their sexuality," the posting went on. "And while Dr. Rekers may be guilty of things beyond those he has admitted, he deserves no less grace than I or any in the gay community--those now reveling over what must feel like a victory beyond their wildest dreams to prove that people affected by same-sex attraction cannot and should not do anything but embrace a narrow view of their same-sex attractions, by adopting and celebrating a gay identity."

The posting then turned to the male escort Rekers had reportedly hired. "The carnivorous gay bloggers and their followers seem most concerned with the downfall of a man, a marriage and a movement," the posting stated, "not to mention the titillating photos and full bodily description of this boy barely out of high school." The posting went on to criticize "the gay communities' lack of regard for this 20 year-old boy who has been prostituting himself to anyone who 'asks' and 'pays'. While the gay community seems hell-bent on forcing everyone to be tolerant of their 'just like everyone else' lives they seem completely incapable of showing Jo-Vanni Roman any compassion or care."

The posting also critiqued the Christian community. "While it has been common in the Christian community to cast stones, extend the left foot of fellowship and shoot our wounded, the tide is changing.... We have seen other devastating situations in families turn around. Maybe this is the crisis that will lead George Rekers to find the healing he has been looking for, but afraid to admit he needed.

"And, Jo-Vanni, if you or anyone like you is reading this, call us," the blog posting invited. "We will listen because we care. The one thing we absolutely know is that there is a God who loves, redeems and restores completely."

"It can't be easy being Lucien at the moment," a May 7 posting at gay blog Box Turtle Bulletin read. "My thoughts and best wishes are with him at this very stressful time."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.