Rekers ’Rent Boy’ Scandal Casts Cloud Over Anti-Gay ’Expert’ Testimony
There are primary and secondary ramifications to the European trip taken by anti-gay leader George Rekers in the company of a 20-year-old male escort who described the sexual massages he said he gave Rekers on a daily basis.
The most obvious effect of the story has been an outcry of hypocrisy: after all, Rekers--a longtime foe of GLBT equality who co-founded the anti-gay religious group Family Research Council in 1983 and sat on the board of NARTH, a group that claims gays can be "cured" and turned heterosexual--has testified in court on more than one occasion as an "expert witness" on gays, declaring to courts in Arkansas and Florida that gay and lesbian prospective parents should not be allowed to adopt children (tellingly, he said the same about Native Americans).
But a second, potentially wider-reaching effect may resonate long after the sensation and controversy fades from the media: the Rekers scandal may put a pall on so-called "expert testimony" used against gays in courtrooms where cases involving family parity are underway. Indeed, though Rekers did not testify in the court challenge to California’s anti-gay voter initiative Proposition 8, his testimony from an earlier case in another state was still cited, the New York Times reported in a May 18 article.
The scandal broke when the Miami New Times published a story on the trip Rekers took with 20-year-old Jo-vanni Roman, a male escort who Rekers hired through RentBoy.com. Despite having found Roman through a Web site that acts as a clearinghouse for escorts who sell sexual services, Rekers claimed that he had no idea until well into the European journey that Roman was an escort. Rekers also claimed that he hired the young man to go along on the trip because he needed a luggage porter, since surgery had left Rekers unable to hoist his own suitcases--a claim that was instantly derided in late-night humor as Rekers needing someone to "lift his sack."
However, Roman told the press that he was not hired to carry luggage, and claimed that one of his daily duties was to administer erotic massage to Rekers, including a "long stroke" that included contact with the genital area.
The immediate reaction from the gay press was to point to Rekers’ long a history as an opponent of GLBT equality before the law, based--as Rekers’ courtroom testimony showed--on a belief that gays and lesbians are morally unfit for such wholesome things as family life. The press recalled that the judges in two cases in which Rekers had been retained as a paid expert witness to testify that gays and lesbians should not be allowed the right to adopt children both found Rekers’ claims to reflect ideology rather than sound science--and in both cases, the judges ruled against the states.
One of those court losses resulted in an appeal when Florida’s attorney general, Bill McCollum, pursued Florida’s ban on gay and lesbian adoption after Judge Cindy Lederman ruled in late 2008 that the ban was unconstitutional, and cited Rekers’ testimony specifically in her ruling, calling it "motivated by his strong ideological and theological convictions that are not consistent with the science."
McCollum fired back in kind, slamming the decision as "arbitrary" and accusing the court of having "entirely discredited [Rekers] based on his religion." Rekers raked in $120,000 of taxpayer money as a paid "expert witness" for the state of Florida; now McCollum, who is running for governor in that state, is besieged by demands that the money be repaid, and by open criticism in which his judgment has been called into question.
McCollum has responded by backing away from Rekers, whom he had strongly recommended serve as expert witness in the first place, and whose qualifications on the subject of gays McCollum had praised. The New York Times reported that legal scholars now say it’s not enough for McCollum to distance himself from Rekers; because the appeal is still before the courts, McCollum is ethically obliged to officially acknowledge to the court the scandal surrounding the "expert witness," and to scrub Rekers’ claims from the state’s argument against adoption rights for gays.
"Each lawyer must tell the court if he comes to know that one of his witnesses has given ’false’ testimony," New York University legal ethics scholar Stephen Gillers told the New York Times. Added Gillers, "It is not enough for the attorney general simply to refrain from relying on the testimony in his brief and argument. He has an affirmative duty to speak up."
McCollum has had little to say, though, other than to try to blame the state’s Department of Children and Families for Rekers’ hire, and to lament that if he had it to do over, he would not have engaged Rekers’ services. Meantime, the state’s newspapers have critiqued McCollum soundly in op-eds and columns. McCollum defended his recommendation by saying that his office had mounted a "thorough search" and that Rekers was the best they could find because, McCollum said, "there wasn’t a whole lot of choice.’’
"There was not a whole lot of choice because legitimate mental health professionals don’t share Rekers’ homophobic views, and Florida is the only state that bans adoptions by gay residents," scoffed Florida newspaper the St. Petersburg Times in a May 14 editorial. "McCollum’s search also was not very thorough."
The editorial drew an unflattering comparison between McCollum and Rekers, noting that, "Attorney General Bill McCollum and George Rekers have this in common: They were both happy to hire sleazy services, and they knew what they were getting for the money. Now both are having trouble explaining themselves."
A May 13 op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel looked back at Judge Lederman’s ruling, reading, "In her ruling, Ms. Lederman wrote that Mr. Rekers’ testimony was neither ’credible nor worthy of forming the basis for public policy.’ " The op-ed also took aim at McCollum’s claim that "There wasn’t a whole lot of choice" when it came to deciding whom to hire as a witness hostile to gay and lesbian families. Declared the Sentinel, "The dearth of credible experts to defend the ban should have told the attorney general something. Reputable studies have shown parents’ quality, not their sexual orientation, is what counts."
Judge Lederman was not the first jurist to dismiss Rekers’ testimony as pseudoscience with no credible bearing on the case, noted the Miami Herald on May 12. Three years before he was recruited to testify in Florida, Rekers testified in a similar case in Arkansas--and, as in Florida, his side lost. Judge Timothy Fox called Rekers’ testimony "pointless." Despite Judge Fox’s dismissal of Rekers’ testimony, McCollum wrote to the then-head of the state’s Department of Children and Families, Bob Butterworth, to lobby for Rekers, telling Butterworth that, "Our attorneys handling this case have searched long and hard for other expert witnesses with comparable expertise to Dr. Rekers and have been unable to identify any who would be available for this case."
McCollum spokesperson Ryan Wiggins told the New York Times that, when it comes to the appeal of Judge Lederman’s ruling, "It is safe to say that if this case moves beyond this stage, Mr. Rekers will have no further involvement in the case."
Rekers: No Comment
The article noted that Rekers would not comment, due to his claim that reports about his contact with the young escort constitute "defamation." But Rekers did talk to gay news site JoeMyGod.com when the story first came to light, claiming that media reports about is trip abroad with the young escort were "a mixture of truth and falsehood." Added Rekers, "I have spent much time as a mental health professional and as a Christian minister helping and lovingly caring for people identifying themselves as ’gay.’ My hero is Jesus Christ who loves even the culturally despised people, including sexual sinners and prostitutes. Like Jesus Christ, I deliberately spend time with sinners with the loving goal to try to help them."
Rekers went on to tell JoeMyGod.com that, "Contrary to false gossip, innuendo, and slander about me, I do not in any way ’hate’ homosexuals, but I seek to lovingly share two types of messages to them, as I did with the young man... in the news story:  It is possible to cease homosexual practices to avoid the unacceptable health risks associated with that behavior, and  the most important decision one can make is to establish a relationship with God for all eternity by trusting in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, including homosexual sins."
Rekers added, "If you talk with my travel assistant... you will find I spent a great deal of time sharing scientific information on the desirability of abandoning homosexual intercourse, and I shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with him in great detail."
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. 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.