Rekers ’Rentboy’ Scandal Roils Fla. Governor Race

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday May 12, 2010

Imagine hiring an expert witness at $300 per hour to testify in a high profile, highly charged case with significant political impact, only for the judge in the case to toss the witness' testimony. Now imagine that three years later, the same expert witness is caught in behavior of a sort that he himself had condemned. Finally, imagine having to explain to the taxpayers why more than $120,000 of their money went to that expert witness on your recommendation--even as you ask them to vote you into high office.

That's the situation faced by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. Three years ago, McCollum recommended the hiring of George Rekers as an expert witness in a court case that challenged Florida's ban on gay adoption. Critics say that Rekers' testimony relied not only on debunked and discredited junk science, but on pure bias--and not just against gays; Rekers' testimony included a statement that Native Americans would not make suitable adoptive parents, either.

The executive director of GLBT advocacy group Equality Florida, Nadine Smith, said, "It is disgraceful that the attorney general used taxpayer dollars to compensate this discredited bigot-for-hire," going on to add, "It shows just how low they have to scrape to find anyone even willing to defend this awful ban that denies children permanent loving homes." Smith also told Truth Wins Out head Wayne Besen, whose organization seeks to counter so-called "ex-gay" groups, that "Rekers is part of a small cadre of homophobes-for-hire that charge top dollar for their bogus 'expert' witness testimony despite the fact that they've been discredited over and over again."

Smith added, "McCollum knew this guy was a fraud but he paid him anyway to burnish his conservative credentials. While thousands of children languish in the foster care system and hundreds age out of the system never having been adopted, Rekers is an ideological hired gun who will distort the truth for pay in defense of this law that dehumanizes gay people and denies children in need the stability and permanency that only adoption can bring."

The judge in the case, Cindy Lederman, made her ruling in November of 2008, and pointedly dismissed Rekers' testimony, reported The Miami Herald in a May 11 article. ""Dr. Rekers' testimony was far from a neutral and unbiased recitation of the relevant scientific evidence," wrote Judge Lederman. "Dr. Rekers' beliefs are motivated by his strong ideological and theological convictions that are not consistent with the science. Based on his testimony and demeanor at trial, the court cannot consider his testimony to be credible nor worthy of forming the basis of public policy."

Judge Lederman was not the first jurist to dismiss Rekers' testimony as pseudoscience with no credible bearing on the case, noted the Miami Herald. Three years before he was recruited to testify in Florida, Rekers testified in a similar case in Arkansas--and 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."

As the trial dragged on, Rekers raked in the fees, with payments from the state totaling $60,900 in 2007 and another $59,793 in 2008, the Miami Herald article said.

McCollum has entered the race for the governorship of Florida, an office currently held by incumbent Charlie Crist, but his campaign is now faced with explaining a total bill exceeding $120,000 to voters who have heard through the media about how Rekers, who was paid to testify against gay and lesbian prospective parents, recently took a male escort with him on a trip to Europe.

Rekers and the "Rent Boy"

Rekers claims that he took 20-year-old Jo-vanni Roman--whom he met through serve as a porter because Rekers was unable to lift his own luggage following surgery, and insisted that he was more interested in preaching to the young man about turning from "sin" than in sampling Roman's advertised professional services. Rekers told GLBT news blog, "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 called "Lucien" in the news story: [1] It is possible to cease homosexual practices to avoid the unacceptable health risks associated with that behavior, and [2] 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 that the story called 'Lucien,' 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."

But the young man himself has told the media that his duties did not include handling luggage. They did, however, include administering daily massages with an erotic component.

Rekers, co-founder of the anti-gay group the Family Research Council, told the media that he was contemplating legal action for reports intimating that he had engaged in gay sexual conduct, but Roman himself told the press that Rekers is "a homosexual."

The Miami New Times, which originally broke the story, had reporters present when Roman took a late-night phone call from Rekers, who advised the young man to stonewall the press. 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 was 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 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, Rekers 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]?"

McCollum insists that Rekers was the best the state could find to appear as an expert witness, reported the Herald-Tribune on May 11, though he also now says, "If I knew what I knew today, would I recommend him again, of course not." Added McCollum, "Would I ever recommend to anybody else, no. But he was the best available at the time."

Buyer's Remorse

The Miami Herald also reported, in a May 10 article, on McCollum's' buyer's remorse, adding that McCollum still stood by the choice he made three years ago. "I think our team's done what it should do,'' opined McCollum. "We've been defending the constitution of the state and we've been representing the Department of Children and Families, who hired him and paid him and needed expert witnesses and he was available and credentialed.

"I wouldn't do it again if I knew what I know today but I didn't know that then and neither did anybody else,'' the attorney general added.

McCollum is running on the Republican ticket, and Democrats have seized on the scandal, demanding that McCollum repay the $120,000 that the state shelled out for Rekers' testimony. Citing McCollum's own statement that he would not repeat the hire now, knowing what he does, the Florida Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Democratic Caucus, which describes itself as "an arm of the of the Florida Democratic Party," declared, "But Rekers has built his entire career on peddling discredited junk science and demeaning taxpaying GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) citizens. McCollum knew better but personally requested Rekers to be hired anyway. Because of this, the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus calls on McCollum to immediately refund the state of Florida $120,000 whether it's from his campaign account or his own pocket."

"Bill McCollum showed incredibly poor judgment when he hired Dr. George Rekers to spew hate-filled propaganda on the stand," said Caucus spokesperson Phillip Perry. "The only way that McCollum can make this right is if he immediately apologizes and pays back taxpayers for this egregious mistake. Floridians expect their leaders to spend taxpayer dollars wisely during these tough times, not waste it on hiring quacks posing as scientists to pursue a narrow, hate-inspired political agenda."

In a May 11 op-ed for the Falls Church News-Press, Besen slammed the use of expert witnesses hired by states in such trials. "Sure, its scandalous when an anti-gay charlatan employs a male escort to lift his sack and rub his back," wrote Besen. "But the larger story is that Florida's Attorney General, Bill McCollum, hired now disgraced professor George Rekers for $120,000 to testify as an "expert" witness in favor of the state's ban on allowing gay people to adopt." Besen added, "While the handsome Jo-Vanni Roman was a bargain for Rekers at $75 per night, 'Big Spending Bill' bilked taxpayers for a handsome sum of money to defend his bible-based bigotry. As the rent boy hoopla begins to subside, people should begin to focus on the far more dangerous rent-a-quack industry, where puritanical politicians funnel public money to fellow fundamentalists who twists facts in the name of faith."

Though the state lost the case for which Rekers testified, the state has appealed the decision.

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.