Sunday, May 16, 2010

Frank Rich on the "Zelig of Homophobia" and a "Heaven-Sent Rent Boy"

In the May 14 issue of the New York Times, Frank Rich weighs in on the George Rekers scandal with a well-researched and insightful op-ed. Following is an excerpt (with added images).


Of all wars, only culture wars offer the hope of sheer, unadulterated hilarity. Sex and hypocrisy were staples of farce long before America became a nation, and they never go out of style. Just listen to the roaring audience at the new hit Broadway revival of the perennial La Cage aux Folles, where a family-values politician gets his comeuppance in drag. Or check out the real-life closet case of George Rekers, who has been fodder for late-night television comics all month.

Rekers [pictured at left] is in a class by himself even in the era of Larry Craig and Ted Haggard. A Baptist minister and clinical psychologist with a bent for “curing” homosexuality, the married, 61-year-old Rekers was caught by Miami New Times last month in the company of a 20-year-old male escort at Miami International Airport. The couple was returning from a 10-day trip to London and Madrid. New Times, which published its exposé in early May, got an explanation from Rekers: “I had surgery, and I can’t lift luggage. That’s why I hired him.”

Alas, a photo showed Rekers, rather than his companion, handling the baggage cart. The paper also reported that Rekers had recruited the young man from, a Web site whose graphic sexual content requires visitors to vouch for their age. — really, who could make this stuff up?

Much like the former Senator Craig, Rekers claims it was all an innocent mix-up. His only mistake, he told the magazine Christianity Today, was to hire a “travel assistant” without proper vetting. Their travels were not in vain. The good minister expressed gratitude that his rent boy [Jo-Vanni Roman, pictured at right] “did let me share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him with many Scriptures in three extended conversations.”

This is a family newspaper, so you must supply your own jokes here.

But once we stop laughing, we must remember that culture wars are called wars for a reason. For all the farcical shenanigans they can generate, they do inflict real casualties — both at the micro level, on the lives of ordinary people, and at the national level, where, as we’re seeing right now, a Supreme Court nominee’s entire record can be reduced to a poisonous and distorted debate over her stand on the single culture-war issue of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Rekers is no bit player in these wars. Though he’s not a household name, he should be. He’s the Zelig of homophobia, having played a significant role in many of the ugliest assaults on gay people and their civil rights over the last three decades. His public career dates back to his authorship of a theoretically scholarly 1982 tome titled Growing Up Straight: What Families Should Know About Homosexuality. (I say theoretically because many of the footnotes cite his own previous writings.) And what did Rekers think that families should know? By Chapter 2, he is citing the cautionary tale of how one teacher’s “secret homosexual lifestyle most likely led to his murder.”

Rekers soon went on to become a co-founder with James Dobson of the Family Research Council, a major, if not the major, activist organization of the religious right as well as a power broker in the Republican Party. When the Miami scandal broke, the council’s current president, Tony Perkins, quickly tried to distance himself, claiming that he had to review “historical records” to verify who Rekers was and that his organization had “no contact” with him or “knowledge of his activities” for over a decade.

That historical record is hardly as obscure as Perkins maintained. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC found that only weeks before Rekers’s excellent European adventure, his name appeared on the masthead of an official-looking letter sent to some 14,000 school superintendents nationwide informing them that homosexuality is a choice that can be stamped out by therapy. The letter was from the “American College of Pediatricians” — a misnomer for what is actually a political organization peddling homophobic junk-science. Rekers was also on the board of another notorious peddler of gay “cures” — the National Association for Research and Therapy on Homosexuality, or NARTH — until he resigned last week. Such groups have done nothing to stop homosexuality but plenty to help promote punitive “treatment” and suicidal depression among untold numbers of gay youths.

No less destructive has been Rekers’s role in maintaining the draconian Florida law prohibiting adoptions by gay couples and individuals, a relic of the Anita Bryant era. When the law was challenged in court two years ago, the state Attorney General Bill McCollum [pictured at left] personally intervened to enlist Rekers as an expert witness to uphold it. Rekers charged $120,000 for his services — a taxpayers’ expenditure now becoming an issue in the Florida gubernatorial race, where McCollum is a Republican candidate to succeed Charlie Crist. A Miami judge ruled Florida’s law unconstitutional, and even now McCollum is appealing that decision.

Rekers was also an expert witness in a similar court case in Arkansas in 2004. That anti-gay-adoption law was also ruled unconstitutional. (His bill there was $200,000, but he settled for $60,000.) In 1998 Rekers was hired as an expert witness by the Boy Scouts to uphold its gay ban in a case before the District of Columbia Human Rights Commission. And then there’s Rekers’s cameo in the current Proposition 8 trial in California: one of his homophobic screeds can be found in the bibliography for the “expert report” by David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, the star witness for the anti-same-sex-marriage forces.

Thanks to Rekers’s clownish public exposure, we now know that his professional judgments are windows into his cracked psyche, not gay people’s. But there is nothing funny about the destruction his writings and public activities have sown. His fringe views have not remained on the fringe. His excursions into public policy have had real and damaging consequences on a large swath of Americans.

The crusade he represents is, thankfully, on its last legs. American attitudes about homosexuality continue to change very fast. In the past month, as square a cultural venue as Archie comic books has announced the addition of a gay character, the country singer Chely Wright has come out as a lesbian, and Laura Bush has told Larry King that she endorses the “same” rights for all committed couples and believes same-sex marriage “will come.” All of this news has been greeted by most Americans with shrugs, as it should be. . . .


Rich goes on to highlight how “the rear-guard remnants of the Rekers crowd are not going down without a fight,” and how their “focus on [Supreme Court nominee] Elena Kagan has been most revealing.” To read his op-ed, "A Heaven-Sent Rent Boy," in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day - May 5, 2010
Debunking NARTH (Part 1)
Debunking NARTH (Part 2)
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Courage Apostolate
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
The Cowardice of Courage

Recommended Off-site Links:
George Rekers' Luggage and Handler - Karen Doherty (Nihil Obstat, May 17, 2010).
Bill McCollum's Political Prostitution is the Real Story in the Rent Boy Saga - Wayne Besen (, May 11, 2010).
Andrew Sullivan: Outing George Rekers Was Mean, But Elena Kagan Has a Responsibility to Spill It - Evan Hurst (, May 11, 2010).
My Interview with Jo-Vanni Roman - Joe Jervis (, May 7, 2010).


Mareczku said...

Another excellent article. This really makes a person think.

Terry Nelson said...

Life is just one big sit-com, ain't it. It really is like La Cage. LOL!