Two Young Gay Journalists from Wilton Manors Expose Anti Gay Leader’s Liasion with Rentboy
Wilton Manors residents Brandon K. Thorp, 27, and Penn Bullock, 21, met on My Space three years ago but only in the last week has their relationship reached the cosmos.
Last week, Thorp, who usually writes the theater column for Miami New Times, joined with his partner, Bullock, to break the story that a young male hooker from Miami had gone on a ten day European vacation with Dr. George Rekers, a founder of the rabidly anti-gay Family Research Council, and a board member of NARTH, the notorious National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality.
Dr. Rekers is not just anyone. He is a nationally reputed leader of the ex-gay movement who has authored books and campaigned vigorously that homosexuality can be cured. Republican Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum actually paid him almost $120,000.00 of taxpayer money to be a star witness for the State of Florida in the legal case seeking to defend state statutes banning gay adoption.
When the story by Thorp and Bullock went public on Thursday, it skyrocketed into the national news. Truth Wins Out Executive Director Wayne Besen issued a press release condemning the hypocrisy of Rekers. The Human Rights Campaign chimed in as well. Gay bloggers chipped in their two cents, and national news organizations reached out all seeking exclusive and unique angles. Neither Bullock nor Thorp nor the 20 year old escort, whose identity they tried to protect, was ready for it. The story took on a life of its own.
A gay blog site, Unzipped.net, was dissatisfied that the New Times feature refused to reveal the hooker’s true identity, identified by Thorp and Bullock only as ‘Lucien’ in their article. Using the Rentboy search engine, they used the physical characteristics described in their article to track down a photo of the young man, whose picture they then published, along with his Rentboy.com ad.
“I guess I expected too much from the gay community,” said Thorp, who had hoped against hope to keep the center of the story from becoming the story.
Stated Besen, from TWO, “Bullock and Thorp deserve credit for helping expose a national scandal and hypocritical scoundrel, but there was no way they could keep this kid from the bright light of national exposure.”
In short order, it was revealed to the world that ‘Lucien’ was Jo-Vanni Roman, a gay Miami-Dade college student, explaining to the Herald that he “was just looking for extra money to pay his tuition. My family knows I am gay, but they did not know what I was doing to make ends meet.” On Friday, Qweerty.com published 50 photos of Roman on its site, referring to him as the “nation’s most famous hooker.”
“I don’t think there is any question that from the beginning we wanted to keep Lucien’s identity private,” Thorp stated. “His life was no one’s business. He was not a national figure trying to screw up people’s lives. We wanted to bring down ‘one of the bad guys,’ a theocratic totalitarian, and expose him for who he really was.”
Thorp and Bullock went about the task of writing their story methodically. First, it was not Roman that tipped them off to the lead the young man was in Europe with Rekers. Instead, it was a friend of Roman’s, who was an ‘authorized user’ of his e-mail account. Apparently, while reviewing Roman’s contacts, he came upon the escort’s famous client, and contacted his friend, Bullock. His goal was to expose Rekers, a married man, for hiring a male escort.
Bullock and Thorp immediately recognized the significance of their quarry, and the potentially explosive nature of the story. They arranged to secretly be at the airport with a camera when Rekers arrived, and snapped the now famous photos of Rekers standing over his luggage, with Roman in the background.
“Yes,” Bullock told SFGN, “we took pictures at the airport, but we did not talk to either until several days after the event.
Then he called Rekers, stated Bullock. “You know, if Rekers had owned up to us that he was taking the kid to Europe as an act of charity to prove he wanted to prove one-on-one he could save a soul, it might have been more believable, but instead he seemed to be grasping for the first excuse that came to his head. That’s when he told us that ‘Lucien’ was simply his travel companion, and that he had no idea he was a ‘sex worker.’”
Thorp and Bullock also contacted Roman for the first time, who initially did not want to talk with them. “But he is so incredibly kind and polite, he began engaging in conversation with me,” Bullock related, “and I explained to him the significance of exposing this fellow, and he agreed.”
Bullock empathized with Roman, “Even though we had come into his life without notice, he invited us in, even as he recognized us as two people who could turn his life upside down. Still, he never showed a second of discourtesy and he really is a lovely guy.”
Added Thorp, “There is nothing disgraceful about a young college student supplementing his income as a sex worker. Roman is engaged in an honorable profession, as much so as a politician. He is an innocent bystander. The person that matters is Rekers.”
While Bullock and Thorp were speaking with Roman, the whole world was seeking to as well. CNN sent a crew to Fort Lauderdale to interview Roman, took comments from Besen, but left Thorp and Bullock out of the picture. Meanwhile, Rekers was posting notices that their New Times story was ‘slanderous’ and he would be retaining an attorney to sue for defamation.
That was only one of many times Rekers would put his foot in his mouth. Since their initial publication, Thorp and Bullock, with access to an authorized user of Roman’s online accounts, have also published e-mails pretty much showing that Roman and Ekers had prior liasions, negating Reker’s representations that he only learned Roman was a male sex worker during the trip.
Jay Leno and Jon Stewart mocked Rekers’ disclaimers in their nationally televised monologues. Popular gay blogger Joe Jervis, at Joe.my.god., also scorned his hypocrisy. The mainstream press covered the story as well, mostly noting the story broke in New Times. And while Rekers is defending the use of the male escort on his website as a ‘travel assistant with a daily contract of $75 per day’, the Family Research Council is rapidly moving to distance themselves from the now-disgraced expert. The FRC told CNN they have ‘had no knowledge of Dr. Rekers or his activities for over a decade.’
NARTH representatives, who are still reeling from the scandal exposed by SFGN in March, which revealed their Secretary/Treasurer, Arthur Abba Goldberg, as a convicted felon, said they take the “allegations seriously and are looking into them.”
Last Thursday’s print edition of the New Times article authored by Bullock and Thorp has been followed by a series of blogs, revealing Roman’s admissions that the escort was providing more than just travel services for Rekers, admitting that ‘nude massages’ along with ‘reciprocal touching down there’ was part of the ‘contract’ for services. The story, if you will forgive the pun, just keeps on growing.
Stated Bullock, “Lucien came around and gave us all the salacious details of his nude and sexual encounters with Rekers, and the online blog we post on Monday the 10th on New Times will advance the story considerably.”
For Bullock, a talented young writer whose articles have appeared in Wired and Reason Magazine, he sees the feature on Roman as “as a break out story which I hope is my break out moment.” Not bad for a 21 year old who came to South Florida three years ago, in June, 2007, as a drop out from a Seattle high school.
Thorp and Bullock met on MySpace on Christmas Eve in 2006, in “Marlboro country,” Thorp explained, “Well, really- I had run a profile saying I was looking for ‘a gay atheist between 18 and 25 who was a smoker,’ and Penn replied. Then we started emailing and calling each other,” he added, “and then in the spring he agreed to come here once, and I agreed to go there once, and well here we are together.”
Thorp works full time as an executive assistant for the James Randi Educational Foundation, a rather unique group. The organization’s aim is to promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our society today.
Since earning his GED, Bullock is hoping that in five years he is “writing regular features and columns for the New Yorker,” with his partner, Brandon, by his side. Meanwhile neither is relishing the moment as it is unfolding. In fact, says Bullock, “We are having a hard time enjoying the success of this story because it has had such a tumultuous effect on the people we wrote about. It’s actually incredibly stressful.” And Thorp simply adds, “I have stories to write, deadlines to meet, and I can’t get anything done. Everyone is calling.”
As for ‘Lucien,’ the boy they inadvertently outed into the national spotlight, Thorp says he “seems to be adjusting to it well, taking to the moment like a fish to water.” Still, he is concerned that the young man is not getting the most sage advice. Blogger Joe Jervis agreed, imploring the gay community to “close ranks and block the Christian right from hurting him.”
For the moment, both Brandon and Penn are Writers of the Storm, a vortex of publicity surrounding them. They are at the epicenter of a national controversy, which might blow by them or propel them to prominence in their chosen profession.
Staying atop the crest of the wave is going to be a difficult challenge, both for the young male escort and the young men who wrote about him. Either way we can be sure of this- Rekers is yesterday’s news.