The young man sitting on a baggage cart at a Miami International Airport arrivals terminal seems worried. Lifting luggage is part of his job description, but his travel companion — a minister — and the bags are still at customs, randomly selected for a special security procedure.
The two guys standing nearby make the young man even more uneasy. One of them holds a hot-pink digital camera, and both are trying hard not to look his way. They keep stealing glances, which the young man tries to ignore.
He has no idea the two guys have spent the past week studying screen captures of his emails — including the itinerary of his trip with the minister — sent by a friend he once entrusted with his passwords. In fact, the young man doesn't really know the man with whom he has spent the past two weeks.
Eventually, the minister makes it out of customs with his baggage cart. The 61-year-old with combed-over hair and a bushy mustache joins his young travel companion. As they wait for an elevator, there is a click and a flash, and the guys with the pink camera disappear.
In less than a week, that picture will circulate the globe, and George Alan Rekers and his travel companion, Jo-vanni Roman, will become household names. Had it been anybody else returning from a two-week European vacation with a gay male escort, the affair probably would have stayed in the family.
But Rekers — who is divorced with six grown children, one of them adopted — is a leading activist in the nation's anti-gay movement and a cofounder with James Dobson, America's best-known homophobe, of the Family Research Council. The Baptist minister and prolific author is also a board member of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which champions a clinical "gay cure."
It doesn't take long for the story to unfold. On April 14, the day after returning home, Rekers receives a call in the middle of his workday. He sounds wary and chooses his words carefully when the caller identifies himself as a reporter for New Times.
"What, uh, what issue are you interested in?" Rekers asks.
The reporter, Brandon K. Thorp, reveals he knows the identity of Rekers's travel companion, Jo-vanni Roman. "Well," Thorp says, "I'm just curious why you were traveling with a 20-year-old male prostitute with long blond hair, a swimmer's build, and an uncircumcised penis."
Rekers stammers. "Oh — I just found out about that while I was on the trip. He was, he was, um, advertising himself as a travel companion, and I cannot lift luggage."
"Where did you find out about his services as a travel companion? Where were they being advertised?"
"I did a Google search for 'travel companion,' and he came up on that. I contacted him."
"Oh, I see," Thorp says. "It wasn't on Rentboy.com?"
Long silence. Rekers's voice becomes thin at the mention of the pornographic gay escort site. "I don't know if it was or not."
It would be New Times' first and last conversation with Rekers. As soon as he hangs up, he calls Roman. The two, Roman would later admit, agree to a bowdlerized story to hide the fact that the young man's contract with Rekers called for more than hauling the minister's luggage on their trip to England and Spain.
"We both decided to [cut] the whole idea of the masseur out of the script," Roman would tell New Times. "If we cut it out, we don't have to worry about it, and we can keep it pretty legit."
Contacted by New Times reporter Penn Bullock the next day, the 20-year-old escort is surprisingly warm. He agrees to an on-the-record interview at his house the morning of Saturday, April 17 — provided his name is stricken from any story that might result.
Roman opens the front door of his West Kendall townhome and shows the reporters into a small, tidy home, whose most ostentatious feature is an Alienware laptop glowing psychedelically beyond an open bedroom door.
The escort's tall, swarthy soon-to-be ex-boyfriend sits on the couch in front of the TV set. When he sees the reporters, he darts into a bedroom like a startled fish and doesn't reappear.
During the two-hour interview, Roman readily admits he met Rekers at Rentboy.com but insists there was no sex, sensuality, or come-ons during their vacation.
"We went to a lot of parks, restaurants. I mean, we were just talking about everything... And I was basically just leading him around, being like a tour guide," Roman says. "If [Rekers] was looking for someone sex-wise, there were so many other guys that were showing so much more" on Rentboy.com's profile pages, he says.
When Bullock asks Roman if he has recently edited his profile, his voice climbs a half-octave. "I kinda got freaked about the whole picture thing," he says, admitting he has deleted references to his "tight ass" and "8-inch cock."