My Interview With Jo-Vanni Roman
Around 1am this morning I got tipped by one of the guys at Unzipped that Jo-Vanni Roman was finally ready to speak with me. Five minutes later I had him on the phone from Fort Lauderdale, but not before I alerted Father Tony to be ready to rush over to him immediately for a video interview. Jo-Vanni declined to meet with Tony for reasons you'll learn at the bottom of this post. Right now, I'm going to cover some key points of our 90 minute, wide-ranging conversation before they slip out of my mind. It's 3:00AM!
Let's open by saying that this kid is no dim bulb. I found him frank, sharp, funny, and quite forthcoming to all my questions. And I had a lot. But I also must say Jo-Vanni is almost painfully naive about some things, as you'll see. Since this interview was completely unplanned, it wasn't recorded and I didn't have a prepared set of questions. So as our conversation bounced around timelines and often veered into unrelated tangents, I think the best way to write this post is just to bullet-point some of the key things he said me.
-Jo-Vanni came out to friends in high school at the age of 16, but went on his first date with a boy while in the 9th grade. His parents know he's gay, but they don't yet know that he escorts.
-His first contact with Dr. George Rekers was via email through Rentboy.com. They met in person one time before the trip to Europe, but "nothing happened."
-Jo-Vanni was excited to take his first trip out of the country and use his passport for the first time. He describes Rekers as a pleasant, amiable travel companion. Before leaving Miami, Rekers told Jo-Vanni that he was a child psychologist, but gave no hint of his also being a Baptist minister, much less a nationally infamous anti-gay activist.
-In Europe, much of their sightseeing involved visiting historic churches and cathedrals, where Rekers would offer various historical facts about the buildings and their place in the history of their respective religions. Jo-Vanni says that he never felt preached to or that Rekers was trying to convert him from being gay, although he says they did have at least one rather direct conversation about "all morality being from God." An ardent atheist, Jo-Vanni says he argued to Rekers that one could be a moral person and still not believe in God. "That was pretty much it as far as religion. He didn't quote Scripture at me or anything," he said. So much for Rekers' claim of Christ-like outreach to the fallen.
-Jo-Vanni says their accommodations were far from deluxe and that their hotel in London was "like a crappy Days Inn or something." It was in those budget hotel rooms where he and Rekers had their daily erotic nude massage sessions. Jo-Vanni confirmed to me the "anus long-stroking" technique reported by the Miami New Times, but says that's as far as things went. He says that Rekers never suggested taking things further, but that Rekers' cock was "rock hard" during the massages. "So it was definitely sexual for him?" I asked. "Oh, for sure!" he replied. And in that way that 20 year-olds speak, he added, "He was definitely totally gay for me." I asked, "And you didn't think it was strange that he didn't at least want to blow you?" He hesitated. "Yeah, at first, I guess. But it kinda felt like maybe he was just getting started, you know, like he was new to gay sex, maybe." (This I doubt highly, but didn't say so to Jo-Vanni.)
-As for the much mocked "lifting of the luggage," Jo-Vanni says that Rekers told him that he'd had three hernia operations. Jo-Vanni says he did indeed do most of the luggage carrying on the trip. In fact, he says that the now notorious Miami International photo was a fluke and the reason it seemed that Rekers was pushing the luggage cart is that they'd been separated moments earlier as they exited customs. Jo-Vanni had been waved through ahead of Rekers.
-Jo-Vanni swore to me that he still has no idea how the Miami New Times was tipped to their arrival in Miami. He claims he had no contact with their reporters either before or during the trip. He speculated to me that "maybe somebody hacked George's email." According to Jo-Vanni, "Some guys rushed up, took our picture and ran away. I said to George, 'Did you just see that?'" (This aspect of the story intrigues me greatly.)
-Jo-Vanni says he first got wind of the expose' by the Miami New Times when they called to advise him of the pending story and request a reaction. They also told him exactly who he'd been vacationing with. Jo-Vanni says he immediately called Rekers, asking, "Did you tell them you went with me? You did? Why did you do that?" Jo-Vanni is angry that Rekers confirmed the trip. "If he hadn't, it would have just been their (Miami News Times') word against ours."
Since the story broke on Tuesday, we've all seen George Rekers' increasingly desperate attempts to deny the sexual aspect of their trip or that he even met Jo-Vanni on Rentboy.com in the first place. They've spoken on the phone once since then, during which Jo-Vanni angrily confronted Rekers about his anti-gay work with the Family Research Council. "I just stay in the background" was Rekers' limp defense. The call ended with Rekers begging Jo-Vanni to refuse future interview requests.
After covering every aspect of his time with Rekers that I could think of, I wanted to know if Jo-Vanni now got exactly who he is. I asked him, "You DO understand just what an incredible monster George IS, right? The horrible things he's said in court about gay people? That he's personally responsible for ripping apart gay families?" I wanted to disabuse Jo-Vanni of what seemed to be fleeting moments of odd affection for the man who'd been such an agreeable travel companion. "Oh, yes. I get it, I really do. He's like way worse than the orange grove lady." The orange grove lady. I'm afraid I went a little Professor Homo at that point and gave Jo-Vanni a three-minute primer on Anita Bryant.
But that "orange grove lady" moment sort of crystallizes who Jo-Vanni is, I think. He's clearly a sharp kid, but there's a plaintive naivete to him. We talked about his being deluged with media requests and he asked me if I'd ever heard heard of the National Enquirer and if "they are any good." Yes, I've heard of them. They're horrible. Stay away from them. "OK, thanks for telling me, They've been calling." He also, as impossible as it seems, had never heard of Ted Haggard or the Mike Jones scandal and he seemed somehow encouraged to learn from me that another gay escort had been through a similar firestorm of attention. I told him about Jones' book and Jo-Vanni responded, "I should probably buy that tomorrow, huh?"
We'd been on the phone for more than an hour at that point, having veered randomly into non-scandal related topics like how many Puerto Ricans live in NYC (lots, he was surprised to learn). I was about to wrap things up when I almost idly asked, "So what have you got planned for tomorrow, more laying low, so to speak?" He said, "Well, I do have to get up early for an interview. You know that guy, the gay reporter on TV?"
That gay reporter is Anderson Cooper, whose office has been calling Jo-Vanni. So this morning CNN's Randi Kaye will meet Jo-Vanni at a Fort Lauderdale hotel for an on-camera (but probably silhouetted) interview. And there Jo-Vanni says he will hand over the confidentiality agreement signed by himself and Dr. George Rekers. "You know, I'd love to see that contract if you wouldn't mind faxing or emailing a photo of it to me," I said innocently. Jo-Vanni laughed and declined. Like I said, naive perhaps, but not dumb.