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14 worrying facts about Jerry Falwell Jr, the powerful evangelical homophobe embroiled in a sex scandal with a pool boy

Nick Duffy August 26, 2020
Jerry Falwell Jr: How the Liberty University boss became so powerful

Ex-president of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Disgraced Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr, one of the key figures in the US evangelical movement, has had his career shattered by a salacious sex scandal.

A former pool boy has spoken out about his years-long relationship with the university boss, who he claims “enjoyed watching from the corner of the room” as he engaged in sexual acts with his wife, Becki Falwell.

It’s far from the first time an anti-LGBT+ evangelist has accused of hypocrisy over their alleged behaviour in the bedroom – but the case is notable given the vast influence wielded by Falwell and his long record of homophobia. Here are 14 things you need to know about Falwell and the power he wields.

1. Falwell’s former employer, Liberty University, is notorious for its anti-LGBT+ policies.

Liberty University, which claims to be the largest private Christian university in the world, has pursued an authoritarian approach towards LGBT+ students under Falwell’s leadership.

The Virginia-based university banned all LGBT+ groups in 2006 on the grounds of “morality”, and in 2014 secured an exemption from federal anti-discrimination laws to allow it to discriminate against LGBT people.

All students are required to sign a statement promising not to have gay sex – even if they’re married.

It states: “Sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and natural-born woman are not permissible at Liberty University.”

2. Liberty has a huge amount of power and influence.

The university has assets totalling more than $3 billion, putting essentially unlimited resources – including everything from a private jet to a vast legal team – at the disposal of its president.

Liberty University also holds powerful sway within the GOP, with its alumni packing out the offices of right-wing politicians and law firms, while major Republican figures – not least Donald Trump and Mike Pence – pay regular visits to address its students.

President of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr, delivers a speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention in 2016
President of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr, delivers a speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention in 2016 (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

New York Magazine once observed: “If the movement to stop same-sex marriage in its tracks had a spiritual home, it might be in Lynchburg, Virginia, on the sprawling hillside campus of Liberty University.”

3. Jerry Falwell has extreme views on LGBT+ issues.

Falwell has previously advocated the idea of conversion therapy, praising the “frank and fearless testimony” of a man who claimed that God cured him of homosexuality.

Underscoring his opposition to equal marriage, Falwell made clear: “Liberty University is pro-life and believes that marriage between one man and one woman provides the best environment for children.”

When Barack Obama and Joe Biden began to publicly support same-sex marriage, Falwell pulled funding from a Democratic club at the university, making clear: “Liberty University will not lend its name or financial support to undermine marriage.”

He also led a boycott of the influential right-wing conference CPAC in 2010 after a gay Republican group was listed as a co-sponsor. In a letter on the Liberty University website, Falwell accused the group of “actively working to undermine” conservatism.

In 2013, Falwell vowed to entirely end the university’s involvement in federal government programs if Obama moved to prohibit anti-LGBT+ discrimination on college campuses.

4. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Falwell inherited the leadership of Liberty University from his father, Jerry Falwell Sr, who set up the school in 1971.

Falwell Sr was even more avowedly homophobic than his son, referring to the comedian Ellen DeGeneres as “Ellen DeGenerate” when she came out as a lesbian.

As the head of anti-gay lobbying group Moral Majority and an ally of Ronald Reagan, Falwell played a pernicious role in stoking homophobia during the AIDS crisis, insisting: “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals, it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

Dr Jerry Falwell, father of Jerry Falwell Jr, speaks in 2006
Dr Jerry Falwell, father of Jerry Falwell Jr, speaks in 2006 (Jeff Fusco/Getty Images)

The late preacher, who died in 2007, is also popularly known for his provoking a worldwide debate over the sexuality of the Teletubbies character Tinky Winky in 1999.

He claimed that the British children’s TV show character must be gay because he was purple and had a triangle on his head, and carried a handbag.

Forced to respond, the BBC said: “Tinky Winky is simply a sweet, technological baby with a magic bag.”

5. The ‘pool boy’ scandal has been brewing for a long time.

While Giancarlo Granda has only now spoken publicly about his alleged years-long relationship with the Falwells, the evangelist’s link to the Miami Beach pool boy – and suggestions of compromising photos held by Granda – have fuelled gossip and headlines for several years.

BuzzFeed News was the first outlet to publicly broach the subject in 2018, noting a legal dispute relating to the Falwells’ unlikely investment in a gay-friendly youth hostel.

A year on from the story, documents revealed that Falwell had paid an out-of-court settlement to two associates of Granda – father-and-son pair Gordon and Jett Bello – who alleged they were also promised a share in the Miami hostel.

6. Giancarlo Granda was 20 when he struck up alleged relationship.

Granda met the pair in 2012 aged 20, while working as a pool boy at a Miami Beach hotel where they were vacationing.

He claims he engaged in sexual encounters with the Falwells “multiple times per year” at their home near Liberty University in Virginia as well as at hotels in New York and Miami.

Giancarlo Granda with Jerry Falwell
Giancarlo Granda with Jerry Falwell

According to Reuters, Granda supplied “emails, text messages and other evidence that he says demonstrate the sexual nature of his relationship with the couple”.

The former university boss tells a different story, claiming that he and his wife had met “an ambitious young man who was working at our hotel” on a trip to Miami and were “impressed by his initiative in suggesting a local real estate opportunity” – including him in a deal so that “he could play an active role in managing it”.

Falwell admits his wife has an affair with Granda, but denies he was involved or knew about it at the time. The evangelist also claims that Granda threatened to “publicly reveal this secret relationship with Becki and to deliberately embarrass my wife, family, and Liberty University unless we agreed to pay him substantial monies”.

7. Trump fixer Michael Cohen may have played a role in Jerry Falwell Jr scandal.

Buzzfeed‘s initial 2018 report indicated the involvement of Donald Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen, now a convicted criminal, in helping keep the scandal under wraps.

The claim was bolstered by in May 2019 by a covert recording of Cohen, who appeared to boast that he had helped Falwell to prevent the release of sexually compromising photos.

Speaking to the actor Tom Arnold, Cohen said: “There’s a bunch of photographs, personal photographs, that somehow the guy ended up getting… I actually have one of the photos. You know, it’s terrible.”

The photos were ultimately destroyed, Cohen said.

8. Jerry Falwell’s endorsement of Donald Trump was pivotal to making him president.

It seems a long time ago now, but when Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz launched his 2016 presidential bid with a speech at Liberty University, he was seen as the obvious choice for the evangelical lobby – with Donald Trump largely considered as a brash and irreligious outsider.

But despite Cruz literally launching his campaign at the university, in January 2016 Falwell shocked commentators by becoming the first major evangelical leader to snub him and endorse Donald Trump instead.

US Senator Ted Cruz stands on stage while speaking to a crowd gathered at Liberty University to announce his presidential candidacy on March 23, 2015
US Senator Ted Cruz stands on stage while speaking to a crowd gathered at Liberty University to announce his presidential candidacy on March 23, 2015 (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The university head’s decision to back Trump, who was delivered the presidency in no small part due to the support of the evangelical lobby, was one of the most pivotal moments in the GOP primary – and has been a matter of speculation ever since.

Reuters reports that Michael Cohen played helped persuade Falwell to issue his endorsement of Trump’s candidacy – though there is no evidence the endorsement was connected to Cohen’s alleged work suppressing the release of embarrassing photos.

Falwell would go on to stump for Trump across the country, attending rallies alongside the leader.

9. Jerry Falwell Jr has been handsomely rewarded for loyalty to Trump

The importance of Falwell’s backing was not lost on Trump after his 2016 election victory, with Falwell revealing that he was offered the post of education secretary as the new president prepared to take office.

Falwell told Associated Press that he had turned down the role for unspecified “personal reasons”, with the anti-LGBT+ Betsy DeVos ultimately named to fill the spot.

While he has eschewed an official office, Falwell is reported to be among the members of an evangelical advisory board to the president – though the White House has denied the existence of any such formal body.

The pair have been spotted together on countless occasions since Trump’s rise to power, with the president and several of his cabinet members becoming regular fixtures at the university.

Accompanied by Jerry Falwell, Donald Trump leaves after he delivered keynote address during the commencement at Liberty University in 2017 (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

10. Jerry Falwell Jr personally honoured Nigel Farage with an honorary doctorate.

Donald Trump is not the only divisive figure with whom Falwell has fostered relations.

In February, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage jetted over to Virginia to be personally awarded an honorary doctorate at Liberty University.

Falwell lavished praise on the leader, who has been accused of stoking racist and anti-Islamic rhetoric in the UK.

Jerry Falwell Jr: How the Liberty University boss became so powerful
Nigel Farage was honoured by Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr

His speech praising Farage contained a number of falsehoods, including the colourful but bizarre claim that a 2010 plane crash was part of a plot to kill him.

11. Jerry Falwell Jr peddled conspiracy theories during the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, the university boss claimed that coronavirus was being “overblown” as part of a media plot to hurt Donald Trump’s re-election chances, promoting baseless conspiracy theory claims that the virus is a “bioweapon.”

He said: “Impeachment didn’t work, the Mueller report didn’t work, article 25 didn’t work, maybe this is their next attempt to get Trump.”

Falwell attacked other universities for closing down as lockdowns were declared, claiming that they were being “irresponsible” by shuttering campuses.

He also claimed that young people were not at risk from the virus because they “don’t have conditions that put them at risk”.

Within weeks, Liberty University had confirmed cases of coronavirus among the student population.

12. Other incidents have raised questions about his conduct.

The conduct of the university boss caused alarm earlier this month when he posted a since-deleted Instagram photo of himself on a yacht with his arm around a woman – with his jeans unzipped, midriff exposed and underwear on display.

A tired-sounding Falwell Jr later called into a radio station, defending his conduct while making clear he would “try to be a good boy from here on out”.

Jerry Falwell Jr, the president of one of America's largest Christian colleges, was abraded by right-wing criticism for a photograph of himself and a woman at a party. (Instagram)
Jerry Falwell Jr, the president of one of America’s largest Christian colleges, faced right-wing criticism for a photograph of himself and a woman at a party. (Instagram)

The university boss was also accused of ‘liking’ photos of scantily-clad young women on Instagram – some of them students at Liberty University.

He was placed on a “leave of absence” on 7 August. The university said: “The executive committee of Liberty University’s board of trustees, acting on behalf of the full board, met today and requested that Jerry Falwell Jr take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as president and chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately.”

13. No one could agree on whether he resigned or not.

On Monday (24 August), Falwell and the university confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that he had officially resigned amid the pool boy scandal.

Falwell later backtracked, telling Politico: “I have not resigned. I will be on indefinite leave.”

But the resignation was ultimately confirmed by both Falwell and the university after a board meeting on Tuesday (25 August).

Falwell told NPR: “I’m free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I am free at last! That’s the way, I feel.”

He added: “I’m leaving because I think I’ve done all I can do [at Liberty]. It’s better to leave at the top.”

14. His replacement is just as anti-LGBT+.

The new interim president of Liberty University, Jerry Prevo, has a lengthy record of fighting LGBT+ rights tooth-and-nail, spearheading multiple efforts to repeal ordinances protecting LGBT+ people from discrimination in Anchorage.

LGBTQNation notes that his church ran shocking transphobic ads to oppose an LGBT+ non-discrimination law in 2012, depicting a hairy transgender woman using the women’s locker room at the gym. Another ad claimed that a daycare centre would be forced to hire a “transvestite who wants to work with toddlers.”

Prevo expelled the local boy scout troop from his church in 2013 after the organisation voted to become LGBT+ inclusive.

He also founded and led the Alaska chapter of Moral Majority, a fundamentalist “family values” group known for its extreme opposition to LGBT+ equality.

In a past interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Prevo was unrepentant about his decades spent fighting the tide on LGBT+ rights, insisting: “The Bible very definitely says that it’s wrong, and it’s my job to tell the people what God says.”

He insisted: “We’ve just taken a biblical stand on morality, all through the years. Young people these days, I don’t think they know what God says about [homosexuality]. Therefore, they are endorsing it.”

More: Becki Falwell, Donald Trump, Giancarlo Granda, Jerry Falwell Jr, liberty university, Michael Cohen, Mike Pence

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