Grove City takes a dim view of student porn star

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If everything had gone according to plan, John Gechter would have been studying yesterday for a final exam -- one of his last obligations before graduating from Grove City College with a degree in molecular biology.

Instead, he was preparing for an underwear modeling contest last night in New York City.

It's been a tough couple of weeks for Mr. Gechter, who has learned the hard way what happens when you try to use a gay porn career to finance your education at one of America's most conservative Christian colleges.

For the past two years, Mr. Gechter has been paying the bills through his secret life as porn star "Vincent DeSalvo," earning as much as $11,000 per weekend while jetting off to Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles to film more than a dozen videos.

He did so without telling a soul on the 2,300-student campus in Mercer County, not even his roommate of two years.

   
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"Porn enabled me to finish school," said the 22-year-old from Reading, Berks County. "Instead of working 40 hours a week as a busboy or a waiter, you do a scene and then you have time to concentrate on schoolwork."

But on April 23, a fellow student found Mr. Gechter's ample body of work on the Internet and forwarded evidence of his secret identity to friends. By the next day, Mr. Gechter estimated that the e-mail had reached two-thirds of the student population -- and he'd landed in a meeting with administrators.

Grove City College promotes itself as "Authentically Christian" and requires students to attend at least 16 chapel services per semester. It prides itslef on its conservative heritage and notes on its Web site that the Young America's Foundation recognized it as one of the Top Ten conservative colleges in the U.S.

The school's student handbook clearly states that "premarital sex, heterosexual or homosexual, or any other such conduct that violates historical Christian standards" is subject to disciplinary action.

Mr. Gechter was charged with sexual misconduct, participation in the public display of pornography and engaging in "conduct that is contrary to the mission and values of Grove City College and likely to bring dishonor to the College."

His punishment: an indefinite suspension and a prohibition from re-applying for admission until the fall of 2010. A Grove City appeals board turned down his initial appeal.

Mr. Gechter had been warned by his mentors and employers in the adult film industry that his identity would likely become known. And he had been careful to keep his adult film career away from campus. Still, he hadn't expected that it might prevent him from graduating.

"I was prepared to be recognized," he said. "I was not prepared for the school to react the way they did."

Grove City released a statement yesterday but declined any further comment.

"The student's suspension resulted from his involvement in the adult pornography industry. The student acknowledged that he was employed in the adult entertainment industry and that he knew that violated the student code of conduct. Throughout this process, his sexual orientation was not a factor in the decision."

Mr. Gechter says he is bisexual.

Though he still has one appeal pending with the provost, he has officially withdrawn from the school. He says he's received nearly 200 "hate mail" e-mails from other students and has even been pelted with fruit salad in the cafeteria.

He hopes to complete the remaining two classes that he needs to graduate elsewhere. But his plans to enroll next year in a master's program in kinesiology at the University of Miami are now on hold.

Ironically, Mr. Gechter ended up at Grove City College in the first place because of the generous financial aid package awarded to him.

With two siblings also in college and his parents unable to provide much financial support, Mr. Gechter said that he had to finance his education by himself. Tuition, room and board at Grove City is just under $20,000 a year.

At first, he went the more traditional route, working at low-paying jobs such as a desk clerk at the school gym, a cook in the student bistro and a waiter.

With schoolwork on top of long hours at low wages, he "really got burned out," he said, and decided to explore modeling jobs.

He signed with the Ohio-based Midwest Model Management Agency, doing mainly "fitness and underwear modeling." At one job, he was approached by a scout who told him that he had the perfect body for the adult film industry.

And while the move from modeling to pornography seems like crossing a fairly large gulf, "when you're actually in the industry, it's not quite as big of a deal," he said.

He would work a couple weekends per month, flying out on Friday and returning Sunday night in time for Monday classes and typically making between $3,000 and $5,000 -- and sometimes as much as $8,000 -- per scene.

Though Mr. Gechter said that his porn career opened doors for him in terms of modeling and possibly acting, he now wishes that he hadn't done it, given the academic consequences and the pain that it has caused his religious family.

When he broke the news, his mother started "praying and fasting." His father was upset, but he said they still love him.

He has retained a lawyer and is contemplating a lawsuit against Grove City. Though he admits that some of his rule violations were fairly clear, he doesn't feel like the school is demonstrating Christian values of love and forgiveness. The whole experience, he said, has caused him to re-examine his Christian beliefs.

"I believe in God, that you are held accountable for what you do, that there are standards of right and wrong," he said.

"If I could do it over again, this is not an option I would pursue. It's something you learn from, and you learn who your true friends are very, very quickly."


Anya Sostek can be reached at asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.


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