Portraits by Vincent Ricardel
Under the soft September moonlight, the Hummer stretch limousines lined up at an elementary-school parking lot in Laytonsville, Maryland. They were waiting to whisk 800 guests to the post-wedding party of makeup artist and eyebrow specialist Erwin Gomez and his partner, James Packard. As passengers stepped inside the limos, they saw television monitors that played a loop of national and local news clips of the couple—who had wed seven months earlier, in February 2004, in San Francisco.
The Hummers, outfitted with neon lights and stocked with full bars, wove through a residential neighborhood for ten minutes before parking in front of Gomez and Packard’s 8,000-square-foot mansion.
Outside, a tented stage showcased a drag-queen cabaret. A multi-tiered chocolate fountain anchored a dessert buffet next to the romantically lit back-yard pool. An Entertainment Tonight camera crew circulated among socialites, clients, and notables including Fox 5’s Sue Palka, Latin/Mexican singer Jimena, and Saudi princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud. (As a former Gomez client, I attended the party.)
Media outlets such as the New York Daily News had pounced on the story that Gomez had invited Barbara and Jenna Bush—Gomez clients—during an election year. At the party, rumors spread that the gunmetal-gray Hummer parked on the front lawn and adorned with a large red bow was a gift from the absent twins.
The reception was meant to be the crowning event in a publicity blitz to celebrate Packard and Gomez’s status as a poster couple for gay marriage, a role they had assumed since the Washington Post featured them in a front-page article about their union.
Except that it was a sham.
At least that’s how Gomez now describes the wedding: “James thought getting married would be a good stunt—and obviously it worked, because we got so much publicity.”
But the relationship was rocky and both men had already cheated on each other. The Hummer “gift” was Packard’s idea, Gomez says; Packard bought the car, then hinted to guests that the Bush twins had delivered the present.
When San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom legalized gay marriage, Packard had convinced Gomez to get on the next flight there. They were the ninth pair married at San Francisco City Hall. “James wanted us to be one of the first gay weddings,” Gomez says. “In the back of my mind, I thought this was going to help our relationship be stronger. I was thinking it will help our gay community to be recognized. That’s why I had to pretend I was still in love.”
Gomez says he kept up the facade—through scandals, lawsuits, murder threats, and the rise and fall of his Georgetown salon—until late last year, when he walked out of the building that bore his name.
Next: "I got taken advantage of."