Guilty by Association by Association
October 12th, 2009
For weeks those who oppose any appointments of gay people (or, perhaps, any appointments of anyone by President Obama) have been obsessing on Kevin Jennings. Jennings is a particularly appealing target because, as founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), any attack on him is also an attack on the credibility of the organization that most strongly serves as advocate and ally for gay youth.
First they focused on the story of “Brewster“, an allegorical tale that Jennings used to explain his motivation for becoming a youth advocate. Anti-gay activists were “outraged” that Jennings did not adequately respond to the tale of an underage kid having sex with adult men.
And then “Brewster” himself reported that he was not underage (he was 16, of legal age in Massachusetts) and he was not having sex with adult men. Some chose to believe that this was “highly suspect” and not really the youth in question, but it did take the wind out of their sails.
So now they’ve changed tactics. Now they question Jennings’ qualifications to serve as a safe youth advocate because he admires an early gay activist who – in addition to his contributions – had some unsavory views. The argument goes like this:
- Jennings has expressed admiration for Harry Hay, who in 1950 co-founded the Mattachine Society, an extremely influential early gay rights organization.
- Three decades later, Harry Hay defended and supported the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) when the rest of the community repudiated this group and refused to allow them participation in community events.
- Therefore, Jennings is tarred by association with NAMBLA and should be disqualified from his position.
And while such reaching arguments are expected from extremists and haters, even the usually-reasonable Dr. Warren Throckmorton is “asking questions”.
Should gay leaders speak out about this now, especially during gay history month? When conservatives refer to someone like Paul Cameron or Scott Lively, they are criticized (and rightly so, to my way of thinking). Should those who laud Hay be questioned about their support for someone who walked with NAMBLA?
I don’t defend Harry Hay. He was a kook and his dedication to anti-establishment activism and non-conformity above all sometimes led to very poor choices (like his defense of NAMBLA) and ultimately enmity with the newly arising community activists. By his death he was an anachronism and an embarrassment.
But I respect and appreciate the work that Hay did on behalf of me and my community when there were very few willing. While he devolved into a bit of a joke, I think it would be appalling, callous, and astonishingly crass to dismiss his contributions and paint the man as nothing but a curmudgeous old fool tied to pedophiles, as anti-gay activists would selfishly have us do.
Throckmorton also notes that Jennings edited a book which praised Hay as an early activist, but left out reference to his support for NAMBLA.
Jennings has spoken positively about Hay and wrote about him in a book titled Becoming Visible, which is a gay history book for teens and college aged adults. In this book, Jennings referenced a biography of Hay (The Trouble with Harry Hay, by Stuart Timmons) which mentioned Hay’s support of NAMBLA but Jennings did not disclose this to his readers.
But the book in question which Jennings edited was not about The Life of Harry Hay. Indeed, the chapter which is so “objectionable” was titled Harry Hay and the Beginnings of the Homophile Movement. In it is some 19 or so pages about the origins and activities of the Mattachine Society from about 1950 to 1953 and how this group was instrumental in organizing gay men in their own defense.
There was one paragraph on Hay’s life after 1953 and the book did not, in that one paragraph, disclose Hay’s defense of NAMBLA. Nor, in his intro to the chapter, did Jennings. The much larger and more extensive book from which the material was selected, Stuart Timmins’ The Trouble with Harry Hay does discuss the NAMBLA controversy which occurred in the late 1980’s – the story takes up one page.
I think it is reasonable to assume that most books for teens which contain limited excerpts of larger biographies do not dwell extensively on the character flaws of those whose accomplishments they seek to extol. Nor does NAMBLA appear to be a large part of Hay’s life – or certainly not to the extent where it would be biographically relevant in a short article. Hay was very involved in other organizations – some rather peculiar ones – and those involvements were briefly mentioned in the book.
But let us not suppose that Jennings’ critics are applying a standard that is consistent, logical, or meaningful. While I suspect that Throckmorton’s involvement with this story relates more to his long-running resentment over anti-bullying program wars, the chorus he joins is motivated by a deep dislike of anyone or anything gay – especially those gay persons or groups that seek to shelter, protect, and support gay kids.
They know that Kevin Jennings does not support NAMBLA. Since Harry Hay passed on, virtually no one in the gay community does. But that doesn’t matter – truth is irrelevant to those who seek the destruction of gay men and women.
Take for example, Throckmorton’s chief example of critic, Scott Baker, who in a video claims:
It is important to note that this is not a small episode in the book. It is, in fact, the dramatic conclusion to the book.
It is not either the dramatic conclusion nor a large episode. It’s one page. Out of 300.
So why does Baker claim it is central to Timmons book? Because it is all that Baker cares about in Hay’s life. He finds the previous 295 pages to be irrelevant and inconsequential; he only cares about what can be used to discredit Hay and Jennings.
And Baker knows – as all anti-gays know – that NAMBLA is despised and feared by parents – or really anyone, gay or straight – and their very existence is a thorn in the side of the gay community. So if they can get the name “Kevin Jennings” and the name “NAMBLA” on the same page, it doesn’t matter how weak the link.
Make no mistake. This is a smear tactic conducted by those who are dedicated to anti-gay activism. The “concern” has nothing to do with safe schools or children. This is an effort – now that the first smear campaign has backfired – to find something, anything, to use as an attack on Kevin Jennings.
And if they can’t actually tie Kevin Jennings to NAMBLA, then they are perfectly content in implying guilt by association by association.