Jennings to leave education department
May 19th, 2011
Before there was “It Gets Better”, there was the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network. And before Dan Savage used the internet and airwaves to reach kids to tell them to just hold on for a while longer, Kevin Jennings worked to set up places on campus where kids could be safe from bullying and where teachers and others could give help and support.
This has made Kevin Jennings one of the favorite targets of anti-gay activists. Homophobia cannot survive without reinforcement and there is no message more detrimental to the goals of those who seek to persecute children into compliance with social and religious demands than the message that they are okay as they are.
So when President Obama appointed Jennings to the Education Department’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, they went apoplectic. Jennings “has played an integral role in promoting homosexuality and pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America’s schools—an agenda that runs counter to the values that many parents desire to instill in their children.” Or, in other words, how can Mommy and Daddy raise someone to despise gay people if the President appoints one of them there perverts?
And besides there is that tale from decades ago about how Jennings was unsure of what to say to a kid named “Brewster.” So, yeah, that proves something or other and justifies the – frankly shocking – level of contempt expressed towards the man.
Obama ignored the cries for Jennings’ firing and, for the most part, the raging animus has now leveled off to a simmer of ill will. But it seems that after two years, Jennings has had enough.
It has been an honor to serve in the Obama Administration and specifically on Secretary [Arne] Duncan’s leadership team at the Department of Education. I am incredibly excited to return to the nonprofit sector by joining the Be the Change team and working on issues like promoting public service and increasing economic opportunity, the kinds of critical challenges we must solve if America is to continue to thrive in the 21st century.
I wish Jennings well.
LaBarbera Award: Cliff Kincaid
January 5th, 2010
Cliff Kincaid is not, to my knowledge, a relative. But he is the editor of Accuracy in Media, a watchdog group that “critiques botched and bungled news stories and sets the record straight on important issues that have received slanted coverage.” What that means is that anything that isn’t presented from the perspective of an ultra-conservative worldview is denounced and “corrected”.
Cliff is not one to mince words. He is bold, he is strong, and at times so extremist that he makes good comedy.
Take, for example, this “un-slanted” description of the Stonewall Riots.
What they did was attack the police when officers conducted a lawful raid.
The police raided the bar because it was operated by the Mafia and illegally serving alcohol. It was a “Mafia-run, Christopher St. bar,” noted the New York Daily News. This information is easily ascertained through a basic Google search.
But Obama and his homosexual backers in and out of the media want to perpetuate the myth that Stonewall is a symbol of an unprovoked police attack on homosexuals, not a symbol of a sleazy lifestyle.
Hmmm. No slant there.
Or consider the bias he observed in the 2004 media coverage over the failed attempt to pass a federal amendment to the US Constitution to bar gay couples from obtaining equal protection under the law:
A supporter of the proposal says, “A two-thirds vote is a difficult margin to achieve in the current Senate on anything even remotely controversial.” But if and when it goes down to defeat, the outcome should be attributed at least in part to a vicious and nasty “outing” campaign against closeted gays in the House and Senate, including members and staffers.
The Washington Post ran a matter-of-fact story about this campaign, never once using the terms “bribery” or “blackmail.”
As the LaBarbera Award is given for the most outrageous, offensive, malevelent, crazy or excessive statement or claim, Cliff’s comedic rants should have long since earned him recognition. Bizarre statements about how gay Republicans (included elected officials) might be “a Democratic Party dirty trick” or that George W. Bush was a pseudo-socialist.
But it is not the wacky or the laughable that has earned Cliff Kincaid our attention. Rather it is a claim that is shocking in both its irrationality and in its callousness.
Cliff has been for months now waging a mostly-ineffective war of smear, accusation, and insinuation on Kevin Jennings, the gay Department of Education official currently being targeted by the right wing. Cliff has been stating the litany of accusations (most proven false) and ranting and wailing when main stream media doesn’t run with his conspiracy theories or claims of guilt by association by association.
But now he has crossed the pale.
Today in an article titled, NAMBLA-gate: The Strange Case of Kevin Jennings, Part One, Cliff concocts a reason why he thinks that no one is giving any attention to his efforts to connect Kevin Jennings to NAMBLA by means of mention of admiration for Harry Hay: too much attention is given to the Anti-Homosexuality bill in Uganda.
But the controversy over Jennings, which had been growing since his appointment in May, has been skillfully deflected by some journalists and commentators who have been attacking the government of Uganda for considering a law that would toughen laws against homosexual behavior that threatens public health and children. “Uganda wants to execute people for being gay,” lesbian commentator Rachel Maddow asserted on her MSNBC program on December 2. She called it the “kill-the-gays bill” and demanded that Christians in the U.S. denounce it.
Jumping on the story, the New York Times has claimed the bill would “impose a death sentence for homosexual behavior.”
These claims are flat-out disinformation.
Dr. Scott Lively, who visited Uganda in March of 2009 to encourage efforts to protect traditional family values, says the proposed death penalty in the bill, just one of many provisions, is for “aggravated homosexuality,” which is actually pederasty, pedophilia, homosexual parent/child incest, homosexual abuse of a disabled ward, and knowingly spreading AIDS. Dr. Lively is the author of The Pink Swastika and the president of Abiding Truth Ministries.
You’d think that someone interested in correcting slant and bias would bother to read the bill. Either Cliff Kincaid couldn’t be bothered or he has no regard for accuracy. Yes the death penalty is but one provision but it targets more than he claims. It also sends a “repeat offender”, so broadly defined as to include anyone who has had a relationship with more than one person or who had sex with the same person more than once, to death by hanging.
So yes, the provisions included in this bill would be a death sentence for virtually every gay man or woman were this the law in the Western World.
But not content to broadcast flat lies about the Ugandan bill, Cliff Kincaid makes an arrogant assertion that is staggering in its presumptions and callous disregard for life.
It would appear that the purpose of the orchestrated controversy over the proposed law in Uganda is to divert attention from the real scandal involving Obama Education Department official Kevin Jennings and his praise for the founder of the modern gay rights movement, Harry Hay, a supporter of adult-child sex.
No. Our efforts to stop gay men and women from being slaughtered in Uganda are not in response to Cliff Kincaid’s attacks on Kevin Jennings. Indeed, Box Turtle Bulletin has been following the Uganda situation since before Jennings was appointed or Kincaid’s slur campaign began.
The Jennings stories have no legs because they a weakly constructed weapons in a Culture War and the public, saturated by radical extremism, sees through them. The Uganda story, on the other hand, is a reporting of true evil. And unlike Cliff Kincaid, decent people are less concerned about contrived baseless controversies than they are about an attempt to scapegoat a subset of the population and threaten them with death.
The Real Reason they don’t like Kevin Jennings
October 16th, 2009
A group of 53 Republican congressmen sent a letter to President Obama asking him to fire Kevin Jennings from his job running the Education Department’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. No, there are no surprises on the list.
The congressmen lay out four reasons why they oppose Jennings, with the first one serving as their primary objection. And the real reason why they don’t like Kevin Jennings is… wait for it… because HE’S GAY!!!
Well, actually, it’s because he’s a homosexual activist. But, then again, so is every single gay person who isn’t masquerading as a doormat.
As the founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Mr. Jennings has played an integral role in promoting homosexuality and pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America’s schools—an agenda that runs counter to the values that many parents desire to instill in their children. As evidence of this, Mr. Jennings wrote the foreword for a book titled Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue About Sexualities and Schooling. Throughout his career, Mr. Jennings has made it his mission to establish special protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students to the exclusion of all other students. The totality of Mr. Jennings’ career has been to advocate for public affirmation of homosexuality. There is more to safe and drug free schools than can be accomplished from the narrow view of Mr. Jennings who has, for more than 20 years, almost exclusively focused on promoting the homosexual agenda.
Translation: “He’s gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay!”
They also object to:
Two: The now debunked Brewster misinterpretation:
Mr. Jennings recounts a 15-year old student confiding in him that he had a sexual relationship with a much older man… Mr. Jennings’ only response was to ask if the underage boy used a condom.
Those of us who bother to care about honesty will note that even if one were to pretend that the story was supposed to be strictly factual rather than allegorical in nature, Jennings never said the man was “much older” or “And that’s all I ever told him.” And I’m sure they forgot to note that Brewster himself told us that he wasn’t having sex.
Ah but honest concern is seldom a real component of anti-gay outrage.
Three: a failure to oppose drugs
In his memoir, Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son, Mr. Jennings describes his use of illegal drugs, without expressing regret or acknowledging the devastating effects illegal drug use can have on a person’s life.
I will give the benefit of the doubt and assume none of them actually read the book. Otherwise they’d know that the “illegal drugs” they reference was a single sentence about smoking pot once with a boy who was a bad influence during a period when Jennings was desperately trying to fit in.
But that doesn’t fit their agenda quite so well
And lest you think that either of these two additional “concerns” are central to their objection, they close with the following:
You should replace him with someone who has a record of educating children in a safe and moral environment. [emphasis added]
In other words, someone who isn’t gay.
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.
Kevin Jennings, “Brewster,” and the Closet
October 3rd, 2009
(I’ve been extremely busy with work lately, which is why I haven’t been able to comment on this extremely important story. My apologies for my tardiness.)
Numerous anti-gay web sites have been hyperventilating about the appointment of Kevin Jennings, the former Executive Director for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), to be the Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education. The loudest cries have centered on a story that Jennings has told many times in many forms, about an incident that happened when he was just starting out as a schoolteacher. There are several versions of the story floating around, but the one that anti-gay activists have fixated on goes like this:
And in my second job I wasn’t sure how I wanted to deal with that. And I was in my first month on the job and I had an advisee named Brewster. Brewster was missing a lot of classes; he was in the boarding school so I said to his teacher, his first period teacher, I said, “next time Brewster misses a class I want you to tell me that he’s missed that class and, uh, I will go find him.”
So I went and found Brewster one morning when she had called and he was asleep in his dorm room. And I said, “Brewster, what are you doing in there asleep?” And he said, “Well, I’m tired.”
And I said, “Well we all are tired and we all got to school today.”
And he said, “Well I was out late last night.”
And I said, “What were you doing out late on a school night.”
And he said, “Well, I was in Boston…”
Boston was about 45 minutes from Concord. So I said, “What were you doing in Boston on a school night Brewster?”
He got very quiet, and he finally looked at me and said, “Well I met someone in the bus station bathroom and I went home with him.” High school sophomore, 15 years old. That was the only way he knew how to meet gay people.
I was a closeted gay teacher, 24 years old, didn’t know what to say. I knew I should say something quickly so I finally said, My best friend had just died of AIDS the week before. I looked at Brewster and said, “You know, I hope you knew to use a condom.”
He said to me something I will never forget, He said “Why should I? My life isn’t worth saving anyway.”
For most people, this story, taking place as it did in the late 1980s, would be about how critical it is for LGBT students to have someone they know they can turn to in safety and confidence. It is also a story that illustrates how a young man can be made so desperate coming of age in a culture that condemns everything about him. But for some, this was a story has become about an underage fifteen-year-old student having sex with an adult, and Jennings’ failure to report this “statutory rape” or “molestation” to authorities.
The problem with this story, like many stories in which the storyteller wishes to protect someone’s anonymity, is that many minor details end up being altered to ensure that the people in the story can’t be identified. And sometimes these alterations change with different tellings. Typically, you try to alter details which are immaterial to the purpose of the story (the student’s name, for example). Unfortunately, some of these alterations can be interpreted by some in ways which turn out to be materially important, but in ways that the storyteller may not have anticipated (like Brewster’s age). That appears to be what happened here.
In Jennings 2006 memoir Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son Brewster appears to be a boy name Robertson. In an essay Jennings wrote for Mitchell Gold’s Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America, the boy’s name is Thompson. His name is unimportant, and clearly we have a case where Jennings is changing the student’s name in different tellings in order to hid his identity.
But it turns out that this detail about his age has ended up being important to those who want to use this story for a different purpose than Jennings intended. Sixteen is the age of consent for Massachusetts, although state law provides an exception of the two are close in age. In this version of the story I just cited, Jennings gave the student’s age as fifteen, but we don’t know the age of that “someone” at the bus station (who is assumed to be an adult).
But it appears that the student’s age might have been one of those details that Jennings was changing to protect the student’s identity. In most versions of the story, the student is simply identified as a sophomore and his age is not given. In other versions, and particularly in an important 2004 clarification by Jennings’ lawyer (PDF: 927KB/2 pages) when his issue first arose, the student’s age was given as sixteen. Furthermore, the story was clarified to indicate that Jennings had little information to believe that the student was actually having sex with an older man.
Now neither the student’s name nor his age were important elements to the story in terms of what that story was meant to illustrate (the importance of LGBT students having someone they can trust to turn to, the need for teachers to be able to deal with the special needs of LGBT students — more on that later). But one of those unimportant elements suddenly became vitally important for those who sought to take this story outside of its context.
Which is exactly what right-wing media has done. Fox News and The Washington Times have latched onto just one particular version of the story, the fifteen-year-old-Brewster version, as though it were gospel, while ignoring all the other versions including his 2004 clarification. And they ignored both its context and what seems to me a rather obvious attempt to hide the student’s identity by changing some of the details.
Fortunately, Media Matters for America has been able to track down “Brewster” and they obtained an image of his drivers license. That I.D. shows his birth date as July 31, 1971. Since the conversation took place in the fall of 1987, this would have made “Brewster” sixteen at the time and a legal adult. But more relevant than all that is this: a statement by “Brewster” himself:
Since I was of legal consent at the time, the fifteen-minute conversation I had with Mr. Jennings twenty-one years ago is of nobody’s concern but his and mine. However, since the Republican noise machine is so concerned about my “well-being” and that of America’s students, they’ll be relieved to know that I was not “inducted” into homosexuality, assaulted, raped, or sold into sexual slavery.
In 1988, I had taken a bus home for the weekend, and on the return trip met someone who was also gay. The next day, I had a conversation with Mr. Jennings about it. I had no sexual contact with anybody at the time, though I was entirely legally free to do so. I was a sixteen year-old going through something most of us have experienced: adolescence. I find it regrettable that the people who have the compassion and integrity to protect our nation’s students are themselves in need of protection from homophobic smear attacks. Were it not for Mr. Jennings’ courage and concern for my well-being at that time in my life, I doubt I’d be the proud gay man that I am today.
As they say, all’s well that ends well, but that doesn’t put this issue entirely to rest. There is still the matter of the particular advice that Jennings tossed off — “I hope you knew to use a condom.”
I think we can agree that this closeted, 24-year-old teacher’s advice was abysmal. “Brewster” really needed — and should have gotten — much better advice than that. I think we can all compose a large list of topics that they should have discussed.
That closeted teacher handled that situation very badly, but that shouldn’t have been surprising. Closeted people rarely handle situations touching on sexuality very well. I should know. I was closeted for the first forty years of my life, and in those years I said and did things that I am not at all proud of, things that I would never dream of doing today. The closet is a very insidious situation to be in.
And if people had paid attention to all of the versions of this story, they would have noticed that this was one of the principle lessons behind Jennings’ story. He screwed up and gave lousy advice, an admission he reinforced in a recent statement:
Twenty-one years later I can see how I should have handled the situation differently. I should have asked for more information and consulted legal or medical authorities. Teachers back then had little training and guidance about this kind of thing.
I think it’s important to know that “this kind of thing” isn’t just general information about sexual conduct among students which many teachers were trained on, but the particularly unique situations that LGBT students were in during that time. The year 1987 was at the very height of the AIDS crisis, and all of the hysterial that accompanied it. Politicians and popular pundits alike thought nothing about advocating that people with AIDS should be rounded up and quarantined. Homes of children with AIDS were being firebombed in Florida and people were regularly shunned everywhere else. Couple that with the presumption that everyone who was gay had AIDS (a presumption that persists in some quarters today), this placed an added stigma to everyone who was struggling to come to terms with their own sexuality.
And just to add to that, sodomy was a crime in Massachusetts in 1987, a “crime” that both the student and Jennings were potentially guilty of regardless of age of consent laws.This fact was very much on the minds of all LGBT people, especially closeted ones. I remember well in the late 1980s that Texas’ sodomy law was cited by the Dallas police department as justification for their ban on hiring LGBT officers. I remember that because I held a security clearance at the time, and worried about how that might affect my job. I needn’t have worried; by then sexual orientation wasn’t much of a factor in granting security clearances, but I didn’t know that. I wasn’t willing to take the risk of asking. One cannot discount the fears that these conditions placed on all LGBT people at that time, especially those in the closet. No wonder “Brewster” thought his life wasn’t worth saving.
When I was in high school, there was absolutely not one person I could trust to talk about what I was going through at that time — not one teacher, guidance counselor, or any other trustworthy adult. The climate was simply too hostile. And to demonstrate the depth of my sense of isolation, let me tell you a story where I’ll have to change someone’s name (but nothing else).
A good friend of mine in high school who was later diagnosed with schizophrenia was sent to see a psychiatrist because of his behavioral problems. That psychiatrist, noting that Will had not had any girlfriends yet (and is that any wonder, given the nature of his illness?) concluded that his problem was latent homosexuality. That psychiatrist then embarked on the blame-the-parents-based therapies that were popular at that time in order to try to cure him — even though by then, homosexuality was not considered a mental disorder. Not surprisingly, that course of treatment was futile because the diagnosis was completely wrong. Will isn’t gay and he never was. But I saw the disruptive effect that response had on his family, and I saw that Will only got worse when it was all said and done.
So not only could I not trust any teachers, but I knew I couldn’t even trust the so-called “experts.” For that day and time, I don’t think my situation was all that unique.
Which is why, as bad as Jennings’ advice was, I still think “Brewster” was lucky. The bad advice he got was far better than the alternative that he was likely to get from anyone else at that time. Better still, Jennings himself later came out of the closet and and founded GLSEN, and he has dedicated the rest of his career to making sure teachers today are better able to work with the “Brewsters” of the world. As hostile as this climate still is, LGBT students are better off in more schools today than we ever thought they would be two decades ago. And much of it began because of some bad advice given by a frightened, closeted teacher twenty-two years ago.
Larry King Speaks Up For Lawrence “Larry” King
April 23rd, 2008
Mark Malkin talked to GLSEN president Kevin Jennings about Larry King’s Public Service announcement:
GLSEN president Kevin Jennings tells me that King immediately agreed to participate when they contacted him. “Larry King helps us reach the kind of mainstream audience he speaks to every night,” Jennings said. “I don’t necessarily see this as a YouTube phenomenon, but I see this reaching a much more traditional audience.”