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Safe Schools Czar Under Attack in Anti-Gay Smear Campaign

Safe Schools Czar Under Attack in Anti-Gay Smear Campaign

Kevin Jennings, the man President Obama appointed as his Assistant Deputy Secretary at the Department of Education for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, more generally known as the “Safe Schools Czar”, is under attack. An anti-gay smear campaign has been launched against him that has resulted in 53 House Representatives calling for his dismissal. We take a look at the claims made in this campaign, and the reasons why they are false.

Who is Kevin Jennings?
Kevin Jennings is a Harvard educated history teacher, writer and gay rights campaigner. He set up America’s first gay-straight alliance and, later, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) that promotes safety in schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and teens.

Jennings relates these details and more in his memoir Mamma’s Boy, Preacher’s Son, where he also talks about his conservative upbringing and the problems his sexuality caused with his parents. However, this same memoir is now being used against him as the basis of a smear campaign.

Anti-gay group the Family Research Council have set up a website which takes quotes from Jennings’ memoir and uses them to try and “prove” that Mr. Jennings is unsuitable for his role as Safe Schools Czar.

Based on this misinformation, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has written to President Obama calling for Jennings’ dismissal. A further 52 House Representatives have co-signed to support this move.

The Letter Calling for Jennings’ Dismissal

In the letter, King begins by asking President Obama for Mr. Jennings to be removed from his role as Safe Schools Czar. King feels Jennings lacks the “qualifications” and the “ethical standards” that are necessary for the role and then attempts to prove this assertion. I’ll quote from the letter below, drawing out the main points, but if you would like to read the full text, please click here.

King begins with the following:

“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.”

I think this one speaks for itself. Apparently, if you are gay or work toward the safe and supportive integration of LGBTs in American schools, then you have a “homosexual agenda”. It’s an old, tired piece of rhetoric that attempts to blur the fact that in setting up GLSEN, Mr. Jennings has dedicated himself to promoting safe and tolerant schools.

“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.”

They are not “special” protections at all, but equal protections. Through GLSEN, Mr. Jennings has worked to ensure that LGBT children are protected from harassment in a national school system that, until relatively recently, had very few policies in place to deal with anti-gay bullying.

And this has not been to the “exclusion of all other students”, since promoting a safe, respectful and affirming environment in schools benefits each and every child, gay or straight. 

The next paragraph reads:

“Equally troubling is Mr. Jennings’ self-described history of ignoring the sexual abuse of a child. In his book, One Teacher in Ten, 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. As a mandatory reporter, Mr. Jennings was required by law to report child abuse, including sex crimes. Mr. Jennings cannot serve as the “safe schools” czar when his record demonstrates a willingness to overlook the sexual abuse of a child.”

This allegation is unfounded and was disproved.

The young man referred to is one “Brewster” (name changed to protect the man’s privacy). Brewster was tracked down shortly after this allegation was made. The website Media Matters was able to obtain Brewster’s driving license which proved that Brewster was in fact 16 in 1988 when the incident occurred. This is the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.

Furthermore, Brewster never had a sexual affair with that older man. Brewster has now released a statement thoroughly denouncing these claims, telling Media Matters:

“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.

- Brewster.”

Mr Jennings did not violate his responsibilities as a teacher and there was no incident of child abuse or statutory rape. Jennings has readily admitted that he did not handle the situation in the best possible way. He pinpoints this incident as one that pushed him to create the GLSEN so as to better equip teachers with guidelines on how to deal with gay and lesbian students and their needs. If you would like to read more about this incident, please click here.

On with the letter:

“His own history of unrepentant drug and alcohol abuse indicates that he is of the opinion that getting drunk and high as a young person is acceptable. 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.”

As Box-Turtle Bulletin points out, Jennings memoir speaks of drug use only once. A single sentence relates to an incident of smoking pot. One. Regrettable perhaps, but hardly a detail rendering Jennings unable to promote safe and drug free schools. Rep. King has no other evidence to suggest Mr. Jennings has ever had a drug problem.

Jennings admits he did abuse alcohol when he was younger, yes, but does not do so now. This fact alone does not disqualify him, and contrary to Rep. King’s assertions, nor does it infer in anyway Mr. Jennings’ attitude towards teen drug abuse or alcohol use today.

The final paragraph of the letter reads:

“Everyone that deals with the education of the most vulnerable must be a positive role model. Our children are not blessed with the wisdom to discern and reject. Children presume the adults who educate them are approved by the larger society and their parents. Kevin Jennings cannot gain the approval of parents who want their children safe and their schools drug free. You should replace him with someone who has a record of educating children in a safe and moral environment.

Given these very serious issues with Mr. Jennings’ record, we urge you to remove him immediately.”

It is interesting that Rep. King does not believe Jennings to be a good role model. Jennings has won an array of awards from both LGBT groups and wider education authorities.

The honors bestowed upon him include the Human and Civil Rights Award of the National Education Association, a Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Diversity Leadership Award from the National Association of Independent Schools.

As to Mr. Jennings’ ethical standards, it may be of use to note that he is a religious man who has served on the board of the Union Theological Seminary. While being religious does not necessarily give an accurate picture of a person’s ethics, I assume that this is what Rep. King means when he refers to moral and ethical standards.

The Family Research Council have also attempted to use quotes from Mr. Jennings’ biography to prove that he is against God. These quotes were taken from his adolescent years. They say nothing about his opinions or beliefs now. More on this at Think Progress.

It seems that the only detail that can’t be refuted in Rep. King’s letter and the campaign that the Family Research Council have launched, is the fact that Mr. Jennings is gay. Is this, perhaps, their only real complaint?

Take Action – Stop the Smear Campaign Against Kevin Jennings!
GLSEN have launched a petition to stop the anti-gay smear campaign against Kevin Jennings. The unfounded, unfair and derogatory attacks made against Mr. Jennings should not be allowed to cloud a body of work that in fact puts Mr. Jennings in a uniquely qualified position to ensure that all school children get the protection and treatment they deserve. Sign the GLSEN petition today.

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Photo used under Fair Use terms, with thanks to ED.gov.

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145 comments

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10:40PM PST on Nov 21, 2009

I'm not Christian, but doesn't the Bilbe say, "Thou shalt not judge" and isn't there a story about not throwing stones and loving thy neighbor? How can you pick and choose what parts of the Bible to run with? To me God/Goddess is all about love. I pray. I even pray for those who have crossed me to learn their lessons and become better people. I pray that poeple who judge and those who don't like those who are not like them to learn their lessons and become more tolerant and loving. One of the best neighbors I ever had was gay and they also traveled for a living and we are great cooks, and they would bring exotic drinks and we would provide the food. It was great! But truth be told we became friends because my dog liked them as I do with MOST of my newer friends since my dog is the BEST judge of character and has never been wrong. I could care less about what anyone looks like or if gay or straight, I do care who my dog likes, and if they are a good person or not. He always seems to know, and my dog knew they were great. He was right as always! (I believe animals are closer to God/Goddess/the Universe, ect. and sometimes they know more than us.)

11:27AM PDT on Oct 27, 2009

Barbara H: sorry you are looking for an argument. You and I both know that God did not tell me personally that He hates homosexuality. While the Bible was written by men, they were inspired by God. Although you obviously do not believe in the Bible, many do. Your berating the messenger is not needed. We each have our beliefs. To attack one whose opinions differs from your opinions is not necessary. I have not attacked you. I am merely stating what the Bible teaches.

9:46AM PDT on Oct 27, 2009

Kevin Jennings is an honorable man. I know him. I have worked with him. He has worked long and hard to make American schools safe and welcoming for all children regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. He is being attacked with heinous and ugly lies simply because he is gay. We need more Kevin Jennings in our school systems.

9:02AM PDT on Oct 27, 2009

As a former school board president, I would welcome this man into our schools. Our children need to learn the truth and beauty of diversity. As the chair of our Martin Luther King Day celebration in this community, we are considering the focus of the 2010 year to be "Civil Rights to Civil Discourse." Come on, people! If you can't love people who are different from you, at least learn to tolerate them!

10:17PM PDT on Oct 26, 2009

As a gay man, I've decided to share the gay agenda with the entire world. You are correct in assuming that we have plans - and now I will share them with you all;
1. get up go to work -
2. pay my taxes - even though I will not, as a gay man who
is married, I am not entitled to the same benefits that my
heterosexual peers are guaranteed under the the current
government - e.g., survivors SSI benefit etc.
3. love my kids and family - be sure they get to soccer, after
practice come home and make sure that the do their
homework
4. Throw in a load of laundry -
5. make dinner - one kid is gluten intolerant - locate pasta
substitute - cover with homemade red sauce, make salad
and serve to husband and kids;
6. Husband washes dishes, while I do final check of homework
and kids off to bed, dishes done - dogs out for work, sot
down and complete paperwork from the day - have a cup of
tea - hang out with husband - catch up - prepare lunches for
tomorrow
7. pay bills before going to bed - watch some TV - look at pile
of things that remain unfinished from today - maybe get to
them on weekend
8. prepare for tomorrow -

These are the more overt aspects of the gay agenda - and do not include raking leaves, getting ready for Halloween - setting limits on the amount of candy the kids can eat, the horror movies they can see with older cousins - and the demands of preparing for the holiday season. The gay agenda -

7:58PM PDT on Oct 26, 2009

Ant M.: Gay people who have children don't teach their kids "to be gay." Gay parents of children know from personal experience that you *can't* teach someone to be gay, anymore than you can teach them to be straight. That's like saying because I have curly hair I'm trying to teach my children to grow curly hair, or that I can only love children with curly hair. It doesn't work like that. There is nothing I can do to change the natural texture of my children's hair, just as there is nothing that my husband and I could do to change our children from straight to gay or gay to straight. Sure, you can style hair, and sure, you can shame someone into hiding who they truly are, but those choices are not necessarily morally better, and in some cases I feel they're worse, because they do actual harm, from the outside, to another person's inner self.

As a straight woman who's had lots of gay and straight friends on this planet for over 35 years, I can tell you without any doubt that there's no such thing as this fictional 'gay lifestyle' or scary 'gay agenda' you guys are freaking out about.

What gay people are teaching their children, and what I am teaching mine, is that:
1. There are all kinds of people in the world making all kinds of choices
2. That you have to make choices that are true to you
3. That you need to be safe (i.e., no sex before you're ready to handle consequences, no unprotected sex, etc.)
4. That your choices are between you and God.

2:51PM PDT on Oct 26, 2009

Joseph, I am sorry you feel God is full of hate rather than love. However, when you meet Him, and you will, you can explain to Him why you do not accept Him. Of course, He already knows why you feel the way you feel. By the way, I was quoting a scripture from the Old Testament. When Jesus came, all things changed. God is a God of love.

11:50AM PDT on Oct 26, 2009

Nobody teach to be "gay" to no one...That´s something that you cant "learn"...just like you dont Teach DNA...and you don´t learn how to be tall or blond...
just is to be or no to be....
Is sad that some people feel afraid about what other people do or think...this is very dangerous...

11:30AM PDT on Oct 26, 2009

Who are these people who continue to harass people different from them!?!? What are you afraid of? Nothing? Them back off and stop being a bunch of assholes. Take a good look at yourselves before you criticize others!

I don't hate people different from me; they are just the same as the rest of us; with feelings, emotions, needs. So what if their beliefs are different than ours!!

11:13AM PDT on Oct 26, 2009

Once again, each posting here seemed heartfelt. But there were a few I noted for special response if space and my time allows.

I've encountered Jan C. on care2 before, and recall some of her prior comments to me. Here she states her problem is not that Kevin Jennings "is gay, but rather that he's pushing the gay agenda" on children. I wish just one person posting here would define exactly what is meant by that "gay agenda" phrase. I'm not gay myself either, but being straight hasn't given me the insight required to recognize it when being "pushed." For that matter, if Jan was "allowed to push the Christian agenda in schools" which she considers "turn about" and "fair play," what would that include? Actually the difference between spiritual belief in her preferred agenda and the physical facts covered in age appropriate ways in lesson plans must be stark, though I doubt all involved in either is clear to anyone. Bambi Ghys made the same point, and Brenda P agreed and doesn't want her grandkids to be taught "that," nor does Barry M "want anyone teaching kids that the gay lifestyle is OK." But same-sex parents are not illegal and pretty easily spotted by even small children everywhere, aren't they? And not un-Constitutional, like proclaiming one's faith in schools would be, so hardly fair play. But Jonathan N Ange V. sees in Jennings "lack of clear-cut standards of morality" from proof of nothing but his being gay, once the rumors about him were disproven. (cont'd)

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