I apologize for those who feel that I may have spent too much time on this issue but it's important to me because it has a lot to do with the safety of our lgbt children and us supporting our leaders.
Through the following short list of talking points, I hope to touch on the main distortions regarding Kevin Jennings.
The small stuff (he is anti-Christian, he said something ugly about God) will be ignored.
Distortion - Kevin Jennings is a czar
Truth - Kevin Jennings was appointed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as an Assistant Deputy Secretary to lead the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. This office was created in 2002 during the George W. Bush administration and Jennings is the third to hold the office.
Distortion - Jennings has no experience in his position
Truth - Via Thinkprogress.org : Jennings, in fact, will be the first head of OSDFS in years to have a background as an educator. His predecessor, Deborah Price, received her BS degree in home economics, worked on the National Prayer Breakfast, on the Senate Republican Policy Committee, and then doing student aid in the Department of Education. Her predecessor, Eric Andell, was a judge from Texas and was eventually fired. He “pleaded guilty in federal court to one misdemeanor count of conflict of interest that included using federal money to pay for personal expenses.” Jennings has received many mainstream education awards, including the Distinguished Service Award of NASSP. ThinkProgress spoke to NASSP Executive Director Gerald Tirozzi, who wrote a recommendation letter on Jennings’ behalf. He said that he has “always been impressed with Kevin and his forthrightness. He’s a very courageous young man.” Tirozzi stressed that Jennings’ work on school bullying made him an ideal fit for this particular position.
Distortion - Kevin Jennings advises children on sexual activities, such as "fisting," as proven by the "Fistgate" incident
Truth - Jennings wasn't present when the so-called "Fistgate" incident took place.
In 2000, Jennings' organization, GLSEN, co-sponsored a state conference, "Teach-Out," that was sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Education and the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. This conference was held at Tufts University.
Included among the conference-goers were preadolescents, who were (like the rest of Teach-Out's attendees) allowed to ask questions about sex in a safe environment.
One student asked what fisting was, and was answered with an explanation.
A rightwing group, Mass Resistance was entered unauthroized into the conference and a person working for Mass Resistance organization, Scott Whiteman, taped some of the students without their knowledge.
As a result of the outcry that was generated when parents heard tapes of the event, Margot Abels, a state employee who participated in the discussion, and two other state employees were fired.
Abels later sued the Massachusetts Department of Education, Mass Resistance leader Brian Camenker, and Whiteman for "violating her civil rights and the state's antiwiretapping law."
In 2001, she was not only reinstated but was also given back pay via arbitration. The arbitrator, Marc Greenbaum ruled that:
Abels was not acting on behalf of the Department of Education, but said the department had knowledge of and "supported" her participation in the presentation.
Greenbaum also said:
that her participation was "authorized by her superiors, and her conduct, while controversial, did not violate then-established department guidelines."
He also said that the tape was "misleading" because portions of it, which contained "important messages about AIDS prevention, abstinence, postponement, alternative forms of sexual intimacy and the need for students to enforce their own boundaries of personal security," were missing.
Distortion - In 1988, Jennings advised an underaged child to continue a sexual relationship with an older man and did not report the incident to authorities
Truth - In an interview with Media Matters, the young man in the center of the controversy said the charges against Jennings isn't true:
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.
Distortion - Jennings expressed admiration for Harry Hay. Hay was one of the nation's first homosexual activists who launched the Mattachine Society in 1948, founded the Radical Faeries and was a longtime advocate for the North American Man-Boy Love Association, NAMBLA.
This means Jennings, by way of connection, has a liking for pedophilia
Truth - In the 1987 speech, Jennings didn't say a word about NAMBLA. He praised Hay for his early work for lgbt rights, not his later support of NAMBLA. Jennings made mention of Hay's pioneering work for lgbt rights, something that many obituaries did when Hay died.
We know that the right opposes Jennings because he is an openly gay man, as expressed so "eloquently" by Peter LaBarbera via our recent email exchange:
". . . Kevin Jennings is a lying, reckless, anti-Christian bigot . . ."
The question is what have we done to ensure that Jennings has the support of the community.
In layman's terms, we need to let everyone know that "we've got Jennings' back."
It's going to take more than wringing our hands after the fact.
You can go here to give some support to Jennings.