Members of the religious right are upset today over the appointment of GLSEN(Gay Straight Lesbian Education Network) founder Kevin Jennings as Assistant Deputy Secretary in the Office of Safe Schools.
This means a huge smile has crossed over my face. Anything that drives the religious right nuts is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. And for the longest time, Jennings and GLSEN has been the unremovable pebble in the religious right's shoe.
GLSEN deals with the safety of lgbt students and also helped to found the Day of Silence, an annual event commemorating the struggles of our lgbt youth in America's schools.
The Day of Silence has been an annual humbling event for the religious right. They have tried many times to undermine the event from creating an unsuccessful counterpart event (the Day of Truth) to encouraging parents to keep children out of school during the Day of Silence; a bigger flop than the Day of Truth.
Today, One News Now published an article criticizing the appointment via the words of anti-gay activist and Mission America head Linda Harvey:
A conservative activist says the appointment of the founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network to head the U.S. Education Department's Office of Safe Schools is the equivalent of putting O.J. Simpson in charge of women's safety.
Harvey, who by the way is a former advertising executive before forming Mission America - meaning she has no credibility to make any comments about Jennings's appointment, referred to an alleged event that took place under the auspicies of GLSEN:
Harvey finds it ironic that President Obama's new "safe schools" czar is a leading proponent of an extremely unsafe, destructive lifestyle.
"They are the people involved in the infamous 'Fistgate' programs in Massachusetts where public health officials were describing dangerous, high-risk behaviors to very young teenagers," she says. "Again, this was a GLSEN-sponsored program."
Our favorite anti-gay spokesperson, Peter LaBarbera, made a comment about the same event:
GLSEN founder who presided over ‘Fistgate’ scandal; Jennings’ group has corrupted and endangered students by exposing them to “queer” perversions
I've heard about this "Fistgate" several times when trolling anti-gay sites. Apparently religious right supporters reference the event as proof that gays are allegedly trying to lead children into dangerous acts.
Like all claims of the religious right, "Fistgate" is a huge lie.
The first thing you need to know is that this situation was blown out of proportion by a familiar person - Brian Camenker of Mass Resistance.
Mass Resistance was the group behind the David Parker controversy, in which a parent, David Paker, falsely claimed that he was arrested for trying to keep his son from being taught homosexuality.
The truth was a bit more complicated. If you want to read the full story, go here.
But the story in a nutshell is that Parker and Camenker worked together to orchestate a situation in which Parker was arrested and Camenker was there to take pictures and spread his version of the story.
"Fistgate" was not as complicated but it is still a nasty situation.
First of all, Jennings did not "preside over" the so-called "Fistgate" scandal. He wasn't even there.
In 2000, Mass Resistance, entered unauthorized in a state conference, "Teach-Out," that was sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Education, the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, and the GLSEN. This conference was held at Tufts University.
Included among the conference-goers were preadolescents, some as young as 12, 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. This led the incident to be dubbed "Fistgate" by Camenker and others. A person working for Camenker's 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, 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.
He also said:
that her participation was "authorized by her superiors, and her conduct, while controversial, did not violate then-established department guidelines."
And here is my favorite part, regarding the tape:
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.
So what this all boils down to is a case of guilt by association perpetrated by members of the religious right on Jennings. And if you don't pardon me for saying so, a very bad case of guilt by association.
Pitiful, pitiful, pitiful.
Is this the best they can do?