Sunday, September 27, 2009

Revisiting the false 'Kevin Jennings approves of pedophilia' claim

Of all the charges the religious right and it's cohorts have launched against Kevin Jennings, the deputy secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, the claim that he did not report the alleged between an underaged child and an older male is the most scurrilous.

I've seen it spoken of in a few places lately, such as Fox News and Free Republic. And of course, several of these places (i.e. Free Republic) have added dramatic license to the tale.

According to them, Jennings "approves of pedophilia."

On June 10th of this year, I talked about the claim in a post, Attacks on Kevin Jennings sleazy, un-Christian. I am now reprinting that post.

I would ask that folks take a look at the comments section from the original post. It raises some questions about whether the youth was of legal age at the time of the alleged incident.

Ever since Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), was appointed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to be Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, religious right groups, bloggers, columnists, and spokespersons have been impugning him and the reputation of GLSEN.

Now the Family Research Council has sent out an email blast asking that folks tell Duncan to remove Jennings from office.

The charges lodged against Jennings have ranked from ridiculous to disgusting:

Jennings uses profanity

Big deal. Based on the audio tapes of former President Richard Nixon and what we know about former President Harry S. Truman, Jennings's use of profanity qualifies him as presidential material.

Jennings is prejudiced against religious conservatives.

Well not all religious conservatives. He only dislikes the ones who stigmatizes the lgbt community via lies, discredited studies, and anecdotes and legitimate studies taken out of context.

Jennings and GLSEN oversaw a conference where children were "instructed" how to have gay sex.

As I have said repeatedly, other than helping to sponsor this conference, neither Jennings nor GLSEN had anything to do with the alleged incident. Also because of illegal taping by a religious right group, a moderator lost her job. However, she was fully exonerated, rehired, and given back pay. In addition, the audio tape that supposedly proved the case against the conference was called misleading. My post on the situation (with links backing up what I say) is here.

Jennings talked about counseling a high school student who was in a relationship with an older man. However, he did not alert the authorities or the child's parents.

This is from the FRC email I received:

Jennings has spoken publicly about a high school student he once counseled who was in a sexual relationship with an older man -- yet Jennings never reported this abuse to the authorities, the school, or the child's parents.

I've heard this claim made by various religious right sources and they are all vague on the incident. Through some digging, here is what I found out.

The alleged incident came from One in Ten: Gay and Lesbian Educators Tell Their Stories. Jennings was recounting an incident in 1988:

I remember Brewster, a sophomore boy who I came to know in 1987, my first year of teaching at Concord Academy, in Concord, Massachusetts. Brewster was a charming but troubled kid. His grades didn't match up with his potential, his attendance could be irregular, and he often seemed a little out of it. He was clearly using some substance regularly, and was not very happy with himself. But I didn't have a clue as to why--at least not at first.

. . . Toward the end of my first year, during the spring of 1988, Brewster appeared in my office in the tow of one of my advisees, a wonderful young woman to whom I had been "out" for a long time.

"Brewster has something he needs to talk with you about," she intoned ominously. Brewster squirmed at the prospect of telling, and we sat silently for a short while. On a hunch, I suddenly asked "What's his name?" Brewster's eyes widened briefly, and then out spilled a story about his involvement with an older man he had met in Boston. I listened, sympathized, and offered advice. He left my office with a smile on his face that I would see every time I saw him on the campus for the next two years, until he graduated.

. . . I remember April 3, 1993, when I went to Club Cafe, a gay restaurant in Boston, for the annual awards dinner of the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights. An organization I had helped found, GLSTN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network), was being honored that night, and I had come to accept the award on our behalf. I sat with some friends, my back to the center of the room, and soon got engaged in conversation. From behind me, I heard a familiar voice. "Care for a drink, sir?"

I turned and it was Brewster. Shocked, we were both speechless for a moment, before we hugged each other and caught up. He was now twenty-two, taking time off from college, and living with his boyfriend. His smile showed that he had found his way to a happy adulthood. In that moment, I remembered why I had gone into teaching in the first place.

So should Jennings have alerted the police and Brewster's parents?

I honestly don't know. It's a judgment call.

He only knew what Brewster had told him and didn't see any particulars. Also, 1987 was a different time when it came to lgbs. I attended high school back then and I remember that even a notion that you were gay would warrant a "beatdown."

And who knows what would have happened to Brewster? Would he have been angry at Jennings for betraying his trust? Would his parents have kicked him out for the alleged relationship? Would Brewster have gotten so depressed that he would contemplate suicide?

Jennings was in a touchy situation and he choose to act in a way that he felt would best benefit Brewster.

But here is the one thing I am sure of.

If anyone read the Jennings excerpt or the entire book in general with more in mind than scandalizing someone, they would truly understand why Jenning did what he did.

When I read the Jennings excerpt, I see a young man wanting to reach out to lgbt children and counsel them when they are going through the same hell he did as a child. He made a judgment call. That's something we all do from time to time.

And I see that there is a serious problem facing our lgbt children when they come out to an unsupportive world. It's the same thing Jennings saw, which was the reason he founded GLSEN.

In the long run, FRC and others who use the Brewster incident to demonize Jennings are proving that they don't really care about Brewster or any other lgbt child having to deal with potential violence and isolation because of their sexual orientation.

They only care about their agenda.

And to me, that's the real crime.

The entire point of this attack on Jennings is now to weave a narrative that President Obama is trying to harm our nation's children. Media Matters breaks down the situation in an excellent piece documenting not only the echo chamber of false charges against Jennings but also other claims of the right regarding our President and our nation's children.

You can go here to give some support to Jennings.

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