Yet another of President Obama’s Czars has come under scrutiny. Kevin Jennings is the Safe Schools Czar, and as such is tasked with running the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. This agency assists in developing policies geared to bring about a reduction in violence and drug-related issues in schools, and provides a portion of the funding necessary to implement these policies nationwide. It also administers the nation’s character and civics program.
Shortly after his appointment as Safe Schools Czar, controversy erupted regarding an incident that occurred while Jennings was a high school teacher. In his 1994 book, One Teacher in Ten: Gay and Lesbian Educators Tell Their Stories, Jennings describes his conversation with a 15 or 16 year old student, “Brewster”. Brewster told Jennings about an encounter he had with a man he met in a bus station restroom, and that he subsequently went home with the man. Jennings' response to the story was to tell Brewster to be sure to wear a condom.
Critics believe that the appropriate response of a teacher upon hearing this story should have been (at minimum) to highlight the dangers of having sex with a stranger and to try to discourage future encounters of this sort. Jennings’ telling of this story changed a bit when he recounted it in a 2000 speech and again in his 2006 autobiography, mainly establishing that the boy was 16 (the age of consent in Massachusetts), but his response to “Brewster” remained the same in all versions.
More recently, issues have arisen regarding an organization that Jennings founded — the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The introduction to the mission statement of GLSEN is to “to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.” This appears rather straightforward, but the rest of the mission statement and the agenda of GLSEN are causing controversy.
Certain activities and perspectives of GLSEN are raising concerns among the few who are aware of them (there has been little reporting about Jennings or GLSEN by the mainstream media). There have been charges that questionable and even pornographic materials have been included on the booklist featured on the GLSEN website, particularly disturbing given that this booklist includes “curricula, books and video for classroom use” by teachers. In addition, GLSEN seminars have reportedly included demonstrations of sex techniques given to teenagers as young as 14 years old.
In 2005 GLSEN organized an event at Brookline High School in Massachusetts, where explicit sexual material was left behind for the middle and high school attendees to keep. The “Little Black Book” includes a variety of how-to information, such as a section called “How Safe is Dat?” which speaks very directly about the safety of a variety of homsexual practices. This booklet was written by the AIDS Action Committee of Boston, and includes very graphic and explicit instructions regarding gay sex. The booklet also included a list of gay bars in the Boston area.
There are also concerns regarding Jennings' admiration for the late Harry Hay, a Communist with an association with NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association). Jennings' previous drug use and association with Act-Up, a miltilant homosexual group, are also questionable qualifications for the Safe Schools Czar.
The controversy surrounding Kevin Jennings is not new, and would have been easily unearthed with minimal vetting. Once a gain we are left with the question: Did the Obama administration simply not invest the the time to investigate the background of the Safe Schools Czar before appoointing him, or did they know about these controversies and still find him to be the best person for the job?