Smear: Kevin Jennings Will Encourage Your Child To Try Out Homosexuality
Right-wing and religious groups are targeting the new Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe & Drug Free Schools, Kevin Jennings. Their attacks have consisted of vicious and false statements meant to destroy Mr. Jennings' career.
Kevin Jennings will actively promote and encourage homosexuality in public schools.
Think Progress writes:
FRC CLAIM: "Jennings' and GLSEN's concept of 'safe schools' means special protections for privileged groups (especially homosexuals), rather than safety for all."
FACT: As the gay son of a Southern baptist preacher, Jennings had a "childhood of prejudice, taunts, and harassment." As an education leader, he has used those experiences to promote tolerance and anti-bullying measures in schools nationwide. ThinkProgress spoke with Molly Spearman, executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. Spearman first heard Jennings speak at the 2007 convention of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Spearman said that she was so impressed with Jennings, she decided to invite him to speak at her organization's October 2007 summit on bullying:
I was a little nervous, being in South Carolina, a very conservative state. But once again, he handled it extremely professionally. He did a magnificent job, and it was a huge success. We had a waiting list of people who wanted to come. ... We had several hundred people there. ... He was very very well-received - absolutely rave views. And that was in conservative South Carolina. So he handled what could have been a very sensitive topic in a very professional way that was accepted by everyone.
Spearman added that while Jennings did present statistics on the harassment of LGBT students, he more broadly focused on the bullying of all students, pointing out that it was a problem that wasn't specifically confined to one group.
FRC CLAIM: "Jennings is viciously hostile to religion."
FACT: As proof of this claim, FRC points to a passage from Jennings' memoir:
God...had done nothing but cause me pain and anguish through His inaction and malevolence throughout my childhood. ... What had he done for me, other than make me feel shame and guilt? Squat. Screw you, buddy - I don't need you around anymore, I decided.
As the blog Good As You noted, Jennings was relaying "his frustrations as a gay teen, when his inability to 'overcome' his gay desires convinced him that he was detached from God." FRC also doesn't bother to include what Jennings writes a few sentences later: that he later returned to religion. "Decades passed before I opened a Bible again." Jennings later went on to serve as an active member on the board of the Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in New York, the nation's most prestigious Protestant seminary. ThinkProgress spoke with Rev. Serene Jones, President of UTS, who disputed any claims that Jennings was anti-religion:
In my role as the president [of UTS], and as pastor, I have met few people as deeply Christian and as deeply committed to the work of justice in the world than Kevin Jennings. He's a man of enormous faith, and not just in terms of prayer and church attendance - both of which he does devoutly - but in terms of his care for the poor, the suffering, the children, the vulnerable in our society. [...]
He's an active member of the board at Union Theological Seminary and Kevin Jennings tithes, not only in terms of his use of money, but his use of his time and his values and I just wonder how many of the people who are attacking him have taken their own faith serious enough to make the kind of financial, moral, vocational commitment that Kevin Jennings has made with his life.
FRC also points to a speech Jennings gave in 2000, where he allegedly said, "We have to quit being afraid of the religious right. ... I'm trying not to say, 'F*ck 'em!' which is what I want to say, because I don't care what they think! Drop dead!" There appears to be no full transcript available of this 2000 speech; it seems to first appear in a 2002 article on the right-wing website Concerned Women for America. The same day that article was published (4/10/02), Jennings told NPR that he had "no recollection of [that] quote whatsoever."
FRC Claim: Jennings is "unfit for the post to which he's been assigned."
FACT: 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.