The Family Research Council has embarked on a new public relations effort against a particular Obama Administration appointee, Kevin Jennings, saying he should not be in his new position at the Department of Education because of his previous position in private activism — as executive director of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Jennings is set to begin his new job on Monday, as Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education for the Department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, after his appointment was announced about a month ago. And this week, FRC launched a last-minute Web petition to oppose him. It asks a pointed question: Would you choose this teacher to guide your children?
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Many of the quotes here, regarding youthful drug use and other misadventures, are from Jennings’ autobiography, Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son, about his coming of age in the South.They also have a comprehensive, point-by-point essay on why Jennings shouldn’t be responsible for kids in school. Headings include, “Jennings’ and GLSEN’s concept of ‘safe schools’ means special protections for privileged groups (especially homosexuals), rather than safety for all,” and “Jennings’ own youthful drug use calls into question his suitability for promoting ‘drug-free schools.'”
Then there’s a section with this heading, to which very close attention should be paid: “Jennings favors indoctrinating even elementary-age children in pro-homosexual ideology.”
I asked Eliza Byard, the current executive director for GLSEN, a blunt question: Is the FRC subtly suggesting that it’s not safe to let Jennings near kids?
“There’s nothing subtle about it,” said Byard. “I think it’s the same kind of malicious attack on LGBT people, with relation to young people and schools, that we’ve seen for many many years. You go back and look at the Briggs Amendment in the late 70s, this is the same kind of thing.”
(The Briggs Amendment was a referendum in California to ban gays or even people who openly supported gay rights from being teachers. It failed after attracting opposition from a wide variety of political figures, ranging from Harvey Milk to Ronald Reagan.)
GLSEN has launched its own online petition in support of Jennings. “Up until today, I had been simply saying this is the same old stuff we’ve been dealing with for years, and we here at GLSEN have become very practiced at ignoring this kind of effort to slander us,” said Byard, “And so we really hadn’t taken action before this time. And it got to a point where there was so much energy online and in our own constituency to say we can’t let this stand.”
“I don’t expect there to be any much further action this issue,” Byard added. “I mean, certainly the appointment was a terrific choice, we’re very excited to see terrific progress for all students while he’s there. And we expect this’ll fade away.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education declined to comment. Phone calls and e-mails to FRC were not returned.