Under Attack from Right, Education Department’s Kevin Jennings Releases Statement on Counseling Incident 21 Years Ago

Kevin Jennings, the gay founder of GLSEN who now heads the Education Department's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, has been the target of right-wing and religious groups (such as the Family Research Council) since he was named to the position. The groups accuse Jennings of promoting homosexuality in schools. Recently, they seized upon an incident involving Jennings which happened 21 years ago in which Jennings was counseling a 16 or 17-year-old student who said he was sexually involved with a man. Jennings failure to report this to authorities is now fueling the right-wing accusations that he is somehow trying to indoctrinate children into homosexuality.

FOX News has jumped on the bandwagon, of course, claiming that Jennings covered up statutory rape.

Jennings

Yesterday, Jennings released a statement admitting he mishandled the incident:

“Twenty one years later I can see how I should have handled this situation differently. I should have asked for more information and consulted legal or medical authorities. Teachers back then had little training or guidance about this kind of thing. All teachers should have a basic level of preparedness. I would like to see the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools play a bigger role in helping to prepare teachers.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan also released a statement:

"Kevin Jennings has dedicated his professional career to promoting school safety. He is uniquely qualified for his job and I am honored to have him on our team."

The L.A. Times reports: "Jennings' inaction was
discussed in the teaching community as far back as 2004. It is now
being condemned as part of a broader critique of Jennings' fitness for
the education post by conservative critics, who also accuse him of
promoting homosexuality…Department
spokesman Justin Hamilton said the accusation that Jennings promoted
homosexuality was too ridiculous to deserve comment."

The wingnuts don't want to see any gay man in this position, much less one who has spent the better part of 20 years dedicating himself to wiping out anti-LGBT bullying and promoting tolerance in the nation's schools.

Comments

  1. Matt says

    Wow this was 21 years ago. He admitted to doing wrong but he was probably just trying to protect this boy to the best of his ability. Let’s lay off the man. He seems to be doing ok in this position so far. It’d be different if he was sucking ass.

  2. Gianpiero says

    Our opponents see Jennings as a juicy target. Were they to prevail in derailing him or getting him out of there, they would view it as a major victory, and it would fuel more attacks against openly gay educators. That cannot be allowed to happen, and I’m glad to see Secretary Duncan’s statement of support.

  3. anonymous says

    Kevin is a good man. I do not question his judgment at all.

    I can tell you Kevin cares deeply about GLSN and young people. He is extremely principled, reasonable and committed to doing what is right.

    Kevin, if you’re reading this, I’m sad we’re not friends any more. I still really don’t know what happened but it was too many years ago. I am glad for the impact you have made for young people across the country. This nation would be a lesser place without you.

  4. Donovan says

    Well, isn’t this just the same sort of “child molestation coverup” the Catholic church has been running for the last 50 years (at least)? I think it’s rich of the fascists to attack anyone for lying about the same things their religious leaders do.

  5. Peter says

    This is part of the wingnuts’ crusade against any government appointee who’s to the left of General Pinochet. The right-wing scumbags already nailed Van Jones. Don’t let them get away with ruining Kevin Jennings’ career as well!

  6. GregV says

    Donovan, no, it’s not even close to the same as what the Catholic leaders did (and by the way there was yet bishop incident that I saw in the news two minutes ago.) If all a Catholic leader had done was failed to report a 15 year old who said at confession that he/she was involved with someone six years older, there never would have been any Catholic church scandal at all.

  7. Favrefan says

    He admits he could of handled the situation differently. what is the “situation” exactly?. From what I understand a 15 year old minor cam to him and explained he was having sex with an adult. Jennings advice was to use a condom. He did not report this to anyone. I wonder if you would of reported a female cheerleader having sex with a adult? for me i would of liked him to say he was wrong..not just how he should of handled it differantly. I dont think this should have anything to do with his sexual preferance but with his decision making skills. Sex with a minor is illegal—no matter the sex.

  8. Clarknt67 says

    You know, I feel his handling is a real right/left divide. Calling the police would have outted that kid to his parents, likely the school, increasing his sense of isolation and alienation.

    The GOP thinks that would have accomplished something, but I disagree.

    At the end of the day, Jennings focused on what was truly important, making sure the kid protected himself from AIDS and recognized that their are healthy, less dangerous ways to explore your sexuality and exist as a gay man.

    Of course, therein lies the right’s problem. In their estimation, there is no appropriate way to be a gay person in our society, and anything short of full-hearted condemnation is unacceptable.

    To abandon Jennings is to abandon our leftist principles that these have real-world solutions, not solved by striving toward some distorted 1950s idea of what America should be.

  9. shivadog says

    I agree with CLARKENT67. He did nothing wrong. To have gone to authorities would have been betraying the boys trust and probably ruining the boys life by outing him.

  10. Favrefan says

    Again..His “outing” as you put it should not be a teachers first concern. The law should be. A 15 year old can not make that decision. How many years has society told rape/incest victims to come foward? A gay victim should not be any different. Jennings took the easy way out in not reporting it. In his “response” he claims he had little training in dealing with a situation like this..i say bullshit to that. A child needed his help–not because he was gay, but because an adult was taking advantage of him

  11. walter says

    Favrefan and Donovan – maybe you should do some research before you regurgitate corporate funded Christian Nationalist propoganda …. the student was 16 when he met with his teacher.

    16 was the age of majority / consent in MA in 1988.

    Guess what …

    16 still is the age of majority / consent in MA in 2009.

    He did the right thing – treated the student as a citizen who had reached the age of consent and provide safe sex advise during the height of the AIDS Crisis.

    No how about you do some research next time before parroting propoganda like a good little peasant.

  12. BC says

    Hey Walter – you do your research:

    “Massachusetts is one of 8 states that have different ages of consent for men and women. The age of consent in Massachusetts is 16 for women and 18 for men. This is the age at which a person may consent to heterosexual sex with a partner over the age of 21″

    AND All media reports have been that the boy was 15.

    So just becuase the boy was gay, there should be different laws? So is it OK for all you adults to go out and have sex with a 15 year old boy? The law is the law. If a teacher was found out to have known about this today they would lose their license, even if it happened 20 years ago. Being a mandated reporter (as teachers are), there is no compassionate judgment allowed. You are required to report the incident and allow the family and children’s services to investigate. If it is found out that you did not report, then you face losing your teaching license.

    Where do we draw the line guys? Just because this guy is gay does not negate the fact that he allowed an adult to continue a sexual relationship with a 15 y/o boy. I want gay people in high ranking government jobs too…but maybe just not this gay person.

  13. Favrefan says

    walter- Always nice to have a conversation with someone with such a great attitude. I applaud you however, for if you are gay you help show that gay people are just like everyone else..some people are nice and some are assholes. Thank you for taking your rightfull place.

    Also if we go by what you say then why would jennings not use that as his defense..I will give you 2 reasons i think.
    1. Your age of consent statement is not correct and he made a bad decision in not reporting.
    2. He was correct in the age of consent and is just a coward to say that is why he helped the child.

    which is it?

  14. Bill says

    Heterosexuals ALWAYS use sex as a fallback to undermine gay people. Sex plus gay people means a lot of bad things to the heterosexual. So connecting sex with a gay person is a sure fire bet that other heterosexuals will jump on board of the anti-gay hate bandwagon even if the subject invovles no sex.

  15. kody says

    ps, may i please use this forum to ‘promote homosexuality’?

    step right up folks and try the miracle sexual orientation that has millions swooning! yes, let’s go gay, and watch your troubles melt away!

    thank you.

  16. Jason Young says

    At 15 years of age most people know if they want to have sex with someone or not. The law is wrong. Attempting to make young adults stay children for as long as possible is idiotic and wrong. Jennings did the right thing. The law should be 13 or better yet one year after someone starts puberty. 13 year olds are not children even if they are not fully matured yet. There is a reason most older cultures celebrate entry into adulthood in the vicinity of 13 (the beginning of adulthood) and not 18 or 21.

    I starting messing around with another 11 year old when I was 11. According to some state laws we should both have went to jail for “raping” each other. Sex is either consensual or it is not and most statutory “rape” that does occur is not rape at all and it makes a mockery of those who are raped. The 15 year old boy obviously did not consider himself raped and I have never known anyone who was a teenager and had consensual sex with an adult who felt they were forced or tricked into it. In fact they usually pressured the adult to have sex with them. Unfortunately many people who are having concealed consensual sex with another person will call rape if the relationship is found out. This includes many “statutory” cases where a person’s parents pressure them to lie and I saw it occur repeatedly with Sorority girls because they would be kicked out of their chapters for being “sluts” if it were discovered that they were sleeping around.

    I’ve had friends who were raped for real and it’s disgusting to compare any case of consensual sex with rape.

  17. BC says

    Jason, I used to teach this stuff in schools and there is NEVER a case where 2 11 year-olds would be charged with rape. Now, yes a 13 y/o and and 11 y/o, the 13y/o COULD be charged with rape. But that is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about an adult male having sex with a teenage boy. And you think 13 year olds should be able to have sex with people in their 30s? 40s? 50s? That is just sick.

    I am a therpist and I work with people who have had sex at an early age with an adult. It’s not ok. It can set people up for a lifetime of serious issues. And some of you may believe the law is wrong, but it doesn’t matter. He broke the law by not reporting this.

  18. Ed says

    In Jennings’ book, which came out in 1994, he reports meeting the kid again in 1993 when he was 22.

    That means in 1988, the kid was 16 or 17. The age of consent in MA is and was 16.

    Jennings broke no law.

    Case closed.

  19. Mark says

    I had sex for the first time when I was 15 with a guy who was 19.

    We should all post our age when we first had sex to show how stupid all of this is. EVERYONE has sex before they are 18.

    FORGET who thinks this is “right” or “wrong”. The point is we ALL do it so why argue about it? Why let the Right manipulate our dialogue with this kind of bullshit?

    Many would have said I was “raped” or “abused” which would be wrong. The guy was great; the sex was great. I could handle it then and I can handle it now. I do not regret a minute of it and would change nothing.

    Anyone else care to share?

  20. says

    The right wing is picking off Obama administration appointees one by one. They don’t have the ideas or power to go after the big issues, so they’re smearing any smaller player they can find. (And if it’s gay–linked to that horrible GLSEN!–all the better for them.) Look at the wildly inaccurate language they use to describe what happened: rape, hiding pedophilia, homosexual child predator. They want to link Jennings, a gay man, to pedophilia–and, by association, Obama and the Dems–and figure that the mainstream won’t bother to check the facts. (And several even here have made the link that Jennings is a pedophile.) In the context of Jenning’s overall work, this incident doesn’t even approach something that should matter now to his job performance. (What he did was questionable in hindsight, he admits, but also understandable. Outing a kid at that time was a big deal.) This is another Hannity and Co. desperate smear tactic–the sad thing is, even some gay people are buying into it.

  21. Ted Larson says

    I started have “gay sex” at the age of 12 with a 17 year old. That was in 1955. At 17 I joined the Navy, knowing I was gay, and served my country honorably. At 17 in the Navy I could not vote for my Commander in Chief. When I turned 18, I was of legal age to drink but for the three years of active military service, I still could not vote for my Commander in Chief, voting age then was 21. By the way, while in the service, I had a boyfriend who was in the Coast Guard. All of this was back in the early sixties, long before Stonewall. Age is just a number. Some people mature earlier than others, I know, I did and have no regrets. It made me a better person.

  22. Ted Larson says

    Oh, I forgot to mention, I am a retired high school teacher. Thanks to so many GSA in schools, many young kids either out or questioning have a safe place to go for guidance. Thank you Kevin Jennings for your caring of our GLBT youth.

  23. ty says

    I jacked off my stepbrother in 7th grade, and first got screwed at 16, believe me, you don’t want an amature at the helm, so the guy is going to be older. Kevin was wise to lay low and not invite familial rejection and homelessness onto that kid !!

  24. Chitown Kev says

    Oh, dear.

    I sucked my first dick at 15 and didn’t get fucked until 20. It was when I did it…well, in my high school that the guilt feelings came.

  25. Derrick from Philly says

    @CHITOWN KEV,

    Don’t feel guily, CHI. If it was the boys’ room it was perfectly appropriate. If it was down in the boiler room…well, y’all were either brave or horny as hell.

    If a grown gay man has had sexual relations with other grown gay men 97% of the time, and one of his affairs happens with a 16 year old(an aggressive 16 year old)–does that still make the grown gay man a pedophile? If that’s the case, then maybe half the straight men in this country are pedophiles.

    Some of y’all are full of sanctimonious shit.

  26. sarah says

    I don’t get it. This man is an admitted fan of NAMBLA( North American Man Boy Love Association), who recently gave a lecture or tutorial if you will on how to perform oral sex on an 18 month old baby. Who the hell would trust this man? What bothers me isn’t that the boy was involved with same sex activities, it’s that he was doing it with a considerable older man like 30 something. If the child had been heterosexual it would have been a felony. Why are homosexual children allowed to be victimized by perverts? If he had been a 15 or 16 year old girl the school and police would have been all over it. I believe our children deserve protection regardless of their sexual orientation, which is this man’s job. In stead he praises an organization of preditors. True this happened 20 years ago, but that doesn’t seem to change the fact that he seems to think that the age of consent is any thing more than a formality to get around. Sexual activity should be a personal choice when the individual is ready not some thing that is forced upon you and called love.

  27. sarah says

    Seriously who cares about sexual orientation, when it’s ok for older midle aged men to begin seducing freshmen in highschool and every one seems to think it’s ok, we as a culture are truely sick and twisted.

  28. jeff says

    Let me get this right out of the way, I’m hetrosexual so some of you may want to demonize me right now. I’m also opposed to a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a man and a woman. The
    Bill of Rights guarantees you to a persuit of happiness, I would not suppose to take away that right by saying you may not marry. I’m also conservative. I’m at this website and others like it to see both sides of the Jennings story. After much thought here are my observations. Mr Jennigs stated several times the boy was 15, the bickering back and forth about the boys true age means nothing, as Mr Jennings believed him to be underage. Most of you have made tha assumption that the boy had bad parents, we don’t know this. So to say to out the boy to his parents would cause problems is also an assumption. It is just as possible the parents would have done all matters correctly and to say they would not have. Next point if we are all to part of the whole of humanity then we need to establish laws for the better of our society. One if these laws is the protection of our minor children. This story should not be about sexual orentation but rather about the protection of a 15 year old. The gay and lesbian community is far to quick to take sides with anyone who “comes out” or sides with the community. We all need to police up our respective communities, as we police up our own communities and not make excuses we can then gain confidence in each other, and from that understanding. As I mentioned earlier I’m conservative, yet I want to take issue with the ban on same sex marriage, because it’s just wrong. What I’d like to hear ftom this community is that they do not want any part of sex with underage children. That we may disagree on many things but not the safety of our children. When each of our respective communities police up our own effort then will we find peace and understanding.

  29. media bias says

    It doesnt matter what the childs age really was. Jennings THOUGHT he was 15 and he was a sophomore. Further,why are you so IRRESPONSIBLY OMITTING THE REAL ISSUE?? Are you that afraid that you have to change the facts to present an argument? The 15 yr old kid is not the only issue with Jennings. He was an admirer and proponent of NAMBLA’s Harry Hay. Or perhaps Jennings was again, the only one on the planet who missed that fact about Harry Hay when he wrote the forward to his book. WTF is wrong with you people? Did you all have such a rough time with your first sexual encounter that you wish the worst on every gay kid that comes after you? FURTHER, sex does not need to be taught in early elementary school. This is why it is NOT the business of the state to educate my child about sex. Each child is read when they are ready – it’s nobody’s business to shove things down their throats, especially by crackpots like Jennings and his ilk.

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