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Obama’s safe schools czar backs gay curriculum

WASHINGTON (BP)–He believes homosexuality should be introduced to students in kindergarten and that conservative Christian views on same-sex relationships “have no place” in the nation’s public schools.

Kevin Jennings already was controversial before he became President Obama’s safe schools czar, but now that he’s a part of the Department of Education, his views are in the spotlight as never before. As the department’s assistant deputy secretary for safe and drug-free schools, Jennings is responsible for programs and activities that promote not only safe and drug-free schools but also, according to the department’s website, “character education programs.”

Jennings’ critics, though, say his past role as head of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network — which he founded — makes him unqualified for the job. GLSEN is one of the leading organizations attempting to get pro-homosexuality curriculum in the public schools. Critics point to past comments by Jennings, such as the one he made in a 1997 speech to a local GLSEN chapter, “I can envision a day when straight people say, ‘So what if you’re promoting homosexuality?’ The only thing that will stop us is our lack of faith that we can make it happen. That is our mission from this day forward.”

On Oct. 15, 53 House Republicans sent President Obama a letter “respectfully” requesting that he remove his safe schools czar, saying “it is clear” Jennings “lacks the appropriate qualifications and ethical standards” to fill the role.

“As the founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Mr. Jennings has played an integral role in promoting homosexuality and pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America’s schools — an agenda that runs counter to the values that many parents desire to instill in their children,” the letter reads. “… The totality of Mr. Jennings’ career has been to advocate for public affirmation of homosexuality. There is more to safe and drug-free schools than can be accomplished from the narrow view of Mr. Jennings who has, for more than 20 years, almost exclusively focused on promoting the homosexual agenda.”

Jennings’ views on the issue are one-sided. In 2004 he was quoted as saying, “Ex-gay messages have no place in our nation’s public schools. A line has been drawn. There is no ‘other side’ when you’re talking about lesbian, gay and bisexual students.”

His controversial stances began catching the attention of social conservatives in the 1990s, when GLSEN began making headway in its goal of getting its programs and curriculum in public schools. Part of their strategy involved a documentary-type video, “It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School,” that shows teachers in real-life situations with kids discussing homosexual themes. In one scene, a teacher asks a group of elementary students, “Should gays be allowed to marry?” and then tells them to form discussion groups. The class breaks up into groups of four and the camera shows the give-and-take that ensues. “I think gay people should get married,” one young girl says. “If they love someone, let them get married.”

Jennings called the video — available for purchase through GLSEN and intended for use in teacher training sessions — “the most important film dealing with LGBT issues and safe schools ever made.”

Elaborating on what the youngest of students should learn about homosexuality, Jennings said in 2000, “Our curriculum at kindergarten, and first grade, and second grade — every grade until students have graduated should be, ‘You must respect every human being regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of gender identity, regardless of race or religion or any arbitrary distinctions we make about people.'”

Jennings wrote the foreword for the 1999 book, “Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue About Sexualities and Schooling.”

Jennings also has been criticized for his advice to a teenage student in the late 1980s when Jennings was a teacher at a school in Massachusetts. The boy confided to Jennings that he had been having sex with an “older man.” Jennings responded by asking if the boy had used a condom. Jennings previously has said the boy was 15 — which would mean Jennings violated the law because he did not report to police what would have been a statutory rape. But the liberal website MediaMatters.org says the boy was 16, and as proof it has provided what it says is the current driver’s license of the then-teenager who, if the license is legitimate, would now be 38. The age of consent in Massachusetts at the time was 16.

But while the license might clear Jennings’ name of allegedly breaking the law, it does not address the morality of Jennings’ action, conservatives say.

Jennings’ memoir “Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son,” tells the story of his father, who was a pastor at a few Southern Baptist churches but was usually forced out because, according to Jennings (page 6), he had a northern accent and had a “habit of sleeping with the deacon’s wives.” Jennings’ father died when he was 8. At the time, his father was not a pastor at a church but was in construction work.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. The letter from the 53 House Republicans is available at http://downloads.frcaction.org/EF/EF09J02.pdf.

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  • Michael Foust