GLSEN Founder Appointed to Gov’t Safe Schools Post; Right Wing Up in Arms

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday June 1, 2009

The founder of a national advocacy group for GLBT youth has been appointed to a government position helping to oversee safe schools--and the anti-gay religious right are up in arms.

A May 29 article at religious site WorldNetDaily, which often posts anti-gay content, reported that Gay Straight Lesbian Education Network (GLSEN) founder Kevin Jennings had been appointed to the post of Assistant Deputy Secretary in the Office of Safe Schools.

The article, which put words such as gay and safety in quotation marks, noted that GLSEN had helped to establish the annual Day of Silence, during which GLBT youth and their straight allies spend a school day without speaking as a way of protesting what GLBT youth advocates say is a lack of voice for queer students, who are often the target of harassment, verbal abuse, intimidation, and even physical attacks.

The most recent Day of Silence was targeted by anti-gay groups, who encouraged parents to keep their children out of school rather than allow them to attend classes where some of their classmates would be observing silence.

The WND article also noted that GLSEN had played a role in the establishment of Gay/Straight Alliances (GSAs) at schools around the country.

The article quoted Mission America's Linda Harvey, who characterized GLSEN's efforts on behalf of GLBT youth as being "detrimental" to American schools and called Jennings' appointment a "tragedy."

Mission America, the WND article said, "educates people on anti-Christian trends in the nation."

Harvey suggested that Jennings gave covert approval to sexual activity between adults and children. As quoted by WND, Harvey claimed, "In his own writings and books listed on the GLSEN Website, I've reported, Kevin Jennings has given tacit nods of approval to sex between young teens and adults.

"In addition to that, the writings and books, many of which I've read and are incredibly graphic, seem to normalize early teen same-sex sexual behaviors," added Harvey.

Harvey spoke out in harsh terms about the appointment, declaring, "It is unconscionable.

"This is educational malpractice and child corruption," Harvey claimed.

Harvey regarded the appointment of the openly-gay Jennings as a threat, saying, "What you have is the silencing of any conservative opinion."

Added Harvey, "That's what they consider safety," going on to declare, "This is an outrageous 'in-your-face, take this, we don't care about your version of safety' for kids."

State legislatures that have considered anti-bullying laws have heard from anti-gay groups who fear that such laws will lead to "indoctrination" of children by gays. Harvey echoed that line of argument, citing a school district in Iowa as an example of "the most outrageous in-service training imaginable."

Harvey explained the "outrageous" in-service training as "a two-day teacher training course called 'How to Make My Classroom Safe for LGBT Students.'

"As part of the training, 'Videos will be used from Anderson Cooper 360, 'Will & Grace,' and several popular film segments like 'Brokeback Mountain' and 'Latter Days,'" a film about a gay Mormon missionary who falls in love with a male neighbor while on his missionary assignment in Los Angeles and is subsequently excommunicated from his faith.

The film clips are shown to the teachers, not the students. Quotations attributed to Harvey did not include any rationale for why it is "outrageous" to screen film clips for adults in the course of such a training.

Another anti-gay activist credited Jennings with policy developments in California, reported WND. As quoted in the article, Capitol Resource Institute director Karen England claimed, "This man's work and his agenda are exactly why we've seen the radical pro-homosexuality curriculum pushed across California."

Warned England, "[Jennings] is now more strongly positioned to implement his agenda nationwide."

The anti-gay site BeetleBlogger claimed that protecting GLBT youth in schools would erode protections for other minorities, and called Jennings "a leading advocate for homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality in schools."

The posting also quoted England as echoing this claim, saying, "In the last two weeks, I've heard from parents coast to coast who are concerned about instruction that promotes homosexuality in their children's schools."

In actuality, Jennings and GLSEN advocate for safety and non-discrimination on behalf of students who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, and include straight students under the same aegis of school safety.

BeetleBlogger charged on, claiming that, "As Californians know by experience, what GLSEN promotes as 'school safety' usually means that every schoolchild will embrace the homosexual lifestyle or else be labeled a bigot."

Added BeetleBlogger, "This philosophy, spread across the nation by federal authority, do [sic] not promote safety for every child," though details in support of the claim were not forthcoming.

The posting went on to claim that protections for GLTB youth would diminish protections for others, claiming that, "this philosophy means that race and religion can become less protected categories in school."

However, examples of such diminished protections for non-GLBT students in the wake of safer schools for all were not provided.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.