The Long March of Kevin Jennings

An Obama appointee has attracted unwelcome media attention, namely Kevin Jennings his erstwhile Czar for school safety. The triggering incident was that he once counseled a 15 year engaged in homosexual sex with an older man to wear a condom versus reporting the statutory rape to the police. Though this lapse is horrific enough, matters are far worse. To appoint Jennings to reduce school violence is, to exaggerate only slightly, the equivalent of making the town pyromaniac Fire Chief. He will unlikely reduce school crime; the opposite is more likely -- he will discover ever more "crime" and in the process help impose the gay agenda. For Jennings, battling crime means teaching youngsters that Alexander Hamilton was gay. Don't laugh -- you'll see.

Let's start with school crime. Statistics are, admittedly, somewhat imprecise, but according to the Department of Justice, school crime has been dropping sharply since 1992. In 1992, for example, some 198,000 crimes on school grounds were reported, but by 2006 the figure had fallen to 87,000. "Serious violent" crimes went from 40,700 to 30,170. The decline was even steeper in crimes off schools grounds -- the total rate per 1000 in 1992 was 7.1 compared to 3.0 in 2006[1].   

Of the utmost importance for anxious parents, much of this serious crime is disproportionately concentrated in urban schools with large minority populations. Make no mistake, school crime is deadly serious, as the recent wave of Chicago killings testify, but to suggest that millions of youngsters nationwide daily risk danger grossly exaggerates. Moreover, the historical and still effective solution to shielding junior is to relocate to safer schools (or home school), not flood schools with police. We'd guess that if America's educational woes were ranked, protection from personally experienced criminality would be fairly far down the list. "School crime" is hardly a pressing national issue and where it does erupt, humdrum policing is the correct response.  

So, if violent school crime is largely an inner-city problem, and Washington wants to reduce it, whom do you call? Bring Dirty Harry out of retirement, ship him to Chicago where he can ask local toughs if this is their lucky day? How about Rudy Giuliani?  Surely somebody with a crime-fighting background would be the logical choice. Unfortunately for those parents who worry about their children's safety, on a crime-fighting scale of 1 to 5, Kevin Jennings is a minus 10.   

Some personal background. Kevin Jennings rose to prominence via the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educational Alliance (GLSEN), originally a group of gay teachers founded in 1990.[2] It went national in 1995 with a large staff and a paid director (Jennings), and has profited immensely from its close relationship with the powerful National Educational Association (NEA) and similar liberal educational groups. It is not to be messed with -- at last count it included some 2500 local chapters and by 2006 it had prompted annual Days of Silence with two million students to draw attention to gay students. Their energetic intrusion in schools has ranged from threats of litigation to prodding schools to make October the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Month. For those unaware, November 28th is now Transgender Day of Remembrance, so be prepared to explain some novel anatomical details when your 9th-grader asks a few questions.

But, it is one thing to create an organization dedicated to appreciate yet one more under-appreciated sliver of the population, but quite another to prod authorities to vigorously protect this sliver. With Jennings at the helm, GLSEN has performed brilliantly thanks to exploiting the patina of social science. With NEA cooperation, he has regularly conducted a "scientific" poll asking self-defined gay students about personal tribulations and the official responses to perceived slights, bullying, snide remarks, being roughed up or anything else possibly inflicting emotional distress. Questions then follow about whether school authorities remedied the alleged abuse. In an instant, voilá, perfect justification for state intervention is created -- young gays everywhere are suffering and school officials stand idly by.

In 2000, for example, some two-thirds of LGBT students taking the survey reported having been made uncomfortable because of their sexuality, 42% reported more serious harassment and five years later, the assault on gay students had not improved -- three-quarters had encountered derogatory remarks (e.g., "you're so gay') and a fifth reported some form of physical abuse. Overall, many gay students felt unsafe in their schools, no small matter since, according to GLSEN, there are between 2.25 and 2.75 million gay students in American schools. It gets worse: not only do teachers fail to protect these at-risk students, but a quarter of these students heard teachers or staff members make disparaging comments. Now that this poll is being conducted online with privacy protected passwords, we can only expect more reported animosity directed at this two million plus group of students.

Jennings and his allies have artfully constructed a highly deceptive picture. It is all about impressions, feelings about murky incidents and, of the utmost importance, the accused are not permitted their day in court, even if the incident entailed physical contact (nor are gay-on-gay incidents treated separately). Absolutely everything is unsubstantiated accusation. To the overly sensitive, especially those conspicuously celebrating sexual identity, life itself becomes one travail after the next. Moreover, none of these self-reports necessarily entail illegal behavior, a violation of school rules or are so damaging to a person's psychological development that they automatically require Washington's 9-1-1 intervention (if anti-gay actions were illegal they would be reported to the police and subject to investigation, a process that may not be welcome by those screaming that the sky is falling).

The government's own 2003 study of school-based "hatefulness" reported that sexual orientation comments were exceedingly rare -- just 1.3% of all students ever encountered such remarks. A more clear-eyed assessment is that troubling social interactions are endemic within this age group -- just ask any awkward adolescent about surviving, and one will undoubtedly hear a tale of unrelenting woe, regardless of sexual identification.        

But, thankfully, Jennings is a practical man, so he realizes that American schools cannot be transformed into DDR-like totalitarian institutions where hidden microphones and cameras monitor these hurtful slights and assaults. Nor can teachers be trusted to step in and quell heterosexualism. Jennings instead suggests that this hatefulness be combated by heralding gay contributions to the history of Greece, the Roman Empire, China and every other civilization. In short, gay-flavored multi-culturalism to the rescue. Notable historical figures to make schools more "gay friendly" include Eleanor Roosevelt and, yes, thank you for waiting, Alexander Hamilton. These are his examples and left unsaid is just how their homosexuality has been established.

And rest assured, this is only the beginning, though it is already underway in many school districts. Agenda facilitators are standing by for their marching orders. A recent GLSEN compilation found some fifty-three gay-themed fiction books from mainstream publishers suitable for youngsters to stamp out homophobic "violence." The gender-bending Pinky and Rex series offers a dozen child-friendly books suitable for destroying hate in its embryonic stage. As is true for with similar left-wing capture-the-culture campaigns, advocates will be relentless with "show up early, stay late" tactics. The coercive litigation engine is already running -- as a result of  U.S. District Court v. Boyd County of Kentucky et. al. (2006) consent decree, students in one school district are required to take sensitivity training on the subject of actual or perceived discrimination against gay students. As was true in racial issues, many school districts will probably preemptively surrender rather than fight costly battles. 

You don't have to be a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing. If you thought that GLSEN was an irresistible force with just a few thousand members, just wait until it leverages its power within the White House, the Justice Department and elsewhere. Jennings' appointment is all about homosexual inclusion, not restoring law and order in Chicago or Detroit where it is desperately needed. This is Newspeak deception on a grand scale, and perhaps comparable to using "green jobs" to support radical activism. Does anybody really believe that sending Pinky, a boy who loves the color of pink, and Rex, a girl who loves dinosaurs to quell warfare between the Bloods and the Crips will work?  

If anything, forcefully imposing a made-in-Washington homosexual agenda will exacerbate school violence. Just wait until a bunch of seventh graders suffer their first Transgender Day of Remembrance while being compelled to hear how closeted queers made America great. Sensible parents, even liberals will jump ship regarding public schools while dedicated teachers will complain even more loudly how students loathe school. Keep in mind that aversion to homosexuality is endemic among youngsters, so "outing" reluctant classmates will provide a cornucopia of fresh targets. Jennings and his assistants may well complain of sabotage and unleash the Justice Department, even threatening to hold up federal school aid unless "rampages" against gay students are halted.

One last note on the vetting process. A disinterested outsider reviewing GLSEN's dubious findings and recommendations would have smelled trouble. Regardless of heartfelt purpose, Jennings and company are guilty of crude, sometimes dishonest, advocacy, to advance a widely detested sexual agenda. While nothing counsels banishing Jennings and his co-workers, inviting them inside the government will legitimize such tactics, or at least be viewed as an attempt to legitimize them. A wise advisor would have said, "Look Mr. President, I realize that while you must satisfy your gay constituency, sooner or latter Jennings and his machinations will be exposed, and people will ask questions, and do you really want to defend somebody who claims that Alexander Hamilton was gay and that teaching youngsters about this will calm disorderly schools?" Obviously, that day has arrived.         

Robert Weissberg is Professor of Political Science-Emeritus, University of Illinois-Urbana.

[1] U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 1992-2006. Table S2.1

[2] This analysis is drawn from Robert Weissberg, Pernicious Tolerance: How Teaching ‘to accept differences' Undermines Civil Society. New Brunswick, NJ: Transactions Publishers, 2008.
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