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The Kevin Jennings Thing

So far I’ve refrained from commenting on the Kevin Jennings affair, mostly because of the amount of mind-numbing stupidity involved. (I mentioned my growing misanthropy before, right? Okay, good.) Here’s a quick and dirty recap for those who managed to avoid the whole thing::

  • Jennings, former executive director of GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) was appointed to be the assistant deputy director of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Because Jennings is gay For entirely valid reasons, the religious right decided to have a bit of an aneurysm over this.
  • It soon came to light that Jennings had apparently advised a fifteen-year old boy to continue having sex with a much older man he met at a bus stop as long as he used a condom, which is certainly not the best way for a young teacher (as Jennings was at the time) to handle that kind of situation. Jennings responded by apologizing for what he felt was a mistake on his part, and stressed that, at the time, teachers had absolutely no training in how to deal with this kind of situation. He never actually told the boy to continue having sex with the man (despite what a lot of people seem to think), but neither did he tell him to stop. A poor course of action on Jennings’ part? Certainly, but as he said, this was at a time when teachers simply didn’t know how to handle situations involving gay students.
  • Several rather hysterical commentators were ready to demand Jennings’ head on a plate over this, until it emerged that the boy was actually 16 at the time of the incident – which was and is the age of consent in the state where he lives. In other words, although it was still pretty irresponsible of Jennings to not maybe look into the situation further, there were no laws being broken.
  • The boy himself, now a grown man, even got involved by reiterating that he was 16 at the time and that he felt Jennings handled the situation admirable. There is apparently a scan of his drivers license online to prove that he was ‘of age’ at the time, but I haven’t seen it.
  • Case closed? Well, no. Jennings is gay, which means that having him connected in any way with schools will always be a bad idea as far as the religious right is concerned. (Let’s not mince words here, all right? It’s blatantly obvious.) Now it seems that Jennings praised Harry Hay, the founder of NAMBLA, in a 1987 speech. (And if you don’t know who they are, please, check their Wikipedia page rather than Googling them. Trust me.) And here comes the religious right again, this time claiming that Jennings supports paedophilia.

Firstly, it doesn’t seem as if Hay is the one who actually founded NAMBLA, he just supported them and shared their views. (Which is itself pretty bad, of course.) Secondly, Jennings did not say that he admired Hay for his association with NAMBLA – rather, he said that he admired him for his early, pioneering activism on the part of LGBT people. Jennings was not alone in this – it seems that Hay’s obituaries commonly highlighted this period in his life.

That should be the end of it, but the right-wing media machine is currently hinting furiously (without actually making any sort of committed statement) that Jennings did or does still agree with Hay’s views on pedophilia. There’s a widespread view that Jennings was wrong to say that he admired Hay’s pro-gay work because it somehow makes him guilty of supporting all of the man’s other views by association.

To those who feel this way, I have a shocking revelation: George Washington owned slaves. No, really, he did. He was incredibly racist, as were most of his contemporaries (they were sexist, too!). Pretty much every nationalistic ‘hero’ you care to name, from any country and any time period, had some sort of belief or engaged in some sort of action that would get them universally condemned by the media today. John Locke, whose philosophy laid the foundation for the values that went into the creation of the USA, complained that poor children were economically worthless until they were about twelve years old – he wanted some way to get them used to working and fuelling the system upon which his comfortable lifestyle depended  sooner than that.

People deserve to be praised or condemned based on the views that they themselves actually hold. If anybody wants to demonize Jennings for admiring a man who also believed some things which were far from admirable, fine; but let them also demonize anybody who admires Locke, Washington or virtually any other ‘hero’ from the annals of history, even from very recent history.

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Categories: Gay Rights
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