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This Is Not Your Father's School Safety

12:57 PM, Oct 3, 2009 • By RACHEL ABRAMS
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The Van Jones flameout was spectacular, but keep watching for the Kevin Jennings conflagration, which could be just as brilliant. Jennings's June appointment as Obama's school-safety czar was greeted by the vast right-wing conspiracy with some outrage, as members of its bullying anti-gay homophobic ranks who've been following his career for years turned up info on some sketchy aspects of his past. And it seems there's more back there than just the saga of youthful error -- when, as a 24-year-old closeted gay teacher he urged a teenaged student to be sure to use a condom when having sex with an older man -- that's been making the rounds and giving Media Matters the vapors for the last few days.

For instance, there's his encomium of Harry Hay, architect of the Mattachine Society (about which read here), fellow-traveler of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, and author, among other things, of this gob-smacking passage: ". . . if the parents and friends of gays are truly friends of gays, they would know from their gay kids that the relationship with an older man is precisely what thirteen-, fourteen, and fifteen-year-old kids need more than anything else in the world. And they would be welcoming this, and welcoming the opportunity for young gay kids to have the kind of experience that they would need."

Jennings, addressing a conference of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, of which he was the founder and executive director, saluted Mr. Hay:

One of the people that's always inspired me is Harry Hay . . . . Everybody thought Harry Hay was crazy in 1948 . . . and they were right, he was crazy. . . . All of us who are thinking this way are crazy, because you know what? Sane people keep the world the same sh*tty old way it is now. It's the people who think, ‘No, I can envision a day when straight people say, ‘So what if you're promoting homosexuality?' . . . And think how much can change in one lifetime if in Harry Hay's one very short life, he saw change from not even one person willing to join him to a million people willing to travel to Washington to join him.

Actually, Harry Hay lived to the ripe old age of 90 -- and who knows how many scores of 14-year-old boys he managed to befriend along the way -- but who's counting? As I write, Jennings hasn't yet recanted his support for the life-long devotee of man-boy love, but there's always tomorrow.

I'll leave it to Jennings's enemies on the right to keep digging. I'm more interested in what constitutes his view of school safety. And it's with Queering Elementary Education -- a compendium of essays that markets itself this way: "Queering education means bracketing our simplest classroom activities in which we routinely equate sexual identities with sexual acts, privilege the heterosexual condition, and presume sexual destinies. Queer teachers are those who develop curriculum and pedagogy that afford every child dignity rooted in self-worth and esteem for others" -- that we come to the nub of it. "If we mean it when we make students pledge allegiance to a flag that promises ‘liberty and justice for all' at the start of each school day," he writes in the forward, "then the choice is clear: we must address antigay bigotry, and we must do it as soon as students start going to school."

Got that? School safety used to mean walk, don't run, in the halls. Always take a partner to the bathroom. Don't eat the paste. Don't put the crayons in your mouth. If they fall on the floor, pick them up, so Miss Caruso doesn't slip on one and hurt herself. Now it means "ending antigay bias in K-12 schools." (And maybe that bathroom-partner thing, too.)