Education Dept. Blocks Reporters from LGBT 'Youth Summit' Sessions for Teens

June 7, 2011 - 2:54 PM

Kevin Jennings

Kevin Jennings (AP Photo)

Washington (CNSNews.com) -- The U.S. Department of Education refused to allow reporters into break-out sessions at its first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Youth Summit, a taxpayer-funded event attended by teenagers that was held at the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Monday and Tuesday.

When CNSNews.com asked organizers why reporters could not attend the break-out sessions, Education Department public affairs specialist Jo Ann Webb said: “Every summit we’ve had has been this way. It’s to promote an open exchange and that’s just the rule, okay?”

CNSNews.com followed-up, asking, “Even though this is sponsored by the Department of Education and paid by federal tax dollars?” and Webb replied: “It’s been that way for every summit. If you’ve been coming in the past, it’s been that way for every summit.”

 

The LGBT Youth Summit, which was organized by the Education Department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, seeks to “bring together students, educators, administrators, federal officials and nonprofit leaders to provide information and seek solutions that will help create and maintain safe school and supportive environments for all LGBT students so that they can be more focused on learning,” stated the conference agenda.

Reporters were allowed to attend general sessions, including an address by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday and a working lunch on teaching youth how to network with homosexuals in top positions in corporate and nonprofit jobs entitled: “It Gets Better: Partnering with Corporate and Nonprofit Leaders to Build a Safer and More Supportive Pipeline for LGBT Youth from School to Career.”

 

 But journalists were prohibited from attending the break-out sessions, which included “LGBT Youth--A Uniquely Vulnerable Population in America’s Schools” and “Programs Creating Safe Environments and Reducing Risk Behaviors.”’

On a projector in the general session, a slide encouraged students to “Tweet about the first EVER Federal #LGBTYouth Summit.”

CNSNews.com also contacted Assistant Deputy Education Secretary Kevin Jennings, who heads the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, who said by e-mail that it was “standard operating procedure” to bar journalists from the break-out sessions because, he said, the presence of the media “has a silencing effect” on participants.

He stated in his e-mail: “1) (W)e plan these as working sessions where we want people to be able to brainstorm and think freely without worrying about seeing their thoughts in the paper the next day and we have found the presence of media has a silencing effect on some participants who are ‘camera shy.'

“2) (S)ome youth participants do not have permission to speak to the media and allowing media into sessions would have meant excluding them from this portion of the event which we did not want to do.”

High-school age students were in attendance at the summit, which Jennings said is designed “to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students" from “physical violence, bullying, anxiety and depression.”

CNSNews.com asked Jennings, the administration’s point man on homosexuality in the schools and the prime mover behind the summit, why the Education Department had planned and conducted a federal homosexual-bisexual-transgender summit, and whether any one event had triggered the process.

He explained: “The Education Department’s goal, as per the direction of President Obama, is to make the USA the #1 nation in the world in terms of college completion within the next decade. We are concerned about any population that encounters difficulty in schools, as that can impair their ability to complete high school and college.”

Jennings concluded that “there are disproportionately negative outcomes for LGBT students and we felt we needed to better understand those so we can insure these young people get a chance to get an education as well.”

The founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Jennings is leaving the Obama administration to be the next president and CEO of Be the Change, a coalition-building organization. He has been the head of the Office for Safe and Drug-Free Schools since July 2009.

CNSNews.com reported that during Jenning’s “14-year tenure at GLSEN he increased the number of school-based and student-lead clubs, such as Gay-Straight Alliances, from 50 in 1995 to 4,300 when he stepped down as the head of the organization in 2008.”

The Summit distributed copies of GLSEN literature, including “Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools.” The organization “envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.”

In the working lunch, Jeff Davis, the managing director and head of equities and prime services business and market strategy at Barclays Capital, who identified himself as being Kevin Jennings’ “partner,” said that “telling the personal story is a really important thing. But we put a face on it as being a good corporate citizen. I don’t present things as LGBT issues, I present them as what’s good for work, what’s good for business, what’s going on in the world.”