Safe Schools Czar Ducks Questions on Past Statements about Homosexuality, Says Department of Education Won’t Dictate Curriculum
Instead, he pointed out that Congress has prohibited the department from interfering in the curricula of local schools.
Jennings, the assistant deputy education secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, made a rare public appearance Monday, speaking to a gathering of school teachers at the National Press Club.
Jennings’ appointment to the safe-schools czar post has been controversial because of his past advocacy of teaching homosexuality in public schools, and for how he admittedly handled a 1988 incident by advising a 15-year-old boy to use a condom in his affair with an older man, rather than reporting the incident of to authorities.
During Jennings’ speech Monday, he stressed that the Obama administration sought him out for the job because of his background.
For a decade, he ran the organization Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), of which he was also a founding member. He described GLSEN Monday as a group that “works to make schools safe regardless of sexual orientation or gender identification.”
Because of his role in promoting homosexuality in public schools, 52 House Republicans last fall signed a letter to President Barack Obama calling for Jennings to be removed from the safe schools post. Rep. Steve King (R.-Iowa) circulated the letter.
“As the founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Mr. Jennings has played an integral role in promoting homosexuality and pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America's schools-an agenda that runs counter to the values that many parents desire to instill in their children,” the House Republican letter said. “As evidence of this, Mr. Jennings wrote the foreword for a book titled Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue About Sexualities and Schooling.”
“Throughout his career, Mr. Jennings has made it his mission to establish special protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students to the exclusion of all other students,” the House Republican letter continued. “The totality of Mr. Jennings' career has been to advocate for public affirmation of homosexuality. There is more to safe and drug free schools than can be accomplished from the narrow view of Mr. Jennings who has, for more than 20 years, almost exclusively focused on promoting the homosexual agenda.”
After his speech on Monday, CNSNews.com asked Jennings “about issues raised by congressional Republicans.”
To that, Jennings responded, “I’m not going to talk about that. Thank you. … You can ask what you want, but I’m probably not going to answer it.”
When asked if he thought the federal government should promote homosexual behavior as moral in public schools, Jennings stressed the limited authority of the Department of Education.
“The federal government is not allowed to dictate any curriculum of any kind about any subject, whether it’s history, math, science, health, education, so forth and so on, because Congress has laid out very clear rules that they want curriculum decisions made at the state and local level. So the fact that the material is the federal government doesn’t do that in any area,” Jennings told CNSNews.com.
In the forward to the 1999 book Queering Elementary Education, Jennings wrote, “I often find myself confronted with people who attack me for ‘bringing this issue into our schools, How laughable this statement is, I think. The reality is that this issue--anti-gay bigotry--is already in our schools. Little kids are learning to hate, and they’re learning it right now in elementary schools across America.”
Asked about this forward, Jennings interrupted the question and responded, “As I said, the federal role is very clear and I don’t have anything further to say.”
Jennings, a former high school history teacher, spoke to a gathering of teachers involved in the Close-Up Foundation, a program in which teachers and students attend certain events in the nation’s capital.
He stressed the importance of teaching history, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Civil Rights Movement. While steering clear of any controversy during his prepared remarks, he did acknowledge that he has not been eager to make public appearances since his appointment.
“This is one of the first invitations I did not have to hesitate on, because I, as a history teacher, have known about Close-Up myself for decades,” he said.
Only after a teacher in the audience asked a question did Jennings acknowledge that he was the former head of GLSEN.
“Any of you who have gay-straight alliances in your school or no-name-calling week, these are all program that we developed when I was at GLSEN,” Jennings said.
Jennings explained that he did not seek a government appointment but that the Obama administration approached him.
“President Obama got elected and they were looking for someone to run the safe schools program and since I worked to make schools safe, they asked me if I would take the job,” Jennings said.
He said he was given the chance to make a difference and had to accept.
“Honestly, I never ever saw myself in public office. It wasn’t an aspiration I’ve ever had,” he said. “If I was given the chance to be part of the administration to take what I’ve learned from 25 years in education and apply it to making schools safer--if I said no, that would be hypocritical.”
In the widely circulated 2000 speech, Jennings recalled a 15-year-old named Brewster. “And I said, ‘Brewster, what are you doing in there asleep?’” Jennings said of the 1988 incident. “And he said, ‘Well, I’m tired.’ And I said, ‘Well, we all are tired and we all got to school today. And he said, ‘Well I was out late last night.’
“And I said, ‘What were you doing out late on a school night.’ And he said, ‘Well, I was in Boston,’” Jennings recalled. “Boston was about 45 minutes from Concord. So I said, ‘What were you doing in Boston on a school night, Brewster?’”
“He got very quiet, and he finally looked at me and said, ‘Well, I met someone in the bus station bathroom and I went home with him.’ High school sophomore, 15 years old. That was the only way he knew how to meet gay people. I was a closeted gay teacher, 24 years old, didn’t know what to say,” Jennings added.
“Knew I should say something quickly, so I finally said--my best friend had just died of AIDS the week before. I looked at Brewster and said, ‘You know, I hope you knew to use a condom.’ He said to me something I will never forget, He said, ‘Why should I, my life isn’t worth saving anyway,’” Jennings said.
Jennings issued a statement last October to explain the incident.
“Twenty one years later I can see how I should have handled this situation differently,” Jennings said in the October statement. “I should have asked for more information and consulted legal or medical authorities. Teachers back then had little training or guidance about this kind of thing. All teachers should have a basic level of preparedness. I would like to see the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools play a bigger role in helping to prepare teachers.”
Also in October, a person came forward alleging he was Brewster, and said that he was 16 at the time of his conversation with Jennings, which would have been the age of consent.
The White House also defended Jennings last October, as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, “I think there are many good people from every political persuasion that seek to serve their country and serve in government, I think it’s a sacrifice, but one that people do voluntarily because they love their country.”