Rep. Steve King's Anti-Gay Crusade Against Kevin Jennings
October 05, 2009 10:48 am ET by Chris Harris
Rep. Steve King Touts Anti-Gay Smears Against Kevin Jennings
According to the Washington Examiner, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has called for President Obama to fire Kevin Jennings, the head of the Department of Education's Office of Safe & Drug Free Schools.
King claims Jennings is unqualified for his position. Nothing could be further from the truth. As noted by Amanda Terkel at Think Progress:
Jennings, in fact, will be the first head of OSDFS in years to have a background as an educator. His predecessor, Deborah Price, received her BS degree in home economics, worked on the National Prayer Breakfast, on the Senate Republican Policy Committee, and then doing student aid in the Department of Education. Her predecessor, Eric Andell, was a judge from Texas and was eventually fired. He "pleaded guilty in federal court to one misdemeanor count of conflict of interest that included using federal money to pay for personal expenses." Jennings has received many mainstream education awards, including the Distinguished Service Award of NASSP. ThinkProgress spoke to NASSP Executive Director Gerald Tirozzi, who wrote a recommendation letter on Jennings' behalf. He said that he has "always been impressed with Kevin and his forthrightness. He's a very courageous young man." Tirozzi stressed that Jennings' work on school bullying made him an ideal fit for this particular position.
Rep. King claims that rather than continue his life's work of fostering a safe educational environment for American schoolchildren, Jennings will use his new role to promote homosexuality in schools.
Again, this is just not true. Terkel continued:
As the gay son of a Southern baptist preacher, Jennings had a "childhood of prejudice, taunts, and harassment." As an education leader, he has used those experiences to promote tolerance and anti-bullying measures in schools nationwide. ThinkProgress spoke with Molly Spearman, executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. Spearman first heard Jennings speak at the 2007 convention of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Spearman said that she was so impressed with Jennings, she decided to invite him to speak at her organization's October 2007 summit on bullying:
"I was a little nervous, being in South Carolina, a very conservative state. But once again, he handled it extremely professionally. He did a magnificent job, and it was a huge success. We had a waiting list of people who wanted to come. ... We had several hundred people there. ... He was very very well-received - absolutely rave views. And that was in conservative South Carolina. So he handled what could have been a very sensitive topic in a very professional way that was accepted by everyone."
Spearman added that while Jennings did present statistics on the harassment of LGBT students, he more broadly focused on the bullying of all students, pointing out that it was a problem that wasn't specifically confined to one group.
The Examiner article reports that King believes an anti-bullying bill supported by Jennings, the Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2009, would confer "special protected status" to gay students. Once again, this is false.
The non-partisan Congressional Research Service's summary of the bill states:
Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2009 - Amends the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to require: (1) states to use grants for safe and drug-free schools to collect and report information on the incidence of bullying and harassment; and (2) local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools to use subgrants to prevent and respond to incidents of bullying and harassment. Requires such LEAs or schools to: (1) notify parents and students annually of conduct prohibited in their school discipline policies, that now must include bullying and harassment; and (2) establish grievance procedures for students and parents to register complaints regarding such conduct. Includes bullying and harassment within the the Act's definition of violence.
Rep. King Echoes The Family Research Council's Anti-Gay Talking Points
While it's clear Rep. King's concerns are unfounded, it's important to note the origin of such paranoia.
In July, the anti-gay Family Research Council (FRC) launched its "Stop Kevin Jennings" campaign. If you have any doubts about their motivation, look no further than this statement from FRC Vice President for Public Policy (and author of FRC's anti-Jennings talking points) Peter Sprigg: "I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States because we believe homosexuality is destructive to society."
There's no getting around it -- the far-right doesn't like Kevin Jennings because he's gay, and they won't stop until they have ruined the reputation of a good man with a long record of service. "Destructive to society," indeed.
If conservatives earnestly had children's best interests at heart, they would support Kevin Jennings in his efforts to provide every American student with an educational environment in which they feel safe. By needlessly blasting a well-credentialed public servant with anti-gay rhetoric, conservatives are exploiting America's children to score cheap political points.