I have now both skimmed (online) and read (a hard copy of) Zomblog’s post (which John linked yesterday) considering whether Kevin Jennings,Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools (AKA “safe schools czar”) knew about the involvement of Harry Hay, a pioneering gay activist who inspired him, with the North American May Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), a group which promotes sexual relationships between adults and teenagers.
There are two issues which come to mind.
First, did Jennings ever countenance Hay’s involvement in NAMBLA? And from everything I’ve read (and I’ve read quite a bit & not just this article), there is no evidence that he did, none whatsoever.
Second, when Jennings offered effusive praise for the aging Communist, was he aware of his involvement in NAMBLA? And if so, should he have made clear to denounce that involvement when he praised the man?
Here, the answer is not so easy. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest he was aware. Jennings included a chapter from Stuart Timmons’ 1990 book, The Trouble with Harry Hay, in an anthology, Becoming Visible, which he compiled and edited. Timmons’ book includes a section on Hay’s support of NAMBLA. Zomblog suggests he must have read the entire book, but I wondered if it were possible someone had alerted him to the chapter and he read it without reading the entire book (as I often do when I find a section in a scholarly book relevant to my dissertation).
A second piece of evidence is that Jennings lived in New York in 1994 when an issue du jour in the gay community was Hay’s “very public spat with major mainstream gay organizations over their planned decision to ban NAMBLA from marching in the ‘Stonewall 25’ pride march in New York on June 26, 1994.” Considering, Zomblog writes, that this
spat was a hot topic in Jennings’ professional and personal circles, it seems extremely likely that he at least became aware of it at the time. Which means that a full three years before he gave his speech praising Harry Hay, Jennings again knew of Hay’s defense of NAMBLA.
I agree it seems likely he was aware of Hay’s support of including NAMBLA in the parade. But, likelihood doesn’t mean certainty.
There are other very troubling things about Hay that come out in this article, his aforementioned Communism, his belief that gay culture was superior to straight culture, his contempt for mainstream American society. That such a man would inspire Jennings suggests the Obama Administration official picks strange heroes, but it doesn’t mean he supports their every action.
You can’t convict a man on circumstantial evidence. And while it appears very likely that Jennings did know about Hay’s support of pederasty, would that knowledge obligate Jennings to qualify his praise for the man when he acknowledged how he inspired him?
I’m not so sure. We all find inspiration from imperfect men (and women). On this blog, I have praised Larry Kramer, a rabid left-winger and Reagan-hater, for his leadership on a number of issues in our community. To be sure, he just misrepresents and maligns Republicans, he doesn’t countenance the sexual abuse of minors. I love and respect my rabbi despite her politics. Many of my friends are far from perfect.
We all have such “idols” and such friends. Just because we admire, respect or love one person doesn’t mean we agree with everything she says or countenance everything he does.
That said, I think Jennings should issue a simple statement saying his past praise of Hay was for the man’s pioneering role in the gay rights’ movement, but not for his advocacy of sex between men and boys. Or some such. And while it would be nice if he went as far as Zomblog suggests, and retracted his “earlier praise,” he needn’t go that far.
All that said, given all we know about Harry Hay, it troubles me greatly that Jennings has advanced so far in our community without ever qualifying his praise for a man who long held extremely radical beliefs and regularly promoted illegal activites.