While I think some of the coverage on conservative blogs about the latest Kevin Jennings hullabaloo (James Taranto might call it a kerfuffle) a bit overheated, I have not yet found any cause to rescind my earlier call for his resignation. Simply put, he is not the kind of man who should be supervising a program for elementary and secondary schools in the federal Department of Education.
That said, while I think it’s highly relevant to study the content of the books he recommended for middle and high school students, I don’t know how relevant it is to bring up the “youth conference” his organization GLSEN sponsored at Tuft’s University in March 2000 where facilitators* taught the finer points of “fisting” and asked rather inappropriate questions of young teens. It appears that GLSEN did a better job policing its workshops since then.*** More recent conferences apparently have not included such seminars. (At least I have seen no evidence that they have.)
Let us hope that they fired the individuals responsible for said workshops and the person who, by including them in the conference, deemed them appropriate for adolescents.*** Anyone who thinks it appropriate to teach such things to teens shouldn’t be allowed to teach teens (or facilitate workshops for them). Such seminars have nothing to do with teaching adolescents responsible sexual behavior nor do they help them develop an adult attitude toward sexuality.
But, the “curriculum” there does seem to be part of a pattern for Mr. Jennings, wishing to impart to adolescents an attitude toward sexuality where indulgence is the operative idea and intimacy and affection are reduced to occasional (and perhaps welcome) side effects. And the rules of safe sex are the only limits.
As I’ve said previously and it bears repetition, we can’t make a final judgment on the nature of the books on the GLSEN list without putting the sexually explicit passages in context. That said, books with such descriptions are not appropriate for young teens (up to age 15 or 16) and should only be recommended to older ones after first consulting their parents.
What I find troubling in this whole story is something I have encountered all too often in my own experience coming out and living as a gay man, that our (gay) culture reduces our sexuality to its mere sexual expression. Not just that, those who put themselves in positions of guidance to gay adolescents very often just mimic the culture; they don’t try to improve it by encouraging their charges to tether sexual expression to emotional connection or even to make them aware of the importance of that connection. They seem to have reduced sexuality to (with apologies to Catullus) a mere grinding of loins.
And Kevin Jennings seems to be no different. But, then again, I haven’t read all his writings, so acknowledge the incomplete nature of my information. (While I have purchased most of his books, I have not yet gotten around to reading them as I would like. (I just haven’t had the time.)) But, from what we do know, it doesn’t look very good for the Obama Administration official.
It would be nice if we could find something from his pen or from his lips where he casts a critical eye on the predominant sexual ethos of our community. (As of today, i have found nothing**.) Maybe he doesn’t want to stand apart. There does seem a wariness among prominent gay men to do that, even the leading advocates of gay marriage for whom such criticism should come naturally.
*or seminar leaders (or whatever new age-y PC word they used to describe them).
**If you are aware of any such criticism, could you let me know so I can update this post accordingly.
***UPDATE, comment 3 below confirms that GLSEN did a better job of policing the conferences since then. And the seminar organizers were fired.