Lawmaker calls on Obama to fire official in gay sex ed controversy

Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King is calling on President Obama to fire gay activist Kevin Jennings, the controversial head of the Education Department's Office of Safe & Drug Free Schools. Although Jennings has come under heavy criticism from social conservatives in recent months, King is the first member of Congress to call for his ouster.

King says Jennings has no background in anti-drug work, and his experience in education has focused not on the issue of school safety but on introducing the topic of homosexuality into the classroom, including in elementary schools. “The totality of his life has been the promotion of homosexuality, and much of it within education,” says King. "He has focused on nothing else during the last two decades, and that is not the focus that our schools need to be on.”

The Office of Safe & Drug Free Schools was created by the Education Department in 2002 as part of its implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act. In the words of a Washington Post account from the time, the office was intended to “help prevent violence and drug and alcohol use, and foster good character and citizenship” among the nation's students.

Before joining the Education Department in May, Jennings ran the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, an organization he founded in 1990. In the words of its current executive director, the group's goal is “transforming K-12 schools” by working “to end the bullying, harassment and discrimination directed at LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] people in our schools.”

Recently Jennings expressed regret over an incident he described in a 1994 book, One Teacher in Ten: Gay and Lesbian Educators Tell Their Stories. Jennings wrote that in 1988, when he was a high school teacher, he was approached by a 15 year-old boy who said he had become involved with an older man. Instead of notifying the boy's parents or any authorities, Jennings instead offered the boy advice: “I hope you used a condom.”

Critics accused Jennings of turning a blind eye to child abuse. In response, Jennings' defenders said the boy was 16 years old, not 15, suggesting that Jennings had no responsibility to protect him. Nevertheless, last week Jennings released a statement in which he said, “Twenty-one years later, I can see how I should have handled this situation differently. I should have asked for more information and consulted legal or medical authorities.”

Jennings' critics have also pointed to a 1999 book, Queering Elementary Education, for which he wrote the foreword. The book's chapters include “Teaching Queerly: Some Elementary Propositions,” “Why Discuss Sexuality in Elementary School?” and “Locating a Place for Gay and Lesbian Themes in Elementary Reading, Writing, and Talking.” The book's cover includes lavish praise from former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers, now a professor of education in Chicago, who recommends Queering Elementary Education “for anyone concerned with the healthy development of children and schools.”

In addition, critics point to a number of projects run by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network which have brought overtly homosexual themes — and sometimes discussion of specific sexual practices — into the schools.

Although Rep. King says he is opposed to the bullying of anyone in schools, he also opposes conferring “special protected status” on any particular group. (Jennings and the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network strongly support a federal anti-bullying bill, H.R. 2262, currently under consideration in the House, that specifically includes sexual orientation and “gender identity.”) As for Jennings' other work, King calls it “a political movement. It's not about protecting kids, it's about promoting homosexuality and demanding public affirmation.”

King says he plans to write a letter to President Obama about the Jennings matter, and he also expects other members of Congress to join him in calling for Jennings' removal.

At the moment, at least, Jennings appears to have the full backing of the White House. Asked about the controversy last week, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs referred reporters to a statement from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who strongly supports Jennings. “Kevin Jennings has dedicated his professional career to promoting school safety,” Duncan said in that statement. “He is uniquely qualified for his job and I'm honored to have him on our team.”
 

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