The saga of Kevin Jennings and Brewster: Enter Robertson

In an op-ed dated today but available online over the weekend, the Washington Times assails Obama safe-schools appointee, Kevin Jennings for his handling of a 15-year old student’s sexual revelations when Jennings was a young teacher.

According to Mr. Jennings’ own description in a new audiotape discovered by Fox News, the 15-year-old boy met the “older man” in a “bus station bathroom” and was taken to the older man’s home that night.

FOX News has also reported on this and pointed to that recording. That audiotape was recorded by someone who attended a speech Jennings gave in Iowa in 2000 and then given to me. The relevant clip is here. You can read more about Brewster and the controversy in the article, Remembering Brewster and in this prior post on the topic.

There is another wrinkle to this story. It appears that Brewster had a name change in 2006 for Jennings book, Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir. Below, I have excerpted the passages in the book where he discusses a boy named Robertson, who has issues like Brewster. The first two selections are from pages 161-162. Jennings, a young teacher at Concord School, answers the boy’s concerns in the same way as he answered Brewster.

2006 KJennings MamasBoy Robertson excerpt

jennings2

This section below from page 169, corresponds to the Iowa speech, where Jennings refers to Brewster as being 45 minutes away from Concord in Boston.

2006 KJennings MamasBoy Robertson excerpt3

Now, here are the excerpts about Brewster from One Teacher in Ten. They certainly sound like the same boy.

I remember Brewster, a sophomore boy who I came to know in 1987, my first year of teaching at Concord Academy, in Concord, Massachusetts. Brewster was a charming but troubled kid. His grades didn’t match up with his potential, his attendance could be irregular, and he often seemed a little out of it. He was clearly using some substance regularly, and was not very happy with himself. But I didn’t have a clue as to why—at least not at first.

I had come to Concord from Moses Brown in search of a place where I could be more open about who I was. I wore a ring that symbolized my commitment to my partner, and students like Brewster started asking me what it meant. Confused, I went to the head to ask how I should respond. “Tell them it’s a gift from someone you love,” he said.

Incredulous, I replied, “Do you say your wedding ring is a ‘gift from someone you love’?” I answered Brewster’s question about my ring honestly. To my surprise, he and the other students who asked didn’t turn away from me, unlike my peers who had turned away from Mr. Korn in 1978. They didn’t seem to care much at all about my being gay.

Toward the end of my first year, during the spring of 1988, Brewster appeared in my office in the tow of one of my advisees, a wonderful young woman to whom I had been “out” for a long time. “Brewster has something he needs to talk with you about,” she intoned ominously. Brewster squirmed at the prospect of telling, and we sat silently for a short while. On a hunch, I suddenly asked “What’s his name?” Brewster’s eyes widened briefly, and then out spilled a story about his involvement with an older man he had met in Boston. I listened, sympathized, and offered advice. He left my office with a smile on his face that I would see every time I saw him on the campus for the next two years, until he graduated.

Several items in these stories do not line up easily. In the first story, Robertson knows Jennings is gay because everybody knows it. In the second, Brewster asks about Jennings’ ring. In the first story, he seems surprised to know that most students knew he was gay, while in the second, he described being out to one of his advisees “for a long time.” What is confusing to me is why he changed the name given his use of Brewster in his first book and speeches.

Also, in his most recent book, he includes reference to the aspect of the story which he referred to in the 2000 speech – Brewster/Robertson’s trip(s) to Boston. Here is the excerpt from the 2000 speech:

And I said, “Brewster, what are you doing in there asleep?” 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…” 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. 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.”

Note that in his newest book, Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir, Jennings adds description of Brewster/Robertson’s trips to Boston and calls them “adventures.” He notes his references to safe sex but does not address nagging issues that persist. In Remembering Brewster, I note that officials at Concord School regarded these actions as violations of their policies.

In neither story does Mr. Jennings mention any efforts to alert parents, school officials or the authorities. In the Nixon Peabody letter, he said he did not have a reason to report these events. This is difficult to understand given the statute in Massachusetts mandating the report of sexual activity between an adult and child under 18 at that time. When presented with the transcript of the Brewster scenario as recorded at the lecture in Iowa, Tara Bradley, Director of Communication at Concord Academy said that such actions on the part of a student should be reported by a teacher to school administration. Concerning the Brewster story, she added: “The Dean of Students and the Head of School are mandated reporters who have to file a 51A with DSS [Department of Social Services] in a situation such as this.”

Nowhere does Mr. Jennings say he told anyone at the Concord Academy. According to Ms. Bradley, current school policy would make Brewster’s actions a violation of the rules. Asked about Concord’s policy concerning Boarding School residents, she said, “Our current policy forbids students traveling to Boston or Cambridge unsupervised and without permission from the Dean of Students or Administrator on duty.” According to both accounts, Mr. Jennings knew the student was in Boston unsupervised and informed no one.

Readers will have to decide for themselves what to infer from these passages. I believe these events should have at least triggered a report to the school administrators and appropriate interventions made. What is currently troubling is the fact that Jennings and his supporters have not addressed the discrepancies and the concerns which derive from the accounts. An acknowledgement of the events with a recognition that teachers should not conduct themselves in this manner would be helpful.  I will end this post as I did a related post on this topic:

I may be misunderstood with this post. Let me be clear: the sexual orientation of the teacher and/or the student are not relevant to the need to get the parents, school and possibly the authorities involved in helping a troubled student in the situation Jennings described. Also, I am not disputing that GLSEN has appropriately raised awareness about bullying of GLB students; a problem which needs ongoing attention. However, I do wish the point person for school safety was someone with an unambiguous record on school-parent communication. If Mr. Jennings had said something like – ‘hey, that was a rookie mistake, I should have alerted someone about a depressed 15 year old boy being 45 minutes away from his boarding school without permission having sex, perhaps with an adult,’ then I would not have quite the same reaction. Instead, he denied what he earlier acknowledged and threatened to sue.

UPDATE: There are other references to this student elsewhere.

Here, Jennings is interviewed by QSaltLake.com for an article dated 9/08/08. In none of these accounts is there a mention of referral for mental health services or to the school counselor.

During his third year at Concord Academy a suicidal gay student made Jennings’ drive to help gay students all the more urgent.

“I had a gay student sitting in my office one day who said he wanted to kill himself,” Jennings remembered. “When I told him not to he said, ‘Why shouldn’t I, my life isn’t worth saving, anyway.’” The conversation deeply troubled Jennings, who had himself attempted suicide at age 16.

In an essay for the 2008 book, Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America, the boy becomes Thompson.

One morning, Thompson sat in my office and confessed that at times he had thought about ending it all rather than struggling to be gay in a homophobic world. Startled, I immediately launched into a lecture about how much he had to live for, about the promise the future held. He cut me off: “Why shouldn’t I? My life isn’t worth saving anyway.”

And then in the book, Always My Child, Jennings makes it clear again that he advised this boy about sexual behavior.

Always my child

Media Matters is making the case that Jennings did not give ongoing sexual advice to the boy because in his 2000 speech to GLSEN-Iowa, he said “I hope you knew to use a condom” (past tense). However, I think the references to “adventures,” “safe sex,” and condom use indicate that the advice was ongoing.

Related post:

Kevin Jennings appointed to Department of Education post

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  • David Blakeslee

    “his lover had long forgotten the teen’s name.” Jennings refers to the expectation to be remembered as “naive.”

    An adult’s capacity to manage being “forgotten” after an intense romantic liason is quite limited…adolescent children, even less.

    Jennings may encourage a jaded view of adolescent sex and old fashioned values of being “remembered” in his new role.

  • David Blakeslee
  • David Blakeslee

    More Polanski:

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2009/09/the_outrageous_arrest_of_roman.html

    A bright mind does not insure the truth…but it does help create more sophisticated and well-reasoned rationalizations.

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  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    This is kind of eerie, but I’ve corresponded recently with Charles “Tex” Watson, who is serving his life sentence for his role in the Tate et al murders in a California prison. He is now a committed Christian with a ministry outreach. As heinous as those crimes were, it is nevertheless apparent that he became truly transformed. He has but one agenda, and that is to serve Christ. It is a picture of regeneration and the hope of the sinner in Christ. Talk about change.

    The families of the victims have been, understandably, against any of those who were convicted ever being paroled. Forgiveness for such crimes is a tough go.

    Both his and Polanski’s stories remind us that there can be far-reaching consequences for our mistakes. It seems a whole lot harder to dodge the inevitable than to just face the music. And that is what Kevin Jennings has done.

  • David Blakeslee

    If Polanski were a Catholic priest do you think the press would be more aggressive?

    http://www.politicsdaily.com/2009/09/29/roman-polanski-what-if-he-were-father-roman/

    I think we should ask Jennings to comment on the Polanski case.

  • http://www.holybulliesandheadlessmonsters.blogspot.com a. mcewen

    One thing Warren.

    If one reads the Media Matters links, one cannot derive the idea that the advice was referring to an ongoing relationship. I suggest that you re-read the link. It was referring to how the Washington Times and FoxNews.com truncated what Jennings said to make it seem that he was giving advice regarding an ongoing relationship when such was not the case.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    a. mcewen – I am not following you. I have several links in the above post where Jennings indicated that there was ongoing sexual behavior. See page 169 in Mamas Boy, Preachers Son: A Memoir which I have above.

    Brewster/Robertson/Thompson outlines his latest “adventures” and Jennings begins to discuss safe sex with him. I realize in the Iowa speech an ongoing relationship is not a necessary attribution. However, taking all of his accounts together, it seems that if any of this is to be believed, Jennings was aware that this boy was depressed, suicidal, sexually active and away from his boarding school in that condition on occasions against school rules.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    My impression is that few of those seeking so desperately to discredit Jennings give any value to his efforts, however inadequate, to help Brewster.

    It is my impression that he could have be immune to your attacks if he had simply ignored Brewsters problems, looked the other way, and never enquired. It wasn’t his job to try and help this kid. And, after all, that’s what all the heterosexual teachers did and no one here has a single bad word for any of them.

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    It is my impression that he could have be immune to your attacks if he had simply ignored Brewsters problems, looked the other way, and never enquired.

    It’s one of the ironies of life that people who do seek to become involved are often subject to unusual scrutiny. We can’t judge all of Jennings’ motives. But his known life and public record are fair game. And yes, lots of gutless teachers and other adults simply look the other way rather than risk involvement.

    The other point needing to be made, however, is that folks who are involved in education, from teachers to administrators to government policy-makers, are subject to the rules of law and common sense. Their responsibility in looking out for the welfare of children ought to subject them to a higher level of scrutiny. How many school systems have done the unthinkable with impunity, or by just flying under the radar for years, in passing around teachers or coaches who are known pedophiles? This stuff breeds automatic distrust and suspicion.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Timothy said:

    My impression is that few of those seeking so desperately to discredit Jennings give any value to his efforts, however inadequate, to help Brewster.

    It is my impression that he could have be immune to your attacks if he had simply ignored Brewsters problems, looked the other way, and never enquired. It wasn’t his job to try and help this kid. And, after all, that’s what all the heterosexual teachers did and no one here has a single bad word for any of them.

    I don’t follow your point. My interest in this story is because he did almost nothing. I am sure that the boy felt some kinship due to the common struggle and experience and apparently he turned out ok. However, what Jennings says he did was minimal. We don’t know from this account if any of the other teachers knew anything, since it does not seem that Jennings informed anyone. From the Memoir, it sounds like the boy had more than one “adventure.” Think of the correct outrage at the Catholic Church for ignoring/winking at abuse in the ranks, not reporting when they should have. The way Jennings reports this in his memoir, he makes it seem like this is just part and parcel of coming of age as a gay male. Along with GLSEN’s promotion of books which describe coming out involving sex with older males, I hope you can see why it looks like a pattern and an approved situation. I know that many gay folk do not believe this is right, that it is stereotypical. It seems to me that Jennings handling of this (denying he knew the boy was having sex in strange outrage over Lenning’s contentions and then acknowledging it in his book, using a different name for the boy), should be a red flag.

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    The way Jennings reports this in his memoir, he makes it seem like this is just part and parcel of coming of age as a gay male.

    Yes, and how many people feel the same way? How many children are:

    (1) aborted as a form of birth/death control when those coming-of-age experiments result in pregnancy because adults have lost their backbone or moral compass in teaching them right from wrong, or

    (2) brought into this world and placed into a warped cycle where they will repeat their parents’ coming-of-age games?

    Either route is a travesty.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Warren,

    I don’t follow your point. My interest in this story is because he did almost nothing. I am sure that the boy felt some kinship due to the common struggle and experience and apparently he turned out ok. However, what Jennings says he did was minimal.

    I don’t think that is supported by what I’ve seen of the story.

    It is assumed he did nothing else and objection is based on that assumption. Jennings stops the tale at the words “my life isn’t worth saving anyway” because that is the point he’s trying to reach.

    But let’s ask ourselves… what did Jennings do next? Is it safe to assume he never said another word, abruptly stood, and left the room? I doubt it. Or, as some have accused (deliberately changing words in order to do so), did Jennings encourage the kid to have sex as long as it was safe? Again, that’s unlikely.

    I rather suspect that Jennings did try and discourage the kids of promiscuity, much as any heterosexual teacher would discourage a kid today. I rather suspect that he also recognized the futility of such counsel, as would most teachers today. We can infer that Jennings did take steps to make Brewster gain some self-worth and for me that would certainly have to include a discussion on not letting himself be used.

    But I’m only guessing. And so are Jennings’ critics. Because, as best I can tell, Jennings hasn’t announced what advice he gave Brewster beyond the point of his “worth it” comment.

    Which causes me concern about the attack on his character. It is one thing to accuse someone of a character flaw based upon a known action; it is quite another to attack them for a lack of reaction when we simply don’t know whether such action really didn’t take place.

    Along with GLSEN’s promotion of books which describe coming out involving sex with older males…

    What books?

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Warren,

    In 2004 you commented on GLSEN’s book recommendations. You said:

    One of the many books recommended on the GLSEN website for youth in grades 7-12 is “Rainbow Boys” by guidance counselor Alex Sanchez. The book relates the fictional antics of three high school students portrayed as typical life for “gay kids.” Sexual behavior is described graphically and one character has unprotected sex with an adult he contacted on the Internet.

    This description makes me wonder if you have actually read Rainbow Boys or if, perhaps, you relied on a review. I have read the book, along with the two sequels.

    I don’t recall at present finding graphic descriptions of sexual behavior; if I recall correctly (I can check my copy later), sexual depictions were not at all graphic. But perhaps I was judging them in context of today’s youth and their abundant use of language and knowledge of sexual mechanics which would have shocked me at their age (I was pretty sheltered).

    The incident of one 17 year old character engaging sexually with an adult in his early 20′s was in the book. But your presentation of the story makes it seem as though this was treated positively.

    Actually, this tale was cautionary; the experience was unpleasant, demeaning, and ultimately scary. The message was not subtle and any teen reading the story would clearly understand: “Don’t do this.”

    While Alex Sanchez does explore themes for older teens in a frank manner, youth-adult relationships are not glamorized or encouraged in his writings.

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    Linda Harvey also has commented extensively on Rainbow Boys, and other books on GLSEN’s recommended reading list for students and teachers at the Mission America Web site.

    Interestingly, one of the excepts that appears there (I just found this moments ago, ironically, even before I saw Timothy’s post) is from Kevin Jennings’ 1994 book, One Teacher in Ten. The excerpt (below) is specifically Jennings’ telling of the Brewster incident:

    “Toward the end of my first year, during the spring of 1988, Brewster appeared in my office in the tow of one of my advisees, …to whom I had been ‘out’ for a long time. ‘Brewster has something he needs to talk with you about,’ she intoned ominously….On a hunch, I suddenly asked, ‘What’s his name?’ Brewster’s eyes widened briefly, and then out spilled a story about his involvement with an older man he had met in Boston. I listened, sympathized, offered advice. He left my office with a smile on his face….” (Kevin Jennings, former teacher and current president of GLSEN, describing his interaction with a male student, in One Teacher in Ten: Gay and lesbian educators tell their stories, Kevin Jennings, ed., Alyson Publications, 1994, p.25.)

    I went to Amazon and did a search inside the book to verify the excerpt. It is on page 7 in the searchable paperback edition there. Note how this story differs from others that we have been discussing, and it is out of Jennings’ own mouth.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Timothy – I have the book as well and the encounter did not seem cautionary to me. I just looked up that aspect of it and while the kid was thoughful after the encounter, I don’t think remorse was communicated well, if at all. In my opinion, a kid would not get the message, don’t do this. Also, I thought it was too explicit for a 7th grader but that may be my conservative values.

    I think we see teen literature differently, and that is a discussion for reasonable people to have. I do think that GLSEN pushes the envelope on what is appropriate for 7-12th grade students.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Timothy – regarding the ongoing nature of Jennings advice, what do you make of the boy dropping by his office to update him on “adventures?” In the context of these adventures, he advised him regarding safe sex. I appreciate that he said something but the circumstance remains the same. The legal issue might have been lessened by the boys age (16 instead of 15) but nonetheless, there is no indication that the school was aware of these “adventures.”

    Also, there is a curious discrepancy in several of the accounts, some of which are on YouTube. In some, Jennings says the boy said why use a condom, my life isn’t worth saving anyway? and in others, the boy is suggesting that he might as well suicide because his life isn’t worth saving. This probably should have generated a mandatory trip to the counselor. This makes me wonder what Jennings advocates in safe schools regarding informing helpers and authorities about drug use, risky sexual behavior, and suicidal ideation. It is hard enough to get kids to realize that telling an adult is not “tattling” when the adults in charge are not clear about what should be done.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Debbie – That account is in the paper Remembering Brewster that is linked to in the earlier post on this topic.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Debbie,

    Linda Harvey is not a credible source. Mission America is an anti-gay activist site and she has a long history of hyperbole, exaggeration, and sometimes flat out lies.

    For just one example of Linda’s credibility, see here.

    My concern is that Warren may have relied on Linda’s “book review”. And I think we can agree that Linda did not write the review with the intention of discussing the merits of the book but rather was looking for something, anything, that could be portrayed as damning.

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  • Timothy Kincaid

    Warren,

    Thanks for clarifying. I’ll pull out the book and re-read that section. My recollection was that the character was regretful of the situation and frightened of the possible consequences and that he felt dirty and used. I’ll have to see if my recollection is a fair reflection or just me adding on my own interpretation.

    However, it does seem from your above comments that you would agree that this book did not glorify, glamorize, or encourage adult-youth sexual relationships. Am I correct in this assumption?

    Also, I thought it was too explicit for a 7th grader but that may be my conservative values.

    Well, perhaps so. But then again I’m often shocked at the language and culture of today’s youth. If anyone had danced in the way that kids commonly dance today, they would not only have been expelled but no one would have wanted anything to do with the over-sexed freak.

    My point is that I do not see anything that “looks like a pattern and an approved situation”.

    I’m not sure what to make of the shifting narrative. I don’t know whether the tale is supposed to be strictly factual or allegorical based on real incidences.

    As in all such autobiographical presentation we have to assume that there is some literary license taken. For example, real names are likely not given for the children, the conversations presented are most certainly not precisely the words used. And I know that often identifying details of places and people are adjusted so as to make them unrecognizable.

    When I thought this was a literal telling of the factual incidences of a specific historical situation, I thought that Jennings may have – perhaps due to inexperience and youth – responded inadequately.

    But I’m hesitant to go on attack based on what may well be facts that were revised for point and emphasis.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Timothy – Nope, did not rely Harvey’s review. Would not take anything from there at face value. I bought the book and checked it out myself.

    Also, see this: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2009/09/30/kevin-jennings-on-brewster-i-can-see-how-i-should-have-handled-this-situation-differently/

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Or perhaps it isn’t all that allegorical. Here’s Jennings’ statement.

    “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. 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.”

    -Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Warren,

    we are posting past each other.

    I’ll re-read that section. Perhaps later tonight

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    Debbie – That account is in the paper Remembering Brewster that is linked to in the earlier post on this topic.

    Thanks, Warren. I seem to have missed that one.

    Timothy, I rarely ever cite Linda Harvey as I have problems with her approach, too. In the future I will add a disclaimer. However, that said, she is listing excerpts from books that people can simply read and make up their minds about, or they can get the whole book. In my line of work, I need to at least know what she is saying.

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  • Eddy

    Yikes….I followed the link above ‘Safe School Czar Kevin Jennings….”. I assume it’s from a conservative website. (The “Jane Q. Republican” is one tip.) Anyway, this quote that came near the conclusion of the piece is, IMHO, quite disturbing. I don’t even know adult gays who speak openly about fisting. Is this some sort of distortion? If it’s true, I can’t imagine that there wasn’t more of an outcry.

    The group Jennings founded has also been accused of promoting homosexuality in schools. At a GLSEN conference in 2000, co-sponsored with the Massachusetts Department of Education, the group landed in hot water when it was revealed that it had included an educational seminar for kids that graphically described some unorthodox sex techniques.

    A state official who spoke to teens at the conference said:

    “Fisting (forcing one’s entire hand into another person’s rectum or vagina) often gets a bad rap….[It's] an experience of letting somebody into your body that you want to be that close and intimate with…[and] to put you into an exploratory mode.”

    At the time, Jennings said he had concerns about events at the conference, but he also criticized attendees who filmed it.

  • Gene Chase

    @Eddy, f.y.i., Mass Resistance has documented the fisting teaching at the GLSEN conference at this link.

    At the time, I purchased a tape of the teaching so that I wouldn’t have to rely on second-hand reports. I had to wait a couple years to get the tape because of the lawsuit against Mass Resistance by GLSEN, claiming not that the teaching didn’t happen, but that the audio taping was illegal. Eventually I got the tape.

    This reminds me of the current ACORN debacle documented by hidden video, except that the media swept in much sooner in the ACORN case, so any lawsuit against the tapers wouldn’t affect Congress’s decision to cut funds to ACORN. Would that Massachusetts legislatures were as sharp as the US Congress.

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    Eddy, that’s old news in conservative circles.

    The seminar in question was part of the Boston-GLSEN “Teach Out” conference held at Tufts University in March 2000 and was led by three Massachusetts Departments of Health and Education gay activist-educators. It generated several lawsuits against folks representing Mass Resistance and the Parents Rights Coalition, who complained about it, and led to the firings of the three educators, although one was later reinstated. The session those quotes come from was secretly recorded. The tape was sealed by court order and has only recently been made available since the case has been resolved. One suit was dropped and another was settled.

    Other sessions at that conference reportedly were:

    Ask the Transsexuals

    Early Childhood Educators: How to Decide Whether to Come Out at Work or Not

    Lesbian Avengers: How to Promote Queer-Friendly Activism in Your Schools and in Your Lives

    The Struggles and Triumphs of Including Homosexuality in a Middle School Curriculum

    The Religious Wrong: Dealing Effectively with Opposition in Your Community

    Because this all happened under Kevin Jennings’ tenure at the helm of GLSEN, many concerned folks have (understandabl) questioned his resume. This is in addition to the infamous “Little Black Book” (graphic gay boy sex guide) passed out to middle and high school students at another GLSEN-sponsored event in Massachusetts.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Debbie,

    I believe that “passed out” is an inaccurate depiction of that “scandal”.

    If I recall correctly, that particular item was not to have been present, one participant accidentally put copies on a table, and a few managed to get out without being retracted before they realized the mistake.

    And for those who may misunderstand Debbie’s language, this “graphic gay boy sex guide” was not for “boys” in the underage sense of the word. In gay lingo, “boy” can be used for a male up into his thirties and beyond.

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    Timothy, regardless of how that book got around — intentionally or unintentionally — the real problem is that is was produced in the first place. Can you name a similar book targeting straight youth that anyone would even dare bring anywhere near an educational event? I assure you, based on the excerpts I have seen, this book was not intended for experienced adults.

    The mere fact that Kevin Jennings seemed to have been bragging about the smiles (wink, wink) he put on Brewster’s face every time he saw him at the boarding school after “the incident” would indicate he was vested in the teen-gay-sex-is-OK culture — and that may quite possibly have extended to “consensual” sex with an adult.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    The book in question was targeted at a specific age group, young adults. It was brought in accidentally by someone who works with both adolescents and young adults. It was a mix-up, an accident.

    And yes, if it was a book targeted at educating young adult heterosexual, I can see how a similar accident might be made. It just happens that there isn’t an anti-straight industry looking for the slightest infraction to exaggerate, misstate, and spread accross the country.

    The mere fact that Kevin Jennings seemed to have been bragging about the smiles (wink, wink) he put on Brewster’s face every time he saw him at the boarding school after “the incident” would indicate he was vested in the teen-gay-sex-is-OK culture — and that may quite possibly have extended to “consensual” sex with an adult.

    seemed – wink, wink – would indicate – may quite possibly

    THe only way to come to that conclusion is to start with it and work backwards. And you wonder why it is that gay people see this whole “scandal” as nothing more than another dose of good ol’ anti-gay activism.

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    Timothy, your attempts to sanitize these unsavory facts is not working, and causes you to look whiny. You, or gays in general, are not being unfairly victimized here. When one side or the other messes up, they need to take it like adults and learn from it.

    There is activism on both sides, some legitimate and some not. You pointed out yesterday that Linda Harvey has an anti-gay agenda, for instance. And I have agreed with you. Warren is trying to get to the bottom of a kettle of smelly fish on this blog. Activism may creep in here and there in the comments, but most who comment here are above obvious anti- or pro-gay agendas.

  • Mary

    Timothy,

    Why are you trying to salvage the man’s actions when even he is apologizing for them?

    Does anyone here really think that encouraging a teenager to have sex (with anyone) is appropriate?

  • Eddy

    As further proof that I don’t travel in ‘conservative circles’, I knew nothing of the speech and nothing of the book. I’ll let you guys debate the book, I’m still aghast that there hasn’t been more of an outcry about the speech. Outrage over that travesty should have moved from the conservatives to the mainstream…and even given some die-hard liberals pause. The fact that it didn’t may be worth studying.

    A state official who spoke to teens at the conference said:

    “Fisting (forcing one’s entire hand into another person’s rectum or vagina) often gets a bad rap….[It's] an experience of letting somebody into your body that you want to be that close and intimate with…[and] to put you into an exploratory mode.”

    I see ‘state official’. I see ‘spoke to teens. I see him saying that fisting ‘often gets a bad rap’. Way way way out of line!!!!

    I see that ‘at the time, Jennings had some concerns’ but that it seems he was more concerned about the filming and taping. I would hope that even an openly gay man would have more than ‘concerns’ about the topic of fisting being explained and justified to teens of any sexual persuasion.

    Debbie–

    This may be a personal bias but I think there’s a double-standard in operation re gay teen sex. On the one hand, there’s voice given to the notion that teen sex is inappropriate but, on the other, there always seems to be the companion justification ‘that straight teens are having sex too’. Rather than saying, “I know some people are doing it but they’ll likely reap personal or social consequences in due time”, the response is more “go ahead and make the most of it”. In Minneapolis, several of the gay bars had ‘underage nights’. Some straight bars had them but it was always connected to a band or musical performance. In the gay bars, the ‘underage’ theme was actually the heart of the promo.

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    In Minneapolis, several of the gay bars had ‘underage nights’. Some straight bars had them but it was always connected to a band or musical performance. In the gay bars, the ‘underage’ theme was actually the heart of the promo.

    That is most unsettling.

  • Eddy

    Debbie–While it’s still a difference from the straights, it just occurred to me that ‘underage’ likely meant ‘under drinking age’. I’m guessing (and hoping) that the ‘underages’ were 18 and up.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Debbie,

    I believe in accountability. But I don’t believe in demonization and it is not “sanitizing” to insist on factual accuracy. Don’t you agree?

    Do you think that dragging up half-truths about actions done by folks other than Kevin Jennings as though they are some indictment of his character is appropriate? Do you think it wrong of me to set the facts straight?

    Mary,

    Why are you trying to salvage the man’s actions when even he is apologizing for them?

    Does anyone here really think that encouraging a teenager to have sex (with anyone) is appropriate?

    You raise one good question and one irrelevant question.

    Why am I defending Jennings? Because this is WAY out of proportion. I’ve said in the past that I think his response was inadequate. But NO ONE HERE is willing to address that he’s the only one who tried in any way whatsoever to help Brewster.

    I’m coming to the conclusion that this isn’t about Brewster at all. From what I read on Christian websites, it is driven by a desire to discredit Jennings and to diminish GLSEN. This has long since ceased to be about whether Jennings should have taken some other action, and is instead about a fear that Jennings will encourage pro-gay anti-bullying measures and a desire to get the homo out.

    We have to look at the motivation for much of the anti-Jennings efforts out there. And from what I can tell, much of is originates in anti-gay attitudes. There is just too much overlap.

    So when this ceases to me an indictment of an incident 21 years ago and instead becomes a fear tactic about “the homosexual agenda” in schools, then it becomes about me.

    That’s why I am trying to caution against exaggeration and demonization.

    Now your second question: does anyone think that encouraging a teenager to have sex is appropriate?

    No.

    But it is only those who have decided to attack Jennings that are translating this incident as being “encouraging”. There is nothing I’ve found that suggests that Jennings encouraged anyone to have sex.

    Do you agree that there is a difference between, “go have sex” and “well i hope at least that you were being safe”? I see a huge difference. Don’t you?

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Eddy,

    Way way way out of line!!!!

    They were fired. As they should have been.

    In Minneapolis, several of the gay bars had ‘underage nights’. Some straight bars had them but it was always connected to a band or musical performance. In the gay bars, the ‘underage’ theme was actually the heart of the promo.

    Perhaps it would be a bit more honest if you clarified what “underage” means.

    In Los Angeles it means “18 or over but under drinking age”.

    It is not uncommon for the community to provide some social outlet for gay youth. They don’t often feel as though they have access to other youth venues of which, despite your assertion, there are many. A quick google seach just listed twenty four 18+ clubs in Minneapolis.

    It’s a bit less “unsettling” when presented accurately, isn’t it.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Eddy,

    After posting i noticed that you clarified the definition of “underage”

  • Michael Bussee

    One of our local “gay” bars is “under-age” a few nigths a week. They mean under drinking age. Those local, 18 – 20 year olds (and they are both gay and straight) who want to dance, sing karaoke, watch a drag show, hang out with their friends are welcome (and yes, it is advertized).

    The under-agers get a wrist band to show they can only purchase soda, coffee, etc. The sunday buffet is open to the “under-agers” if they buy the 8 dollar soda bust. It’s all pretty tame. I have seen more flirting in the bleachers at high school football games and at the local cinema.

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    It’s a bit less “unsettling” when presented accurately, isn’t it.

    Yes, thankfully.

    But NO ONE HERE is willing to address that he’s the only one who tried in any way whatsoever to help Brewster.

    I was wondering how you knew that, Timothy, since I know you only want to present the facts. It may be a cogent point, if true.

    Do you agree that there is a difference between, “go have sex” and “well i hope at least that you were being safe”? I see a huge difference. Don’t you?

    No, not much, in the eyes of a teenager. “Be safe” translates into “have sex.” Black and white.

    We might as well just get off this topic because you will not stop trying to defend what is indefensible. It’s a waste of time.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Debbie

    I was wondering how you knew that, Timothy, since I know you only want to present the facts. It may be a cogent point, if true.

    Good point. Let me rephrase it

    But NO ONE HERE is willing to address that to the best of our knowledge he’s the only one who tried in any way whatsoever to help Brewster. And while there is much criticism of what Jennings didn’t do, there is no criticism of what his heterosexual counterparts didn’t do.

    No, not much, in the eyes of a teenager. “Be safe” translates into “have sex.”

    And apparently to you “well I hope at least you were safe” translates to “be safe” which then translates to “have sex”.

    Or at least it does when we are seeking to criticize a gay guy.

    We might as well just get off this topic because you will not stop trying to defend what is indefensible.

    Yeah, it’s comments like that which make me think that I am definitely wasting my time here.

  • Eddy

    I appreciate the fact that the people involved were fired. But Jennings response still seems to be not in keeping with the gravity of the situation. His judgement regarding that situation would not be cause to question (in my book) his credentials as a teacher; I do feel, however, that it is fair and honest ground for questioning his credentials for this appointment.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Eddy,

    Perhaps we have different sources of information.

    Can you please clarify what you mean by “Jennings’ response”?

  • Eddy

    Timothy,

    I was very clear about the source of my question. See my post at 9:32am where I had followed one of Warren’s links, quoted from it, and then asked if anyone could clue me in as to whether this had been blown out of proportion or twisted. Gene Chase gave factual back-up; Debbie Thurman pretty much echoed that but also mentioned the ‘little black book’…and from there comments seemed to be back and forth about the book. ANYWAY, in the quote from the link…the one I asked if anyone had clarification on, the final sentence says:

    At the time, Jennings said he had concerns about events at the conference, but he also criticized attendees who filmed it.

    That’s the concern that doesn’t seem to rise to the level of concern that I think the situation called for. Perhaps Jennings role at the time didn’t call for his response…perhaps the sentence is someone’s impression taken from a soundbite or something…but I stated my source and I asked a few questions. Not sure what difficulty you’re having with that.

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  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    And while there is much criticism of what Jennings didn’t do, there is no criticism of what his heterosexual counterparts didn’t do.

    We wouldn’t be having this discussion if one of those counterparts had not brought Brewster to Jennings to seek his help, would we?

  • Diane Cipa

    Humans make mistakes. Mr. Jennings made a mistake with this youth. He could have acknowledged it and learned from it and used it as a tool to help others understand both the plight of any child coming of age who does not conform to the norm and also the difference in choosing to act as a a teacher or not.

    Mr. Jennings was a teacher. That limited his choices. He chose to act outside of those limitations and so as done a disservice to the gay community by demonstrating that he allowed used his personal perspective to override the expectations of his employer.

    Go back in time and remember how people were afraid of JFK being Catholic. People actually feared whether or not he could perform his duties and still be a Catholic.

    Prejudice breaks down as people learn that they can trust. Learning to have respect for each other includes the ability to step up to the plate and earn trust. In this case, as a teacher, the parents and the school gave Mr. Jennings their trust which he violated. His excuse seems to be his gayness as crazy as that seems.

    We need to move beyond this gay prejudice getting rid of silly rules like “don’t ask, don’t tell” but that will not happen unless leaders help those like Mr. Jennings understand that placing his personal preference for action over that of his employer was wrong. Nobody forced Mr. Jennings to become a teacher but once he accepted the role, he had an obligation to perform within trust.

  • David Blakeslee

    @ Timothy,

    But NO ONE HERE is willing to address that to the best of our knowledge he’s the only one who tried in any way whatsoever to help Brewster. And while there is much criticism of what Jennings didn’t do, there is no criticism of what his heterosexual counterparts didn’t do.

    “to the best of our knowledge” no other adult in this situation is using the way they handled this situation as an example of why they should lead. Only Kevin is….

    What a difficult time that was for Brewster; Kevin had his obligations, which in light of his attractions were daunting. Perhaps he had the wisdom of Solomon…but to not point out for 20 years that his thinking had matured further; to deny sex was ever involved (only to be caught on tape); to deny that the boy had been sexually exploited ; to threaten to sue someone who criticized him in this matter….

    These are not qualities we look for in a leader.

  • David Blakeslee

    @ Timothy,

    I think only Brewster and others who knew him at the time can comment on who tried to help him.

    A close family friend’s daughter ran away from home. She looked very young for her age; no one asked her orientation; but plenty of people intervened to try to help. She often refused. When she finally asked for help, it was to someone she knew.

    We have no idea how many people tried to intervene with Brewster, prior to him seeking out Kevin. It is naive to think that no one did.

    That is the power and the responsibility of being chosen by someone in trouble, especially when the chosen person is in authority…they think you know the right thing to do…

    And legally, by taking the position, you are promising when the time arises, you will do it.

  • Mary

    Timothy,

    Actually since this post is about Jennings – that’s kind of where I stayed. However, I highly doubt that this child’s parents or parents of one of his friends or another teacher or adult didn’t notice and try to step in. That is Brewster’s story. And so far I have not read much about him save what Jennings has told.

    I am shocked that NO ONE was notified of his condition. NO ONE? Another secret the youth is carrying.

  • Lynn David

    Did not the kid come forward and say he was 16 and did not have sex at the time? Obviously, Jennings might have stretched the story a bit, aka told a yarn at times, to make a point about gay youth. I would have been happy to have a Jennings to talk to at that age; but then Jennings and I are about the same age.

    And many of us who are Jennings age more or less grew up with a lot of baggage, doubt and some fear. That we should attempt to lighten that load on the next generations of gay youth, but not at first be fully prepared to do so, is I believe understandable. To acknowledge those shortcomings as Jennings has done is commendable but does not disqualify him. If one cannot learn from our mistakes, then what human would ever be qualified?

  • Lynn David

    Eh… Warren’s little white box seeks to disqualify me!

  • Eddy

    Warren–

    As I read the updates you’ve been adding, I appreciate your eye for detail and noting the discrepancies in the stories. I’m hunching that Jennings has a leaning towards ‘revising’ his story to fit, for lack of a better word, the ‘agenda’ du jour. It seems that the emphasis or tone of an article may be causing him to adjust the facts to fit the emphasis.

    At one point it seems that ‘safe sex’ may have been the theme so he highlighted the condom advice; at another, his emphasis seems to be the tortured emotional state…taking Fleming/Brewster/Thompson’s comment of “I might as well be dead anyway” and ramping it up to ‘a suicidal youth’. This may also explain why, in some of his retellings he goes for further emphasis by attempting to allude to his own sense of oppression…not being ‘out’ to the students at large, etc. Another discrepancy is the ongoing one on one sessions he claims to have had speaking to the boy as opposed to that affirming smile they’d exchange as he saw the boy on campus. I’m growing more concerned about Jennings ‘adapting the truth’ to make a point than anything else.

    I had missed the part about school policy forbidding the trips out of town…and the suggestion of likely substance abuse. These situations add more gravity to the original situation.

    Since you’ve posted a number of threads on this topic I’m not sure where I read that ‘Brewster’ has come forward and claimed that he didn’t have sex with the guy. My first reaction is that he’s pulling a Clinton…that oral sex likely took place but that he hadn’t ‘gone all the way’ to intercourse.

    At this point, I’m not sure if we’ll ever get to the simple truth of the situation. In one of the quotes, he mentions that he brought the matter up in the faculty lounge…and he does mention that fellow teacher who brought Brewster to him…it would be a good thing if one of these ‘witnesses’ would come forward and help flesh out the real story.

    Finally, it’s just a hunch but Jennings seems to have a flair for the dramatic as is evidenced by the names he comes up with for the youth. Rather than a generic name like Tom, Dick, Harry, or Jim, he invents these soap-opera type handles: Brewster, Fleming, Thompson.

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