As if School Safety Czar Kevin Jennings wasn’t already the latest target of conservative attacks, a speech where he praised gay rights pioneer Harry Hay has led the Washington Times, the Washington Examiner, the Weekly Standard and Fox News commentators to suggest Jennings supports NAMBLA.
Here’s how the Times editorial lays out the connection:
The tale gets even more troubling. On Oct. 25, 1997, at a conference for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Mr. Jennings stated, “One of the people that’s always inspired me is Harry Hay.” The late Hay was a “gay-rights” activist most notorious for supporting the North American Man Boy Love Association. In 1983, speaking in support of NAMBLA, Hay claimed: “[I]f the parents and friends of gays are truly friends of gays, they would know from their gay kids that the relationship with an older man is precisely what 13-, 14-, and 15-year-old kids need more than anything else in the world.”
Admiration for someone associated with such a noxious organization raises questions about the motivation behind the counseling provided by Mr. Jennings. It’s possible that Mr. Jennings’ astounding advice to students in his charge wasn’t a mistake but was based on what he really believes is acceptable.
Progressive media watchdog Media Matters for America remains all over the story and has focused its attention on the NAMBLA/Harry Hay accusation.
The Fox Nation and The Washington Examiner linked Department of Education official Kevin Jennings to the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) based on a 1997 speech in which Jennings praised gay rights activist Harry Hay, who had spoken in support of the organization. But like many obituaries written about Hay upon his death in 2002, Jennings was touting Hay as a gay civil rights pioneer for his role in helping start “the first ongoing gay rights groups in America” in 1948, and Jennings’ comments had nothing to do with NAMBLA.
Tying Jennings to NAMBLA in a story about teens and sex with older men is an irresistable smear, but one that needs to be challenged. It also represents a misrepresentation of one of the key figures in LGBT history.
Bringing actual reporting and context to these kinds of stories is important because they can snowball. They are also the kinds of attacks that can be unfairly used against other LGBT officials.
Although the story hasn’t picked up much steam, the newest person getting conservative blog focus is Georgetown Law School professor Chai Feldblum, who has been nominated to be a commissioner on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
(Full disclosure: I used to cover the EEOC and Feldblum was a guest at NLGJA-DC’s 2008 holiday party. She also was part of a job interview I had in 1999).
Washington D.C.’s LGBT newspaper MetroWeekly lays out the allegations.
Feldblum is a professor at Georgetown Law, and was nominated by President Obama in September to be a Commissioner at the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She is an out lesbian, and part of her long list of causes and interests includes LGBT rights as well as workplace issues, disability, health and welfare rights. The increasingly effective tactics of the extremely anti-gay conservative media machine has been generating mainstream headlines lately, and thereby emboldening Republican Congressmen to take aim at subjects like the nationality of President Obama, the funding of ACORN, and the qualifications of Obama’s department appointees. Kevin Jennings is an out gay appointee who heads the Safe and Drug Free Schools at the Department of Education and a demand was put forth today by Republican Representative Steve King. Right-wing pundits to these appointees with Communist-sounding terms like “Obama’s czars,” and have now concentrated on a “manifesto” that Feldblum had signed in 2006. It is an online document called “Beyond Same Sex Marriage” that examines the needs of families in America’s increasingly diverse society.
Feldblum signed on to a “manifesto” called Beyond Same-Sex Marriage which advocated for a broader definition of “family” for the purposes of legal rights and benefits. One of the family units mentioned is “[c]ommitted, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner.” That has raised the spectre that Feldblum supports polygamy.
The irony is that Felblum is often cited favorably by conservative pundits for her writing on same-sex marriage and religious liberty, arguing there is a conflict that needs to be recognized by supporters of same-sex marriage.
The Feldblum story has not hit the traditional media yet, although it has all the characteristics of a story that is just waiting to emerge. Fair and accurate reporting on Feldblum’s position–the controversy, interestingly, has little to do with the work of the EEOC–can provide important context to any criticisms.
Filed under: Michael R. Triplett | Tagged: legal, LGBT media, marriage, online, stigma | 8 Comments »