Published December 14, 2009
President Obama's "Safe Schools Czar," already a target of social conservatives for his past drug abuse and what they say is his promotion of homosexuality in schools, is under fresh attack after it was revealed that the pro-gay group he formerly headed recommends books his critics say are pornographic.
The group under fire is the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which Kevin Jennings, now the assistant deputy secretary for safe and drug-free schools in the Department of Education, founded and ran from 1990 to 2008.
GLSEN says it works to create a welcoming atmosphere for homosexual students in schools, and that effort includes recommending books for students of all ages.
But critics say many of the books, particularly some that are targeted for children between Grades 7 to 12, are inappropriately explicit. A full list is available at the blog Gateway Pundit, which has published dozens of controversial passages from the books.
One recommended book is titled "Queer 13: Lesbian and Gay Writers Recall Seventh Grade." On pages 43 through 45, writer Justin Chin tells of how as a 13-year-old, he went along with "near-rapes" by older men, but "really did enjoy those sexual encounters." Chin also recounts each sexual action he performed with an "ugly f*** of a man" he met on a bus.
In another book, "Passages of Pride," the author writes about a 15-year-old boy's relationship with a much older man.
"Near the end of summer, just before starting his sophomore year in high school, Dan picked up a weekly Twin Cities newspaper. Scanning the classifieds, he came upon an ad for a "Man-2-Man" massage. Home alone one day, he called the telephone number listed in the ad and set up an appointment to meet a man named Tom.... Even though Tom was older, almost twice Dan's age, Dan felt unthreatened by him. Dan admits Tom was a 'troll' in every sense of the word -- an older closeted gay man seeking sex with a man much younger. But Dan says he was not intimidated by the discrepancy in their ages. 'He kind of had me in a corner in that he knew I didn't have access to anything I wanted.' says Dan. 'But everything was consensual.'"
On Page 13 of a third book, "Reflections of a Rock Lobster," the author recounts his sexual encounters in first grade.
"By first grade I was sexually active with many friends. In fact, a small group of us regularly met in the grammar school lavatory to perform fellatio on one another. A typical week's schedule would be Aaron and Michael on Monday during lunch; Michael and Johnny on Tuesday after school; Fred and Timmy at noon Wednesday; Aaron and Timmy after school on Thursday. None of us ever got caught, but we never worried about it anyway."
"Reflections of a Rock Lobster" was recommended in 1995, the year Jennings became GLSEN's first executive director; "Passages of Pride" made the list in 1997 and "Queer 13" in 1999. Those are just three out of over 100 books that GLSEN has recommended for students in grades 7-12 since 1990, and all three remain on GLSEN's recommended reading list.
Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, says the content of the books is shocking, and it raises concerns about Jennings' judgment.
"The graphic sexual content of these books is so extreme that I think any average parent or citizen, regardless of how they feel about homosexuality, would be shocked at these books being recommended to young people," Sprigg said.
GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard defended her group's recommendations, telling FoxNews.com in a written statement:
"Some of the books that might be used with young adult audiences contain mature content, as is true of many memoirs and works of literature. Because of the presence of mature content in some of the works, GLSEN provides very clear guidelines throughout, recommending that adults review each book to make sure the book is suitable."
Those guidelines, listed on each book recommendation page, read: "All BookLink items are reviewed by GLSEN staff for quality and appropriateness of content. However, some titles for adolescent readers contain mature themes. We recommend that adults selecting books for youth review content for suitability."
But critics say the guidelines themselves are damning, because they confirm that GLSEN staff have checked the books for appropriateness. And Jennings, they point out, was in charge at the time.
"It's like Jennings just doesn't realize he's working with kids here.... You need a totally different set of rules when you're working with kids," said Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.
LaBarbera said the books should be seen in light of other recent controversies surrounding Jennings.
In September it came out that, when he was a teacher in Massachusetts, Jennings did not report an incident in which a 16-year-old boy told him that he was having sexual relations with an older man he met in a bus station bathroom. After that, 53 Republican members of the House publicly called for Jennings to be dismissed.
But Alvin McEwen, who runs a blog called "Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters" and has commented extensively on the Jennings case, said GLSEN's book recommendations should be seen in a different light.
"GLSEN is saying that parents should decide. They are saying these books may be a good idea to read, but ultimately it is up to parents," he told FoxNews.com.
McEwen said that even though Jennings was the director of GLSEN when the books were recommended, there was no evidence that he personally selected the books.
"This is ridiculous guilt-by-association ... just another moral panic thought up by people who don't have any legitimate reason to oppose Jennings, so they've made a mountain out of molehill," he said.
Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton declined to comment about Jennings' role in recommending the books.
But critics say Jennings, as GLSEN's first full-time employee and first executive director, must be held responsible.
"He was at GLSEN from the beginning and was in charge during the time when these books were approved," said Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College.
The blogger at Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft, wrote elsewhere concerning a "black book" that contains a gay bar guide and explicit sexual references that was handed out at a GLSEN event.
But McEwen said it's not clear that Jennings -- or GLSEN -- knew about the guide, which was distributed by Fenway Community Health officials at a GLSEN event, which they later said had been a mistake.
Hoft has also alleged that Jennings and GLSEN were involved in Planned Parenthood's purported distribution of "fisting kits" [fisting involves forcing one's hand into another person's rectum or vagina] at at least one GLSEN event. The kit was actually for making a "dental dam" -- designed to prevent STD transmission during oral sex.
McEwen said that the attacks on Jennings and GLSEN were motivated largely by homophobia.
"There are a lot of heterosexual books that are just as explicit. In the first page of 'The Color Purple' [a 1982 novel that has caused controversy when assigned in schools], the character talks about being raped in graphic terms... what's in [GLSEN's] books is no different from what's in The Color Purple."
But Sprigg disagrees that books like "The Color Purple" are comparable to those recommended by GLSEN.
"We are not talking about 'The Great Gatsby' or 'The Grapes of Wrath' here," he said. "A lot of people who have only read the news and opinion pieces on this story, without reading the actual excerpts, may think that we are talking about the kind of sexual content that might, in a film, earn a PG-13 or R rating. We are not.
"This is material that, if portrayed visually, would be a triple-X hard-core porn film, and quite possibly meet the legal definition of obscenity. In fact, I think the homosexual content is the only thing preventing the outcry from being even greater, because some people fear being labeled as 'anti-gay.' If the content were heterosexual in nature, there would be no one defending it at all."