Wednesday, October 14, 2009

David E. Smith: homophobic douche-yokel

It's been a while since I've posted an entry in the yokel series, where I have a bit of fun poking fun at the ignorant nimrods that write in to the News Gazette. Normally, I'd jump at the chance to write about this woomeister that manages to create an entirely fact-free letter about the flu vaccine.

No, this time I feel compelled to write about a recent letter by David E. Smith of the Illinois Family Institute about Kevin Jennings, former teacher, founder of GLSEN, and currently Assistant Deputy Secretary at the Department of Education.

First a little background for those of you not familiar with the current right-wing witch hunt that's after Jennings. In 1987, as a 24-year-old teacher, Jennings had a conversation with a gay student, who told him he'd had sex with a man. Jennings later wrote in one of his books, "I listened, sympathized, and offered advice." He also told the student, "I hope you used a condom." Conservatives have jumped all over Jennings accusing him of condoning child molestation and even being a pedophile himself.

Except that none of it is true. At the time of the 1987 conversation, the student with whom Jennings had this conversation, was over the age of consent in Massachusetts. Furthermore, the student has recently come forward and said that he had sex with anyone at all! There's simply no scandal here.

Not that you'd know it from reading Smith's letter in the News-Gazette.

One of the most shocking pieces of news about Jennings is a story he told several times about a young student who came to him and confessed that he had sex with an older man he met in a bus station rest room.

This is the most damning part of Smith's possibly libelous letter. Notice how he says "a young student." That's a bit vague, especially (as we will see in a moment) Smith is implying that Jennings illegally supported and covered up child molestation. The student in question was 16 years old at the time. That's over the age of consent in Massachusetts. (The age of consent in Illinois is 17.) Therefore, there's simply no molestation issue. Whether or not it's wise for 16 year olds to be having sex is another matter entirely and separate from Smith's accusations of illegal conduct on the part of Jennings.

But what's most frustrating about this whole piece is that Smith knows this! He's completely aware of the age of the student at the time. In a June 17th, 2009 blog post at the IFI website, Smith says:

Not only did Jennings not report the sexual abuse as required by law, but in his book One Teacher in Ten, Jennings shared that he "listened, sympathized, and offered advice" to the 15-year-old student.

However, in a October 8, 2009 blog post, Smith tells a different story:

One of the most shocking pieces of news about Jennings is a story he's told himself ... about a 16 year old student who came to him and confessed that he was having sex with older men in a bus station restroom.

Notice the change: not only is Smith aware of the student's correct age, but now he's changed the story so that the student was picking up multiple men in this restroom.

So if Smith is aware of the student's age and that clearly puts the student over the age of consent, why does Smith's Letter leave it out and not clearly state the student's age? I can think of only one reasonable explanation: Smith is deliberately attempting to deceive his audience into thinking Jennings was complicit in covering up sexual abuse.

Smith's vile missive continues:

Instead of reporting the high-risk behavior to the boy's parents, school administrators or the police, Jennings' only response was, "I hope you knew to use a condom."

Except that's also a lie! As I pointed out above in his June blog post, even Smith acknowledges that Jennings "listened, sympathized, and offered advice." He did say that he hoped the student used a condom. Let me point out again that this conversation took place in 1987. This was the height of the AIDS crisis. Ronald Reagan wouldn't even mention AIDS in a major policy speech until October of 1987. Quite frankly, I think it would have been irresponsible if Jennings had not mentioned condoms in a conversation like this one.

Will someone please make this guy shut up?

Jennings showed a disregard for parental rights and for our children's well-being, yet he is the president's choice to keep our schools safe – safe for sexual predators it would seem.

If the president hand-picked Jennings to serve in educational leadership, the public has a right to know whether he violated reporting laws and covered up child sexual abuse.

As I think I've made very clear by this point, there were no sexual predators involved here, there was no violation of any reporting laws and there was no sexual abuse. Hell, there wasn't even any sex! It's also very clear that Smith knows all of this and it appears that the Letter was deliberately crafted to deceive the News-Gazette readers.

I think the public has a right to know whether David Smith of the Illinois Family Institute likes to fuck goats.

Is it really any wonder that the Illinois Family Institute is one of only twelve anti-gay hate groups identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center?

Let me also point out that this same Letter was also published nearly verbatim in the Freeport Journal-Standard and at the Illinois Review blog.

I've gotten a bit worked up with this post, because it pisses me the fuck off so much. Let me just close with a statement by the person best qualified to speak about the conversation that Jennings had twenty-two years ago -- the student himself:

Since I was of legal consent at the time, the fifteen-minute conversation I had with Mr. Jennings twenty-one years ago is of nobody's concern but his and mine. However, since the Republican noise machine is so concerned about my "well-being" and that of America's students, they'll be relieved to know that I was not "inducted" into homosexuality, assaulted, raped, or sold into sexual slavery.

In 1988, I had taken a bus home for the weekend, and on the return trip met someone who was also gay. The next day, I had a conversation with Mr. Jennings about it. I had no sexual contact with anybody at the time, though I was entirely legally free to do so. I was a sixteen year-old going through something most of us have experienced: adolescence. I find it regrettable that the people who have the compassion and integrity to protect our nation's students are themselves in need of protection from homophobic smear attacks. Were it not for Mr. Jennings' courage and concern for my well-being at that time in my life, I doubt I'd be the proud gay man that I am today.


Anonymous said...

What does it matter if the kid was 15 or 16 -- either way, Jennings failed to act responsibly and instead encouraged dangerous behavior.

As a parent, I am outraged that the parents were kept in the dark.

Narc said...

If you'd bothered to read my post, Anonymous Coward, you'd see that the student did not have sex with anyone. So the was no "behavior" at all, let alone dangerous behavior.

Furthermore, teachers are neither the sex police nor was it their responsibility to out students to their parents, especially in the much-less-gay-friendly 1980s.