One of Arne Duncan’s key leadership picks has ignited the conservative blogsphere: Kevin Jennings, the U.S. Department of Education’s soon-to-be assistant deputy secretary in the office of safe and drug-free schools.
The former Massachusetts Department of Education official founded, and was the executive director of, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. GLSEN works to make schools safe for students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a real issue, as the latest GLSEN survey from October showed that 86 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students experienced harassment during the previous school year.
This isn’t the first time the Obama administration has signaled its commitment to raising awareness about keeping schools safe, including for gay, lesbian, and transgender youth. Jill Biden, a community college professor and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, gave the keynote address at GLSEN’s annual awards banquet last week. In April, as part of a broader statement on school safety, Duncan called attention to the importance of protecting students from bullying and harassment because of sexual orientation.
But the Jennings pick—which does not require Senate confirmation—is lighting up Twitter and drawing fire from conservative groups, including Catholic Online, and the legislative arm of the Family Research Council, which is urging folks to write the department opposing the choice. Specifically, the group says that GLSEN “force[s] affirmation of homosexuality in schools, beginning in kindergarten.” What’s up with certain conservatives linking sex and kindergarten? (Think back to that 2008 campaign ad that purported that Barack Obama supported sex-ed for kindergartners.)