Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kevin Jennings & Acolyte Attacked Religious Right at GLSEN Fistgate Conference in 2000

In Kevin Jennings’s keynote address at the GLSEN-Boston Fistgate conference (March 25, 2000), he related a Bible story of the “widow’s mite,” but gave it a perverted meaning. He twisted it from an exhortation to give all you can to God, to give all you can to the homosexual community.
Also at that conference, a GLSEN national board member, Leif Mitchell from Planned Parenthood of Connecticut, led a workshop “exposing” the “Religious Wrong.” At that time, Mitchell “train[ed] teachers and children about sex education in the classroom and how to integrate homosexuality into the curriculum of public schools.” As a national board member, Mitchell was surely in touch with GLSEN’s national director Kevin Jennings on content and strategy.
The teacher who attended the conference and reported on this workshop to Massachusetts News (May 2000) has just emailed us more background on the “Religious Wrong” workshop. She is convinced that its leader, Leif Mitchell, “got his training” directly from Kevin Jennings:
I know he got his training from Kevin Jennings because the strategies numbered for how to work against the Religious Right is something right out of KJ's handbook. Also, relating to ex-gay John Paulk having been verbally attacked by Leif Mitchell, his explanation of the difference between “sexual orientation” and “sexual identity” is something I heard Kevin Jennings say on an instruction tape/video. … At any rate, Mitchell was espousing the KJ philosophy/teaching/propaganda word for word. (Fallout: Mitchell was removed from that position soon after he talked to the Massachusetts News reporter, not knowing who the press was he was chatting with, and letting it "all hang out.") Mitchell said he learned to speak "Christianese" and went to all the conservative Evangelical conferences for a decade before 2000. (- Teacher attendee at Fistgate; email to MassResistance, 12-18-09.)
We would add that Mitchell’s advice to “keep bringing it back to the issue of student safety” when confronted by difficult challenges is exactly the strategy Jennings developed in his 1993 report for the Massachusetts “Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth” (which we will soon post), which he later outlined in his 1995 speech to the Human Rights Campaign on how to “frame the issue” for victory.
In the GLSEN workshop, Mitchell …
… explained the need to combat such questions by using safety and suicide prevention issues as their mantra. Several times during the discussions Mitchell told the participants when they get in trouble during such discussion with the public or the press to: “Just keep bringing it back to safety in the schools. That’s the message." (Massachusetts News, May 2000)
That is GLSEN’s #1 strategy given to fight the Religious Right. Here are all five, as outlined by Mitchell:
1)            Focus on violence prevention. “Always go back to the issues of safety to explain why Gay/Straight Alliances need to be formed. ‘Violence helps us!’ he said.”
2)            Focus on legal perspectives. "Focusing on legal perspectives also helps to bring the focus back to safe schools," he said.
3)            Put a Face on Homophobia (e.g., Matthew Sheppard)
4)            Use statistics effectively
5)            Build coalitions proactively with like-minded groups (e.g., Coalition for Democracy, NAACP, The Anti-Defamation League, Planned Parenthood)

For the full Massachusetts News report on Mitchell’s workshop attacking the Religious Right, see “ ‘Religious Wrong’ Exposed at Fistgate (Tom Duggan, Massachusetts News, May 2001). Excerpts:
[Jennings] attacked religion and even used the Gospel to do so. He used the story of the widow’s mite to motivate children in the audience to give all they can give to the gay and lesbian community.
"This is ridiculous," exclaimed one teacher in utter disbelief. "I know that Bible passage and it is a direct reference to giving all you can to God. How ironic that GLSEN is preaching hatred towards religious people, attacking religion as ‘wrong’ and at the same time they are quoting Jesus and twisting the scripture. … Not a single person in the audience that I could see had any negative reaction to his "sermon". He simply "tickled their ears."
A handout attacked religion and people of faith. It promoted a book by a lesbian activist who claimed to expose "The Right and THEIR Agenda; The Right’s overall goals, the targets of their organizing efforts, the strategies they employ, and who benefits from their agenda." …