[Note: Kevin Jennings is the current "Safe Schools Czar" for the Obama administration.]
Mr. Jennings —
Please read my plea. Your shining career may soon be tarnished. You’re about to be blindsided. And I’d like to help you save your reputation.
You’ve done many admirable things which earned you your position as the Safe Schools Czar. You founded GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a support group for teens. You have been a champion against discrimination in schools. And you’ve brought nationwide attention to the problem of bullying against students. All of these are worthy of praise, and I support your efforts in these areas.
But all that is about to be swept away by a scandal of your own making. Yet there’s hope: Because the scandal has not yet become national news, you still have a chance to stop it from spreading, and in the process safeguard your political career.
(And no, I’m not talking about the earlier uproar over your advice to a student.)
Instead, I’m talking about something new — something which up until now has been a minor footnote to that scandal. Something that seems poised to explode into public consciousness any minute. And you still have a brief window of opportunity to get in front of it and defuse the scandal before it breaks.
I’m talking about the revelation that in a speech you gave in 1997, you praised gay rights icon Harry Hay and claimed you were “inspired” by him.
According to various blogs and smaller news outlets, when you addressed the GLSEN Mid-Atlantic Conference on October 25, 1997 in New York, as reported in the January-February 1998 edition of the Lambda Journal, you said:
“One of the people that’s always inspired me is Harry Hay, who started the first ongoing gay rights groups in America. In 1948, he tried to get people to join the Mattachine Society. It took him two years to find one other person who would join. Well, [in] 1993, Harry Hay marched with a million people in Washington, who thought he had a good idea 40 years before. Everybody thought Harry Hay was crazy in 1948, and they knew something about him which he apparently did not—they were right, he was crazy. You are all crazy. We are all crazy. All of us who are thinking this way are crazy, because you know what? Sane people keep the world the same [shitty] old way it is now. It’s the people who think, ‘No, I can envision a day when straight people say, “So what if you’re promoting homosexuality?”‘ Or straight kids say, ‘Hey, why don’t you and your boyfriend come over before you go to the prom and try on your tuxes on at my house?’ That if we believe that can happen, we can make it happen. The only thing that will stop us is our lack of faith that we can make it happen. That is our mission from this day forward. To not lose our faith, to not lose our belief that the world can, indeed, be a different place. And think how much can change in one lifetime if in Harry Hay’s one very short life, he saw change from not even one person willing to join him to a million people willing to travel to Washington to join him.“
So — what’s the problem? The problem is that Harry Hay, despite whatever else he did in his life, was deeply involved with NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Association — a group which advocates for legalization of sexual relations between adult men and underage boys. In other words, it’s a pro-pedophilia group.
How deeply was Harry Hay involved with NAMBLA? As I discovered: very deeply. Much deeper than almost anyone seems willing to admit. He gave keynote speeches and led panel discussions at several NAMBLA conferences. He openly told stories about how wonderful his own experiences were as a young teenager having sex with adult men. He encouraged the gay rights movement to not exclude NAMBLA from the united front of rights for all sexual minorities. And that 1993 march you recalled in your 1997 speech in which Harry Hay was joined by one million other protesters? Well, just one year later, in 1994 — just three years before you gave your speech — Harry Hay marched in the Stonewall 25 parade in front of the NAMBLA banner, for the stated purpose of bringing NAMBLA into the mainstream of the gay rights movement. Now, obviously NAMBLA doesn’t publish lists of its members, so we have no way of ever knowing for sure, but from all the evidence I’ve learned (presented below on this page), I wouldn’t be surprised if Harry Hay was at some point somehow affiliated with NAMBLA.
How could you not know any of this? What were you thinking when you praised Hay in public? Aren’t you by your own self-description an expert in the history of the gay rights movement? How else would you know the obscure details of Harry Hay’s activist career, which you mentioned in your speech? I’m no expert myself, but Harry Hay’s proclivities were quite well-known, and the photos, links and quotes presented below were uncovered after a mere 30 minutes of searching.
Yes, I know that many mainstream media outlets showered praise on Harry Hay in their obituaries about him when he died in 2002. And nary a mention of his NAMBLA activities was made at the time. But as a prominent gay rights activist yourself, and as a fan of Harry Hay’s early activism, weren’t you of all people the kind of person who should have known of Harry Hay’s unsavory later affiliations? Just because his NAMBLA connection was swept under the rug for a mainstream audience, doesn’t mean it would stay hidden forever.
But if you get out in front of this story and admit your error, rather than trying to cover it up, you can defuse the inevitable controversy that will arise once the info shown below hits the nightly news.
Gay teens need to feel safe — not just from bullies their own age, but also from adult predators seeking to take advantage of them. You’ve done such a great job thus far in encouraging a nurturing and bully-free environment for gay teenagers; do you want to undermine your own goals by fostering the impression that you’re not as diligent as you possibly could be when it comes to protecting them from adults? Speak up. Don’t let your silence turn into a tragedy.
Here is evidence of Hay’s NAMBLA connections; and following that, I make some recommendations for how you can defuse this controversy and distance yourself from Hay. Please read all the way to the end.
Harry Hay’s connection with NAMBLA: the evidence
Here’s a photo of Harry Hay participating in a panel discussion at the 1984 NAMBLA conference in San Francisco — he’s on the far right of the speakers’ table, in the cap and glasses:
The caption on the original NAMBLA source page definitively identifies Hay as the man on the far right:
Jesse (center), age 16, addresses a NAMBLA forum.
Other speakers included (left to right) David Thorstad, Jim Kepner, Morris Kight, and Harry Hay.
The photo above is clearly Harry Hay, but the NAMBLA banner, while identifiable, is partly cut off. However, the next photo in the series shows the banner clearly. The photo below shows a wide-angle shot of Hay at the speakers’ table (on the right in the leather cap) at the same conference, with the NAMBLA banner clearly visible behind him:
[Source link for this image: nambla.org - HARRY HAY San Francisco, 1984]
Caption at the NAMBLA source page for this photo:
The following comments by Harry Hay are from a public forum on the topic “Man/Boy Love and Sexual Liberation” held during a NAMBLA conference at the Pride Center in San Francisco, October 7, 1984.
But wait, there’s more:
Photo of Harry Hay (center) marching in the “Spirit of Stonewall” contingent along with NAMBLA (notice the partially obscured NAMBLA banner behind him) at the Stonewall 25 march in New York in 1994:
[Source link for this image: nambla.org - Histories of Man/Boy Love]
Caption for this photo on the NAMBLA source page:
Left to right: John Burnside, Harry Hay and Jim Kepner marching in the Spirit of Stonewall demonstration, New York, 1994.
Aside from the photos, there are many links to Harry Hay material prominently displayed on NAMBLA’s own site.
According to a NAMBLA Web page called “A Quest for Knowledge: HARRY HAY at NEW YORK UNIVERSITY 1983,” Hay wrote the promotional blurb for a NAMBLA book:
The episode is documented in the book, A Witchhunt Foiled: The FBI vs. NAMBLA (New York: NAMBLA, 1985), for which Harry wrote a promotional blurb.
[UPDATE: A photo of Hay's pro-NAMBLA book blurb can be found here.]
Then, on the same page, after recounting his own early man/boy experiences (as the boy half of the equation), Hay goes on to make the most astonishing statement:
I also would like to say at this point that it seems to me that in the gay community the people who should be running interference for NAMBLA are the parents and friends of gays. Because if 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 thirteen-, fourteen-, and fifteen-year-old kids need more than anything else in the world. And they would be welcoming this, and welcoming the opportunity for young gay kids to have the kind of experience that they would need.
Kevin Jennings, we know you do not support this kind of statement, and you are not “inspired” by the kind of activism Harry Hay exhibits here. For the good of the gay community, PLEASE condemn this publicly and emphatically.
The NAMBLA page called “HARRY HAY on MAN/BOY LOVE” explains some of the political in-fighting between Hay and other NAMBLA supporters against mainstream gay groups and politicians who wanted to ostracize NAMBLA. It also discusses how at least two early Mattachine Society members were both later affiliated with NAMBLA — which begins to cast a bit of a shadow on the Mattachine Society itself:
I was lucky to have spent more time with him than I could have hoped for, yet far less than I would have liked—at Phil Willkie’s Wisconsin cabin and his St. Paul apartment; at the Stonewall 25 demonstration in New York in 1994, where Harry and John, as well as the late Jim Kepner (another early member of the Mattachine Society and a gay archivist) marched with the Spirit of Stonewall contingent that included NAMBLA; and at the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) conference in New York that same week, which expelled NAMBLA (despite Harry’s vocal protests and subsequent disgust) under pressure from U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, the Clinton administration, gay congressman Barney Frank, and the gay and lesbian assimilationist organizations; at his and John’s apartment in San Francisco; at a Faerie event in Stuyvesant Square Park in New York; at several NAMBLA conferences…
And speaking of the “several NAMBLA conferences” which Harry Hay atttended…:
Harry Hay spoke again at the 1986 Los Angeles NAMBLA Conference:
The following comments were made by Harry at a panel on censorship and pornography at the NAMBLA conference in Los Angeles on November 8, 1986. …
“I think this is a place where we have to find very imaginative ways to reach all kinds of elements of the community that we up to now haven’t thought of touching. Not only to reach all kinds of elements of our own community, but to find the weak spots, shall we say, within the left, within the progressive forces in the hetero community who might find themselves in parallel with where we are, or in parallel with the way that we feel we are going to go, and make of them willing—or even unwilling—allies in this whole regard.”
And in 1994 — just three years before you praised Harry Hay as your inspiration — Hay gave yet another speech at the 1994 New York NAMBLA Conference:
Harry made the following remarks on June 25, 1994, to the NAMBLA conference in New York held during the Stonewall 25 commemorations.
In fact, I have been unable to find information about any NAMBLA conference which Harry Hay didn’t attend.
I don’t know what it takes to be considered “in NAMBLA” or a “NAMBLA member,” but someone who makes appearances at and gives speeches at every known NAMBLA conference, and who speaks out publicly in NAMBLA’s defense, and who writes blurbs for NAMBLA books, would seem to be a likely candidate.
I strongly recommend that you take one of the following steps IMMEDIATELY, before this story gets out of control.
a. Publicly condemn Harry Hay for his involvement with NAMBLA, apologize for praising him, and say it was a terrible mistake for someone such as yourself who is involved with the safety of children in schools to have praised an advocate for child sexual predators.
b. Deny, while supplying proof, that you ever gave any speech praising Harry Hay in the first place. (The speech was supposedly given on October 25, 1997 in New York and transcribed in the Jan.-Feb. 1998 issue of the Lambda Report. The problem for me is that I’ve never seen a copy of this journal myself, and before I commit myself to a fact, I generally try to dig up the primary sources. I don’t like relying on third-party claims [such as from news articles or blogs] without photographic proof. And I tried to track down a copy of that Lambda Report, with no success. The only library that seems to have it is the Library of Congress. So: I myself cannot say for sure that the transcription is accurate. And if it isn’t accurate, you need to tell us.) If you have never praised Harry Hay, then the scandal will immediately evaporate.
c. Issue an official statement that you were completely unaware of Harry Hay’s proclivities and advocacy for NAMBLA, but now that you’ve learned of it, you condemn him unequivocally, and vow to never praise him again. (However, this option will still leave the issue open to doubt, since it’s not entirely credible you wouldn’t know about Hay’s NAMBLA connection; so I don’t really recommend this one as your best option.)
But — unless you want to self-destruct your own career — by no means should you:
d. Continue to praise Harry Hay’s actions with the Mattachine Society, but try to distance yourself from his later involvement with NAMBLA. (No matter how much you try to spin this, and distinguish the good Harry Hay from the bad Harry Hay, the public will almost certainly still perceive that you were “inspired” by someone who was known to promote adult/child sexual relations.)
e. Remain silent, hoping the scandal will go away; because it won’t.
And the worst option of all is to,
f. Deny that Harry Hay was involved with NAMBLA at all. (Because the evidence for it is overwhelming, as shown above.)
Mr. Jennings, you’ve worked hard to get where you are. Don’t jeopardize it all now. Distance yourself immediately from Harry Hay. Or prove that you never mentioned him in a speech. Because if you dither, or try to rationalize your praise of Hay, you run the strong risk of tarring not just your own self by association, but the entire Obama administration as well. (Imagine the headlines if you don’t extinguish this scandal ASAP: Obama appoints activist “inspired” by NAMBLA supporter to protect the nation’s children. Do you really want to see that?)
From what i understand, you never even met Harry Hay. You didn’t actually know him. It’s not like he was a personal friend of yours; you just knew his reputation. And yes, because of his role setting up the country’s first gay political organization, there was a drive to protect that reputation, and as a result he was often held up as the Founding Father of the gay movement. So perhaps you can claim ignorance, that you never really looked into who Harry Hay was (beyond the headlines) when you said you were “inspired’ by him. You should have done your due diligence, but didn’t. And that’s fine. We all make mistakes. But now that the due diligence has been done for you, you can no longer pretend that the elephant is not in the living room. For the sake of your own political viability, you need to disavow your earlier statement and cross Harry Hay off your list of heroes. Otherwise, you will be forever linked with him, and that link may well prove an unbearable burden if you don’t sever it. The sooner the better.
Is this entire ridiculous affair nothing but guilt by asssociation? Certainly. But guilt by association has sunk many a politician. You’re in a highly sensitive, very visible political position. And NAMBLA is a very, very bad association. In fact, for someone with your title — “Safe Schools Czar” — even a peripheral connection to NAMBLA is about the worst connection you can possibly have.
That’s why you need to nip this in the bud, and now.
I can only hope that you never really did praise Harry Hay or say you were inspired by him. If that entire issue of the Lambda Report is a hoax, please issue the proof, and I will post an update here showing that proof and exonerating you. That would be the best option of all. And if you did once praise Hay — which is understandable, because a lot of people have praised Hay over the years — then please condemn him now. If you do, I will also gladly update this post right at the very top with your statement.
But if you remain silent on this issue, or continue defending Harry Hay — well, you’re on your own after that. At least I can say I tried to help.
Please, Mr. Jennings: Get in front of this scandal and stop it while you still have a chance.
Oh dear. Looks like Kevin Jennings edited and co-wrote a book called Becoming Visible about the history of gay activism in which there is an entire chapter about Harry Hay! It is partly searchable on Amazon: Click here for a link to the Amazon “Peek Inside” feature for the book, and scroll to its table of contents. Or click here or on the small image above to see a clear screenshot of the book’s Table of Contents, including the chapter on Harry Hay.
This is not good news.