The saga of Kevin Jennings and Brewster: Enter Robertson

In an op-ed dated today but available online over the weekend, the Washington Times assails Obama safe-schools appointee, Kevin Jennings for his handling of a 15-year old student’s sexual revelations when Jennings was a young teacher.

According to Mr. Jennings’ own description in a new audiotape discovered by Fox News, the 15-year-old boy met the “older man” in a “bus station bathroom” and was taken to the older man’s home that night.

FOX News has also reported on this and pointed to that recording. That audiotape was recorded by someone who attended a speech Jennings gave in Iowa in 2000 and then given to me. The relevant clip is here. You can read more about Brewster and the controversy in the article, Remembering Brewster and in this prior post on the topic.

There is another wrinkle to this story. It appears that Brewster had a name change in 2006 for Jennings book, Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir. Below, I have excerpted the passages in the book where he discusses a boy named Robertson, who has issues like Brewster. The first two selections are from pages 161-162. Jennings, a young teacher at Concord School, answers the boy’s concerns in the same way as he answered Brewster. Continue reading “The saga of Kevin Jennings and Brewster: Enter Robertson”

Another suicide related to bullying?

At least that is what the family and friends of Jaheem Herrera are saying. The story does not mention the anti-gay nature of the harassment but the mother says it in the interview. Sounds like there were multiple issues involved as well. I don’t know all the circumstances but an investigation needs to be conducted.
This is very sad.
What if Focus on the Family and Exodus partnered with GLSEN and PFLAG to issue a joint statement and/or campaign to teach kids that bullying for any reason is immoral? What if the Christian groups made a concerted effort to reach out to youth group leaders with the message that calling kids gay, etc. is harmful?
Can I get a witness?

Video response to the Illinois Family Institute Dare to Stand video, Part Two

Part. Two.
On the Illinois Family Institute website, a revised video opposing the Day of Silence is posted. Also posted on a new website, called Dare to Stand, it is hosted on YouTube and embedded below. The IFI folks have disabled ratings, comments and vocal responses for the video so I thought I would post another video response (Wanda’s Song by The Reddings) to the Dare to Stand video here (see yesterday’s post).

Everytime I watch that, I am speechless.

Video response to the Illinois Family Institute Dare to Stand video

On the Illinois Family Institute website, a revised video opposing the Day of Silence is posted. Also posted on a new website, called Dare to Stand, it is hosted on YouTube and embedded below. The IFI folks have disabled ratings, comments and vocal responses for the video so I thought I would post my video response (Hero by Superchick) to the Dare to Stand video here.

And now the IFI video.

Instead of “Dare to Walkout,” how about Dare to be a Hero?
I will have another video response tomorrow as well more information on the Golden Rule Pledge and anti-bullying in general.

Hate 2 hope: The story of Tim Zaal and Matthew Boger

Although this story is old news, I thought it appropriate to share here in light of recent posts on bullying, the Day of Silence and the Golden Rule Pledge.
Watch this You Tube video which is a clip from a 2006 episode of 20/20 with John Stossel. More explanation follows:

Zaal and Boger appeared on NPR last November and continue to share their story at the Museum of Tolerance. I encourage you to read the entire piece but here are some highlights:

For nearly three decades, Tim Zaal thought he had killed a man during his rage-filled youth. The idea haunted him, but he buried it with the rest of his skinhead past.
“This used to be my stomping grounds,” says Zaal, standing on a street in West Hollywood, Calif., where he used to hang out in the early ’80s. “Mostly punk rockers would hang out around here after concerts and we would be involved with violence on a regular basis. Violence for me, back in those days, was like breathing.”

Zaal recalls the first meeting with Matthew Boger:

Zaal recalls that particular night, when he thought he took another man’s life. It began with listening to a band called Fear. During the show, a bouncer was stabbed and the police came. By the time he and his friends got to Oakie Dogs, they were juiced up on alcohol and testosterone and spoiling for a fight.
They found their victims across the street, a group of gay street kids. They were just hanging out when Zaal and his friends cornered one and started kicking and hitting him — 14 skinheads pummeling him all at once. But the small gay kid was still moving. For some reason, that enraged Zaal.
“I walked up and said, ‘What is wrong with you guys, can’t you do it right?’ ” Zaal recalls. The kid they were beating on looked up and made eye contact with Zaal. “I kicked him in the forehead with my boot and that was it,” Zaal says, snapping his fingers. “He was out like a light.”

Then they met a second time:

A few years ago, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles asked him to speak about his experience leaving the skinhead movement. Before the talk, he found himself chatting with his fellow presenter, Matthew Boger, the manager of operations.
“I asked Tim how he got out of the skinhead movement and what that was like,” Boger recalls.
The pair reminisced about West Hollywood back in the ’80s.
“And there was this moment in which I said that I lived on the streets,” Boger says, “in which I said I hung out on this hamburger stand, and [Zaal] said, ‘You know, we used to hang out there, but we stopped hanging out there after this one night that was so violent, I think I killed a kid.’ ”
In a flash they both knew without saying that Boger was that kid.
“It was the very first meeting that we had realized who we were to each other 20-something years ago,” Boger says.
Zaal recalls the moment the way anyone in his position would.
“Of course I was ashamed,” he says. “I didn’t know how to handle the situation. And obviously he didn’t how to handle the situation and he left as quickly as possible. It was about two weeks before I saw him again.”

This led to a remarkable picture of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Now Zaal and Boger present their story — and their unlikely friendship — to high school and middle school students around Southern California. They also do a tag-team presentation one Sunday every month at the Museum of Tolerance. It begins with a DVD film of their story and ends with a question and answer session.
Zaal says Boger used to bait him, and test him, to see if maybe those white supremacist ideas he held as a youth were still there, buried, in the grown man. But as time passed, both say that forgiveness — and redemption — have happened.

The two are writing a book about their experiences and were featured in a short documentary called Blood Brothers embedded here:
There are lessons here. I suspect this story is a like a projective test and people will derive lessons based on how they see the world. What can we learn from Mr. Boger and Mr. Zaal?

Kids suicide; parents point to bullying as the reason

It is difficult to pinpoint all the reasons why a child might commit suicide but the parents of two young men are pretty clear on at least one factor – bullying.
Carl Hoover-Walker was buried yesterday in Springfield, MA. Hoover-Walker was taunted with gay overtones, even though he did not identify as such. His mother said she alerted the school about the ongoing harassment but with no discernable difference. The 11 year old hung himself April 6th.
Just days before in Mentor, Ohio, the parents of Eric Mohat filed a lawsuit against the Mentor High School for failing to address clear signs of harassment. They believe the bullying led Eric to take his life at age 17. From the ABC News article:

The lawsuit — filed March 27, alleges that the quiet but likable boy, who was involved in theater and music, was called “gay,” “fag,” “queer” and “homo” and often in front of his teachers. Most of the harassment took place in math class and the teacher — an athletic coach — was accused of failing to protect the boy.
“When you lose a child like this it destroys you in ways you can’t even describe,” Eric Mohat’s father told ABCNews.com.
The parents aren’t seeking any compensation; rather, they are asking that Mentor High School recognize their son’s death as a “bullicide” and put in place what they believe is a badly needed anti-bullying program.

I believe Mr. Mohat is correct. School can be a cruel place and even though some schools do a good job at intervention, others do not. And schools cannot control what students do when they are off the school grounds. Parents and youth leaders must help set the tone for how people should treat each other. So we need schools to improve what they are doing to intervene in these situations and we need adults to model a better way to interact.
Some think schools are doing enough. In describing her reasons for supporting a boycott on the Day of Silence this coming Friday, Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute told WorldNetDaily

…that the goal cited by the GLSEN events is to reduce bullying on school campuses, especially that bullying perceived as targeting homosexual students or those with other alternative sexual lifestyle choices.
“No one supports bullying,” she said. “Every school has more than ample anti-bullying policies in place. … for GLSEN, the means by which they want to end bullying is to normalize volitional homosexual conduct.”

I doubt the parents of Eric and Carl would agree that school policies were ample enough. And Higgins misunderstands the intent of the students involved. If anti-bullying policies and programs exist, they want the policies enforced and implemented. I suspect parents and kids who are the targets of harassment want more action and less talk and intention. If Christians care, then they have to demonstrate that in some tangible way. What does it show when you leave the scene?
To those who think anti-gay bullying is no big deal, read the words of Brian Pengelly, a youth minister from Canada.

The truth is that when I was a student questioning my own sexual identity in grade 9 I was beat up because of my orientation.
The truth is that I was lucky, because compared to many of my gay friends, I got off easy.
The truth is that I have talked to hundreds of youth across North America who have been called names like “fag”, “homo”, “sissy”, “dyke” and “lesbo” every single day.
The truth is that often teachers and administrators see this happen and do nothing about it.
The truth is that many students (like me) will never report the harassment and violence they face because they are scared and ashamed. So even if and when school administration will listen, they often don’t hear about the extent of it.
The truth is that it can often be Christians who perpetrate the bullying and name-calling.
I went to a Christian school. It happened there.
This is not just my experience. This is SO common. I have seen it in schools. I have seen it in churches, I have seen it in youth groups. I have talked to HUNDREDS of young people who have told me their stories.
This is REAL.
And when Christians pretend like it isn’t, we bring shame on the name of the Lord who we claim to follow.
When we stand by and let others speak out for justice while we do nothing, we fail the Kingdom of God.
When we actively oppose, or distract from those seeking justice we prove to a watching culture that our claims to love gay people are a lie.
This is REAL. This must STOP. We are part of the problem. Change starts with us.

Brenda High, author of Bullycide and editor of the website Bully Police, has empathy for the Mohats and Hoover-Walkers. She lost her son in a similar manner several years ago. I asked Brenda what her advice is to Christians who want to make a difference on behalf of kids who experience harassment and bullying. She said,

My only advice to those who call themselves Christian is to remember that to be a Christian is to follow Christ, who said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”. It’s an oxymoron to call oneself a Christian, and at the same time to profess hate towards someone because of an act, sin, or behavior that you don’t like or disagree with.
If children are being bullied on the playground or inside our school, we as adults have failed that child, and we have failed the bully too. We must teach our children Christian values and ask our schools to teach “Do Unto Others” values so that all of our children can have a safe and bully-free environment to learn.

I couldn’t agree more.

National Day of Avoidance

The Day of Silence is coming — April 17 to be exact — and some conservative groups are already calling for students to walkout of school on that day.

TINLEY PARK, Ill., Mar. 3 /Christian Newswire/ — A national coalition of pro-family organizations is urging parents to call their children out of school on April 17. This is the day designated for this year’s Day of Silence when students and/or teachers will purposely remain silent during instructional time to protest so-called discrimination and gain sympathy for students who identify as homosexual or transgender.
The Day of Silence is a yearly event sponsored by the partisan political action group, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The implicit purpose is to undermine the belief that homosexuality is immoral. It is the belief of the sponsors of the Walkout that parents should no longer passively accept the political usurpation of taxpayer funded public school classrooms through student silence.

The walkout is a new wrinkle. Last year, these same groups called for parents to keep the kids home. It sounds like the plan this year is to allow students to go to school and then tell them to walk out.
The news release contradicts itself on at least one point. First, it reads:

The DOS requires that teachers either create activities around or exempt silent students from any activity that involves speaking. DOS participants have a captive audience, many of whom disagree with and are made uncomfortable by the politicization of their classroom.

And then a little later, says:

Higgins further emphasizes that “The worthy end of eliminating harassment does not justify the means of exploiting instructional time.” The First Amendment already allows DOS participants to wear t-shirts or put up posters, but according to a document co-written by the ACLU and Lambda Legal, a “school can regulate what students say. . . and it can also insist that students respond to questions, make presentations, etc.” Students and teachers should not be allowed to exploit instructional time to advance their socio-political goals.

Note the two sentences in bold print. The release first says the Day of Silence requires that teachers exempt students from speaking and then admits that the DOS does not mandate such exemption. As noted in the release on this blog last year, DOS materials make this clear.
I will again favor the Golden Rule Pledge. Facebookers can join that effort here.

Bullying and the scars

My webmaster, Paul, passed along a link to a poignant story of a dad about his adopted Korean daughter. She was a victim of bullying and has some scars to show for it.
Here is the beginning

Bullying defies stereotypes. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, from good homes and broken homes, and can be rich or poor. Bullying is not just a metropolitan phenomenon. Bullying can occur in even the smallest rural town. And those who have been bullied struggle with a sense of identity. I Left My Heart focuses on the struggles my family dealt with as a result of bullying in a small Nebraska community.
I hope you will share this article with someone. I doubt I will ever do a more important story. For change to take place it has to occur where our children are. Our schools need to become more sensitive to how much damage bullies can really do and that even someone they might consider as an unlikely candidate to bully may well be among the worst at emotionally or physically bullying someone.
Bullying leaves terrible scars and the healing process can be slow. Though my family found a way to help my daughter heal, she still suffers from what a therapist calls post-traumatic stress. And I still suffer from being unable to protect my daughter.
MY HEART
Labor Day, 1981. “She’s a good baby. She’s a smart baby,” the Korean adoption escort told us as she brought Hyun Soo In, now Amanda Soo Ann Meyer, off the Northwest Airlines plane. Wife Jane’s “labor pains” were over. Amanda cooed and fit perfectly in Jane’s arms. Kindergarten son Matt walked through the terminal carrying a teddy bear bigger than the tiny girl he just met, smiled a perfect smile, and announced to everyone “that’s my baby sister.”
Weeks after Amanda arrived, a bout with Salmonella brought a stay in Omaha’s Children’s Hospital. A much healthier Amanda came home, and she grew and flourished. Snap shots from those years show her crawling and walking, and opening presents at family gatherings. She loved story books and Sesame Street. Amanda was a healthy and happy little girl. The pre-school years were an idyll compared to what awaited us.
Precocious Amanda started school in 1986. She displayed a God-given talent with words, hated math, loved music, and did not care for sports. Amanda was a typical American girl who just happened to be born in Korea. Her grade school days were carefree, but then she entered North Bend Central Junior High School.
Our soldiers receive months of training preparing for war in Iraq. Amanda received no training for her tour of duty. What training could have prepared her for slurs, even physical threats, merely because she looked different than 99% of the students in that school? Nobody escapes adolescence heartache-free, but Amanda’s life was heartbreak after heartbreak. How could children be so cruel? Junior high was open season on Amanda, and scores of students had a license to taunt. Where were the teachers? Can’t they see a girl sobbing in the hallways?

Read the rest here…

Exodus International to take over Day of Truth

Exodus International will take over the “Day of Truth” in 2009. This news release was jointly provided by Alliance Defense Fund and Exodus.

Day of Truth to be spearheaded by Exodus International
The Alliance Defense Fund is transitioning its leadership of the Day of Truth initiative to Exodus International.
Day of Truth was launched four years ago in response to GLSEN’s (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) “Day of Silence” national initiative. “Day of Silence,” established in 1996 and aggressively placed in public schools throughout the U.S., asks students to take a nine-hour “vow of silence” to protest what they describe as “discrimination and harassment” against student’s engaged in homosexual behavior.
In 2004, when a student in Poway, California openly objected to this overt promotion of a practice that he found morally offensive, he was punished and silenced by the school administration for expressing his views. The school’s actions prompted the Alliance Defense Fund to legally defend this young man’s rights and, in turn, to launch a national response to the GLSEN’S Day of Silence. That response was the Day of Truth.
Designed to give students an opportunity to openly voice their views on (and objections to) the Day of Silence, the Day of Truth has grown from a handful of students to over 13,000 participants in all 50 states standing for the Truth. As the movement has grown, the focus has continued to broaden…providing students not only with legal assistance when their free speech rights are challenged, but also providing them with information on how to minister and witness to individuals struggling with homosexual behavior.
It’s because of growth in this latter area that this transition is occurring. For more than thirty years, Exodus International has provided thoughtful care to individuals wishing to leave homosexuality and offered support for related families, friends and churches. With 230 member organizations, the Exodus network is mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality…perfectly positioning them to lead the Day of Truth into the future.
ADF will continue to serve as the legal support arm for this project and represent any student who is silenced or punished for speaking the Truth.
When is the Day of Truth?
This year’s Day of Truth will be Monday, April 20, 2009. To view a video and participate this year, visit www.DayofTruth.org and register. Even if you have registered with us in the past, please register again this year. This allows us to track the number of participants every year. (It’s free to sign up!) You may also order products and materials, download free resources, and learn more about the project. On the Day of Truth, participating students wear their Day of Truth t-shirt and hand out “Truth cards” which simply explain that it’s time for “an honest discussion about homosexuality.”
Please do not hesitate to contact us with questions, for resources, or to share your ideas. You can reach us at sthomas@telladf.org or 1-800-TELL-ADF.

The Day of Silence is April 17, 2009. I continue to oppose boycotts and confrontations and instead will support the Golden Rule Pledge.
The Day of Truth has in the past focused on change of sexual orientation as being a prime message for schools. I will be interested to see what Exodus changes about this event.

Year in review: Top ten stories of 2008

As in year’s past, I have enjoyed reviewing the posts from the year and coming up with the top ten stories.

1. Cancelation of the American Psychiatric Association symposium – Amidst threat of protests, the APA pressed to halt a scheduled symposium dedicated to sexual identity therapy and religious affiliation. Whipped up by a factually inaccurate article in the Gay City News, gay activists persuaded the APA leadership to pressure symposium organizers to pull the program. Gay City News later ran a correction.

2. The other APA, the American Psychological Association, released a task force report on abortion and mental health consequences. Basing their conclusions on only one study, the APA surprised no one by claiming abortion had no more adverse impact on mental health than carrying a child to delivery. I revealed here that the APA had secretly formed this task force after a series of research reports in late 2005 found links between abortion and adverse mental health consequences for some women. New research confirms that concern is warranted.

3. Golden Rule Pledge – In the wake of Sally Kern saying homosexuality was a greater threat to the nation than terrorism, I initiated the Golden Rule Pledge which took place surrounding the Day of Silence and the Day of Truth. Many conservative groups were calling for Christian students to stay home. This did not strike me as an effective faith-centered response. The Golden Rule Pledge generated some controversy as well as approval by a small group of evangelicals (e.g., Bob Stith) and gay leaders (e.g., Eliza Byard). Some students taking part in the various events were positively impacted by their experience.

4. Exodus considers new direction for ministry – At a leadership training workshop early in 2008, Wendy Gritter proposed a new paradigm for sexual identity ministry. Her presentation was provocative in the sense that it generated much discussion and consideration, especially among readers here. It remains to be seen if Exodus will continue to move away from a change/reparative therapy focus to a fidelity/congruence ministry focus.

5. New research clarifies sexual orienatation causal factors – A twin study and a study of brain symmetry, both from Sweden and a large U.S. study shed some light on causal factors in sexual orientation.

6. Letter to the American Counseling Association requesting clarification of its policies concerning counseling same-sex attracted evangelicals. Co-signed by over 600 counselors (many of whom were referred by the American Association of Christian Counselors), I wrote a letter to the ACA requesting clarification regarding how counselors should work with evangelicals who do not wish to affirm homosexual behavior. The current policy is confusing and gives no guidance in such cases. Then President Brian Canfield replied affirming the clients self-determination in such cases. He referred the matter back to the ACA ethics committee. To date, that committee has not responded.

7. Paul Cameron’s work resurfaces and then is refuted – Insure.com resurrected Paul Cameron’s work in an article on their website about gay lifespans. The article was later altered to reflect more on HIV/AIDS than on homosexual orientation. Later this year, Morten Frisch produced a study which directly addressed Cameron’s methods.

8. Mankind Project unravels – This year I posted often regarding the Mankind Project and New Warriors Training Adventure. Recently, I reported that MKP is in some financial and organizational disarray.

9. Debunking of false claims about Sarah Palin’s record on support for social programs – I had lots of fun tracking down several false claims made about Sarah Palin during the election. Her opponents willfully distorted her real record to paint her as a hypocrite. I learned much more about Alaska’s state budget than I ever wanted to know but found that most claims of program cuts were actually raises in funding which not quite as much as the agencies requested. However, overall funding for such programs increased.

10. During the stretch run of the election, I became quite interested in various aspects of the race. As noted above, I spent some time examining claims surround Sarah Palin’s record. I also did a series on President-elect Obama’s record on housing, including an interview with one of Barack Obama’s former constituents.

I know, I know, number 10 is an understatement. (Exhibit A)

Happy New Year!