Posted by: Catherine Lugg | October 3, 2010


On Friday, October 1, 2010, at 6:05 PM, Kevin Jennings, Assistant Secretary of US Education for Safe and Drug Free Schools, sent the following e-mail: (HT Michael Petrelis).

From: Kesner, Paul
Reply To: Prevention ED List
Subject: [PREVENTIONED] 10-01-2010–ED’s Safe and Supportive Schools Update–Statement by U.S. Education Secretary Duncan: Bullying must stop
Sent: Oct 1, 2010 6:05 PM

From the Desk of Kevin Jennings

As is the case for most of those reading this message, I have been horrified by the recent media coverage of student suicides prompted by bullying. I am fortunate to have a boss who is just as horrified and today made the below statement.

I hope each of you will consider ways you can help bring bullying to an end and urge you to check out for useful resources in so doing.


[Link to Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s two-paragraph statement.]

While the undersecretary expresses horror, please notice that there is no mention of the pending legislation before Congress–the Safe Schools Improvement Act. CLEARLY, the administration is NOT interested in actually passing this legislation.

Second, since Jennings e-mail contains a link to Secretary Duncan’s statement, let’s see what he said:

This week, we sadly lost two young men who took their own lives for one unacceptable reason: they were being bullied and harassed because they were openly gay or believed to be gay. These unnecessary tragedies come on the heels of at least three other young people taking their own lives because the trauma of being bullied and harassed for their actual or perceived sexual orientation was too much to bear.

This is a moment where every one of us – parents, teachers, students, elected officials, and all people of conscience – needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms. Whether its students harassing other students because of ethnicity, disability or religion; or an adult, public official harassing the President of the University of Michigan student body because he is gay, it is time we as a country said enough. No more. This must stop.

Yup, he’s horrified too. But there’s no call for ANY tangible changes in federal education policy to ensure the bullying, harassment and abuse STOP, and that districts and states actually track this specific form of anti-queer bias. Glad to see the token queer (Jennings) and the ineffectual non-queer (Duncan) supposedly care, but they’re NOT going to do ANYTHING for US queer kids in public schools who are being harassed, bullied, beaten and driven to suicide.

Here’s the deal: Jennings’ e-mail was released at 6:05 PM on a Friday night, much too late to make the weekend “news cycle.” This is a classic White House PR strategy to make a hot story a “non-story” (see Reagan, Bush the elder, Clinton, and Bush the lesser). This Presidential PR Siberia is meant to appease groups like HRC, NGLTF and GLSEN, but it will NOT generate any mainstream press coverage. See if Obama actually gave a damn about these dead gay men, Jennings and Duncan, and perhaps Obama himself, would have released their statements on Thursday morning, with great fanfare and the TV cameras rolling. And these statements would have contained very specific calls for action. In turn, their statements would have been picked up by the national media and coupled with stories of Tyler Clementi. By relegating the “poor dead queer” press release to 6 PM on Friday night, with no fanfare, they’re hoping the press ignores this “non-story” about obvious non-people. By Monday morning, the White House is betting that the “tortured dead gay men” story will be off the front pages of newspapers and no longer the lead for radio and TV.

If Obama and company weren’t gutlessly homophobic, they’d use these horrifying deaths as a “policy window” (see John Kingdon’s work) to DRIVE the legislation through Congress. They’d be holding educational summits on anti-queer bias in public educational settings, appointing high profile blue ribbon commissions to investigate, making speeches around the country, and Obama himself would be calling members of the House and Senate, twisting arms to make the Safe Schools Improvement Act law.

Instead, we get the token press release issued at a time that symbolically indicates embarrassment with the topic, released at a time that guarantees it won’t be picked up by the national media. And the Obama administration is GLAD about this, since they really, really don’t care about queers–although the body count is piling up. We’re at best an annoying distraction from their other policy agendas. At worst, we’re seen a threat to their electoral chances in November (I hate to be the first to tell them, but playing political footsie with the hard-core right for two years while antagonizing their base was not the brightest of political moves).

I fear we’re going to see EXACTLY how many dead queer kids it takes for the Obama administration to actually give a damn.


  1. Wow. Was hoping Jennings, especially, but the BO Administration in general might have more action in them than an email exchange. It seems to me that THIS is the moment to not only raise awareness on this issue, but push through some improved policy (via IES/NCES to get them moving on LGBT research) and law in the form of more specific and sweeping legislation on hate crimes. BTW, on the AERA thing, is it possible to formally coordinate the membership into a policy coalition (SIGs and Divisions demanding reform around LGBT research/educational issues) or informally via petition to push the change? On the latter, I’m thinking of that high-profile e-petition many folks signed in support of Bill Ayers when he was under-fire from the Wacko Right during the Pres election. What do you think about that kind of action? It isn’t perfect but might be a good step toward some change.

  2. Jeff:

    Obama did expand the federal hate crimes to cover trans identity, but he’s not interested in any other major policy initiatives to even COUNT queers. I find some of my colleagues wildly optimistic, seeing what they WANT to see with the Obama administration, and NOT what is the reality.

    So, as to what to do. I think lobbying through the AERA “council” which is comprised of Divisional VPs and the SIG representative is probably the way to go. A petition is great symbolic politics, but it won’t change a thing. If the VPs get a bee in their collective bonnet, though, things might change. The trick with that strategy is to get the VPs to read AERA politics queerly. Some will have a better “vision” than others.

  3. […] say: No call for passing any pending legislation. No calls for any new legislation. As I said on October 3: Yup, he’s horrified too. But there’s no call for ANY tangible changes in federal education […]

  4. […] sends a clear message to queer students everywhere–your lives are beneath contempt.  There is NO chance of any federal legislation aiding queer kids passing with this hater in-charge of the House […]

  5. […] But the Obama administration has consistently dropped the ball when it comes to queer lives, including and especially the lives of queer children. That Jennings is leaving mid-way through the first term, well, it’s just one more piece of […]

  6. […] this endorsement by President Obama doesn’t cost him any political capital. But given the administration’s indifference towards queer issues and outright waffling on DADT (more to come on this), this is an easy bone to throw at politically […]

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