October 2nd, 2009
10:36 PM ET
11 years ago

Former student speaks out on Jennings controversy

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A former student of an Obama administration official is coming to his defense, as critics seek to use a 20-year-old incident to call for the official's resignation.

Kevin Jennings, who heads the Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, is under fire for counseling advice he gave a gay student more than two decades ago. Conservative groups charge that Jennings, who is openly gay, condoned statutory rape and child molestation. That's in reference to an incident in 1988 when Jennings, who was a teacher at the time, failed to tell authorities that an underage student revealed to Jennings that he'd had sex with an older man.

Now that onetime student is speaking out for the first time and telling CNN he did not have sex with that man at all.

In a statement obtained by CNN the former student, who wanted to be called Brewster, writes: "Since I was of legal consent at the time, the fifteen minute conversation I had with Mr. Jennings twenty-one years ago is of nobody's concern but his and mine. However, since the Republican noise machine is so concerned about my 'well-being' and that of America's students, they'll be relieved to know that I was not 'inducted' into homosexuality, assaulted, raped, or sold into sexual slavery."

The former student recounts what happened at the time and maintains there was no sexual contact.

"In 1988, I had taken a bus home for the weekend, and on the return trip met someone who was also gay. The next day, I had a conversation with Mr. Jennings about it. I had no sexual contact with anybody at the time, though I was entirely legally free to do so. I was a sixteen year-old going through something most of us have experienced: adolescence."

"Brewster" also lashes at the critics who have used the incident to attack Jennings.

"I find it regrettable that the people who have the compassion and integrity to protect our nation's students are themselves in need of protection from homophobic smear attacks. Were it not for Mr. Jennings' courage and concern for my well-being at that time in my life, I doubt I'd be the proud gay man that I am today."

Critics contend that Brewster was 15 at the time of the incident. CNN has obtained a copy of Brewster's driver's license, which verifies he was 16 at the time, not 15. That means if there had been sex, he was at the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.

Jennings, who has published several books, has written and spoken about the incident. In one book he writes that when he was a 24-year-old teacher, a gay student confided that he'd had sex with an older man. Jennings didn't report the incident to authorities. Instead, he writes, "I listened, sympathized, and offered advice." He has subsequently said he told the student "I hope you used a condom."

Jennings has admitted he could have done a better job dealing with the incident. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the White House are both standing behind Jennings.

But conservatives have been emboldened since their attacks environmental advisor Van Jones and National Endowment for the Arts spokesman Yosi Sargent forced their resignations, and the knives are drawn for Jennings.

Led by conservative commentators, Jones was attacked for once calling Republicans "assholes" and signing a "9/11 Truth" petition that suggested the Bush administration knew about the September 11 terror attacks in advance.

Jones was also a co-founder of a group that has led a drive to convince advertisers to abandon Fox News' Glenn Beck after Beck said on the air that President Barack Obama was a "racist" with "a deep hatred of white people."

Sargent came under fire for his participation in a conference call during which the NEA encouraged artists to participate in a project, led by first lady Michelle Obama, about national service. Conservatives, again led by Beck, accused the agency of attempting to create Nazi-style propaganda. Sargent stepped down from his position as director of communications, but the NEA said he remained with the agency in another capacity.

In a statement released earlier this week by the Department of Education, Jennings said he should have taken a different approach two decades ago. "Twenty one years later, I can see how I should have handled the situation differently. I should have asked for more information and consulted medical or legal authorities. Teachers back then had little training and guidance about this kind of thing. All teachers should have a basic level of preparedness."

Despite the revelation that "Brewster" was of age at the time, Tony Perkins, head of the conservative organization Family Research Council, called for Jennings' resignation. "You do not need special training to know child molestation is wrong," says Perkins.

Jennings has some determined supporters. Gerald Tiorzzi, head of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, recommended Jennings for the job. "I've been working with Kevin for over seven or eight years now and his agenda is not only about gay kids. It's been all kids," sats Tiorzzi, who says Jennings' expertise in bullying has earned him recognition from school principals in conservative as well as progressive districts.

- CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn contributed to this story.

Filed under: Uncategorized
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. eolufemi

    Republicans are showing their ugly again.

    October 2, 2009 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  2. mjm

    Wow...CNN is quick to defend this guy.

    "Twenty one years later, I can see how I should have handled the situation differently. I should have asked for more information and consulted medical or legal authorities."

    Why would he be concerned with legal authorities? I thought the KID was of legal age? Or is "Brewster" changing the story.

    So an adult having sex with a 15....errr...16 year old is ok with Democrats?

    How about finding someone else for the job?

    October 2, 2009 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  3. Ryan, Council Bluffs

    It really makes no difference. The story as confirmed by Jennings own statement shows he (jennings) is not competent for this position as he has poor judgement and decision making skills to effectively PRORECT STUDENTS.

    October 2, 2009 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  4. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    GOP is disgusting


    October 2, 2009 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  5. rorsharch

    I agree that this is way out of the box... just have Obama resign, then just replace the entire cabinet, that was easy!

    October 2, 2009 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    The GOP is focusing on minoritys in the Obama administration it seems

    October 2, 2009 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  7. maria

    Give me a break! Your are so eager to disrupt any attempt at helping the tax paying American people that you will dig up and do anything to disrupt. Heaven help this country, we are in trouble because the wealthy and corporate have been running this country and trying to keep it that way.

    October 2, 2009 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  8. katn

    Mr. Jennings sounds like the kind of teacher I wish I had had in high school. His former student is clearly glad that he had a sympathetic adult who he could talk to.

    October 2, 2009 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  9. valwayne

    When Obama announced he was going to leave a country with 9.8% UNEMPLOYMENT and Soldiers dying in Afghanistan without the support their Generals say they need I thought it must be for a done deal...the icing on the cake. I had no thought that Obama is so arrogant and egotistical that he would risk his personal humiliation and the humiliation of the entire United States because he thought all he had to do was show up and talk to insure the decision in Chicago's favor. UNBELIEVABLE! I don't care about Obama's humiliation, but when the President of the Untied States is slapped down so hard and fast the entire nation is humiliated. And if you think there aren't any consequences to Obama's actions what do you think our adversaries are thinking tonight when they think about negotiating with Obama. Tonight they are planning their next moves against us.....as they snicker!!!!

    October 3, 2009 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
  10. Jose from Tampa

    Well looks like the republiklans and the right wing religious fanatics were put in their place. But of course the party of values and well been for all americans, are not going to stop there. Lets count the minutes until the like of faux news, beck, hannity, rush, perkings etc etc, find a photo and all the info about this guy and start blogging and putting everything on tv. This party has become a hate group party.

    October 3, 2009 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  11. Navy Vet

    Once again we find out that the Republicans in their haste to insult, criticize and point fingers at the Obama administration, see that they once again didn't fact check.

    Their media slogan should be "why let facts get in the way of partisan reporting".

    October 3, 2009 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  12. red filly

    So "brewster" shows up and says he didn't have sex with that guy, how convenient. Sorry Brew, Jennings already said you did, and apologized for not helping you.

    October 3, 2009 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  13. Greg Sikorski

    Were Mr. Jennings to resign, would the nation prefer that someone of Mr. Beck's integrity be assigned to the position to guide our young into a better adulthood?

    October 3, 2009 01:21 am at 1:21 am |
  14. Moe, NY

    Thank you for your honesty Brewester....Republicans, mainly Conservatives....tough luck on this one, although I bet you will try to put a spin on the truth.

    October 3, 2009 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  15. ThinkAgain

    Glenn Beck is a bully who has an over-inflated sense of his own worth. He's also a liar – but we all know that hasn't stopped him from shooting off his mouth in the past.

    How pathetic that the party of Lincoln now has spoke people as idiotic and hateful as Beck!

    October 3, 2009 02:03 am at 2:03 am |
  16. Obamalism

    Jennings is not out to promote school safety. He's out to promote homosexuality. He's using student's safety as the means to carry it out without getting bashed by parents around the nation.

    Tolerance is one thing...promoting is another story all together.

    October 3, 2009 02:36 am at 2:36 am |
  17. Samantha

    The conservative hypocrites at their best. Just admit your wrong about the incident and move on. I'm so sick of the childish behavior our kids can do a better job of running the country than most of these politicans on both sides of the aisle.

    October 3, 2009 02:54 am at 2:54 am |
  18. Kat

    Well I certainly have had enough of the Obama administration. I know I wouldn't want my kid around this guy, and this guy will not be making any decisions for my family.

    October 3, 2009 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  19. 60's survivor

    bunch of hypocrites. nothing more nothing less. GOP is dinosaur. they don't even see it coming

    October 3, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  20. jules sand-perkins

    If CNN has a copy of Brewster's driver's license, he was 16 at the time and able to consent, so Jennings did nothing wrong in this instance.
    I regret that citizens of my country are so far behind Europeans in accepting human sexuality, both heterosexual and homosexual.
    Contemporary psychiatry regards each as normal conditions: one cannot bill an insurance company in this country for "treatment" of homosexuality, there being no code in the diagnostic manual for it.
    My heterosexual European friends laugh at our attitudes, saying, "you have DADT, while we have 'Don't Ask, Don't Care.'"

    October 3, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |