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The Next Chapter in the Jennings Witch-Hunt


The latest volley in the right-wing witch-hunt of Education Department official Kevin Jennings takes aim at Jennings's past involvement with AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). Both the Washington Times editorial board and Fox News show host Sean Hannity have insisted that Jennings's involvement in ACT UP is disqualification for public service in the Obama administration.

ACT UP was started in 1987 in reaction to a speech by activist Larry Kramer over his perception of the political impotence of the Gay Men's Health Crisis. Though nonpartisan, ACT UP led demonstrations in support of people with AIDS, against the Catholic Church's resistance to condom distribution, and against Ronald Reagan's administration for its silence regarding the AIDS epidemic. Since its inception, ACT UP has been widely credited with increasing AIDS awareness, and, in a 1990 New York Times piece, with the acceleration of distribution of lifesaving AIDS medications and increasing patient access to experimental treatments.

Hannity's comments are somewhat predictable. As a conservative pundit, he's had little praise for the Obama administration or its appointees, and continues, in current conservative fashion, to call Jennings a "czar," though the word is not part of any government job title.

The Washington Times editorial board's piece shockingly invokes NAMBLA (the infamous North American Man/Boy Love Association) in conjunction with Jennings's name. Jennings wrote positively about Harry Hay in an introduction to a chapter in Becoming Visible, the high school textbook on LGBT history he edited. Hay was a founding member of the Mattachine Society, America's first gay rights organization, and is widely admired for his lifelong equal rights advocacy. Now conservative talking heads are attempting to draw links between Jennings and NAMBLA, a group whose goals Hay said he supported, though he was never a member. Jennings has never been associated with NAMBLA.

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Matthew Breen