Kevin Jennings on Brewster: “I can see how I should have handled this situation differently”

The Brody file at CBN is reporting a statement from Kevin Jennings regarding Brewster/Robertson/Thompson: 

“Twenty one years later I can see how I should have handled this situation differently.  I should have asked for more information and consulted legal or medical authorities. Teachers back then had little training or guidance about this kind of thing. All teachers should have a basic level of preparedness. I would like to see the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools play a bigger role in helping to prepare teachers.”

-Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools

Brody reports that Education Secretary Arne Duncan also released a statement:

“Kevin Jennings has dedicated his professional career to promoting school safety. He is uniquely qualified for his job and I am honored to have him on our team.”

-Arne Duncan, Education Secretary

Well, that leaves some unanswered questions (why did he imply through his lawyer that he did not know what the boy was doing?), but it is a welcome acknowledgement that teachers should not follow his example.

Updates to come…

The Associated Press has the story. Media Matters ignores Jennings own statement that the young man in question was 15. In any event, he acknowledged that he should have sought advice.

The Brody File broke this story yesterday but contains a curious statement that I cannot verify. Brody said:

Basically, Jennings pretty much apologized for the incident a couple decades ago.

I wrote to ask Brody for a source on an apology with no reply as yet. In the 2004 letter from his law firm Nixon Peabody, Jennings did not apologize for anything. In fact, he denied much of what he now acknowledges.


This is a denial, not an apology.

Does Diane Lenning get an apology now?

Today Show on PANDAS

Back in the spring, I wrote an article on Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus (PANDAS). The disorder has opened my eyes to the potential role of bacteria in mental illness. Recently, the Today Show did a segment on PANDAS with a remarkable case of a boy attending school at nearby Carnegie-Mellon University. Watch and learn.


I also blogged at length about this condition. Part one dealt with the condition and part two with a potential paradigm shift in mental health and part three developed an interactionist perspective.

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”

Father-son estrangement: A straight guy problem?

Last Friday, I wrote about father-son estrangement and the new book by Joseph Nicolosi, Shame and attachment loss: The practical work of reparative therapy. Since then, I have looked off and on for illustrations of father-son estrangement in current events, literature and movies. Others are sending illustrations via email as well. Feel free to add examples in the comments section.

In these stories, both fictional and real life, the vast majority of abandoned or injured sons are straight. Of course, this is not research, but I reason that if the father-son disruption theme was so tied to homosexuality, I would find homosexuality in the sons. However, it looks like father-son estrangement is a straight guy problem.

Take this story, “Healing the Father-Son Wound” from straight guy John Lee.

Some of you may know what a rocky relationship I have had with my father. I was raised in an alcoholic home where there was tremendous physical and emotional abuse. I have written about this in my books as a way to heal and hopefully to help others. Because of my wound, I wandered through the swamps and deserts of a ten-year period of estrangement from my father. We didn’t see each other or talk during that time.

Lee goes on to describe a distant, shame-filled relationship which eventually resolved due to Lee’s efforts. This man was clearly “delight deprived,” as Nicolosi describes the typical situation he reconstructs from the narratives of his clients. It seems clear that Lee perceived his father as someone who fit the narcissistic, shaming father Nicolosi describes in Shame and Attachment Loss. On one visit, accompanied by his wife, to his father, he knew his dad was going to shame him.

My third visit was just before I came down with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Susan and I had spent about two hours at my parents’ house and were getting ready to leave when my father said, “Susan, did John ever tell you about the time…”

I froze in terror. I thought my dad was going to do to Susan what he always did to anyone who liked or loved me– tell a story that would make me look silly at best, stupid at worst.

As he began to talk, I began to shrink.

This sounds like it could come out of a reparative therapist’s casebook. Lee goes on to say that on this occasion, his father praised his son, which was completely unexpected. However, it seems clear that Lee’s historical feelings about his dad did not involve “shared delight.”

Remember that Nicolosi made inferences about the childhoods of both gay and straight males when he said recently:

In other words, that fact remains that if you traumatize a child in a particular way you will create a homosexual condition. If you do not traumatize a child, he will be heterosexual. If you do not traumatize a child in a particular way, he will be heterosexual. The nature of that trauma is an early attachment break during the bonding phase with the father.

There are many of these stories where straight males clearly felt traumatized (e.g., ignored, distanced, hated, unloved, etc.) by their fathers and did not become gay.  The experience of father-son estrangement seems universal with the longing for connection universal as well.

Related posts:

Shame and Attachment Loss: Going from bad to worse

Shame and attachment loss: Reparative therapy and father-son estrangement

Also read Fathers, Sons and Homosexuality for a father’s view of the reparative thesis.

Altered Sexual Orientation Following Dominant Hemisphere Stroke

Things that make you go, hmmmm….

Check out this story of “change.”

Case Report

The patient, a 57-year-old right-handed man, sustained his first cerebral vascular accident in the right middle cerebral artery region at the age of 45, which resulted in right-sided hemiparesis that resolved completely within 3 months. He continued to run his private business successfully while living with his mother.

The patient lost his father in early childhood. There was no evidence of an emotional or conduct disorder during school years, and the patient eventually obtained his university degree. He continued to manage his successful practice until he sustained the second cerebral vascular accident in the left middle cerebral artery region at age 53.

The patient became aware of his homosexual orientation in his early teens and had several gay partners. He suffered a major depressive episode at age 26 that resolved within a few months. He also had a diagnosis of excessive harmful use of alcohol, but there was no evidence of dependence.

The patient started complaining of his changed personality and heterosexual orientation 6 months after his second stroke. At the same time he complained of excessive mood swings and changed interests. He became preoccupied with photography and had a successful photographic exhibition a year after his second stroke. His sexual orientation remained heterosexual 4 years following the second stroke, and he preferred to describe himself as bisexual because of his previous homosexual orientation.


The mechanism by which a person acquires his sexual orientation is complex and ranges from pure psychological theories to more complex biological concepts. Our patient was aware of his homosexual orientation beginning in his early teens. He always enjoyed his gay relationships and had had at some point a live-in partner. He grew up with an absent father and had a strong bond with his mother. He went back to live with his mother after separating from his partner 4 years before his first stroke. It is unlikely that his psychological reaction to his first and/or second stroke could explain his altered sexual orientation, and his sexuality was accepted by his social network and family members.

Taking into consideration the interval between his first and second stroke, it is likely that an organic process within the left middle cerebral artery region is the cause of his altered sexual orientation.

The sexual needs of patients suffering from a brain injury are centered on hyper- and hyposexuality rather than altered sexual orientation. The alteration of sexual orientation raises serious challenges to patients and their care. It may be essential to address the issue of sexual orientation in assessing patient needs following brain injury in addition to other possible behavioral changes that might be encountered.

This is one of those head-scratchers that make you wonder what role “the middle cerebral artery region” plays in sexuality. I have had no chance to look into this but wanted post it due to the nature of the report.

Spontaneous change compared to therapeutically mediated change

Something has been bothering me, running around in my head since I did the brief series of posts on Dean Byrd’s review of LDS book, In Quiet Desperation (here, here and here).

In their review of Ty Mansfield’s book, Byrd et al make this statement:

The book inadvertently limits the power of the Atonement in the lives of people who struggle with homosexual attraction. As professionals with many combined years of practice in treating those with unwanted homosexual attraction, we have witnessed changes in the lives of many of these individuals, and the epiphanies have been many.

Like all emotional challenges, the outcome data has ranges of success. What is clear is that when the same standard applied to treatment outcomes of similarly situated difficulties is applied to the treatment outcomes of those with unwanted homosexuality, the results are remarkably similar. There is much in the professional treatment protocols that are compatible with the restored gospel. Appropriate professional help along with the healing powers of the gospel have repeatedly convinced us that there is no struggle for which the Atonement is not sufficient.

There are several things that bother me about these two paragraphs, but for now I want to focus on this sentence:

What is clear is that when the same standard applied to treatment outcomes of similarly situated difficulties is applied to the treatment outcomes of those with unwanted homosexuality, the results are remarkably similar.

Despite a claim of clarity, nothing is particularly clear to me about treatment outcomes for “unwanted homosexuality.” It is not clear to me what other conditions are “similarly situated” in comparison to same-sex attraction. This was not explained.

However, my thoughts about outcomes ran to the studies reported in the NARTH literature review of sexual reorientation, the Jones and Yarhouse study and the usual reparative therapy contention that change results were along a continuum – one-third dramatically changed, one-third somewhat changed and one-third not changed. However, whatever numbers one likes, one cannot put it in context without a control or comparison situation. Another term for this in this context is spontaneous remission. Don’t some people change in various ways for reasons unrelated to therapy?

Certainly that is the case for other situations which are the proper focus of therapy. Note this abstract for a study of improvement rated by patients at a community mental health center in Utah.

It was hypothesized that outpatient psychotherapy in a mental health center would result in an improvement rate of 65% or more, a spontaneous remission rate of 36% or less, and a difference of at least 29% from gain in improvement due to therapy. The analysis of 201 follow-up questionnaires supported all three hypothesis. A five-year follow-up questionnaire provided evidence for external validity in the form of a correlation between original improvement rate and subsequent need for outpatient treatment and inpatient treatment. The results were interpreted as being significant evidence for the efficacy of psychotherapy and for the validity of self-report method of measuring improvement and spontaneous remission.

Note that the rate of improvement was significantly higher than expected based on a spontaneous improvement rate of 36% or less. The authors had reasons to predict this rate and took it into account when assessing the meaning of a 65% improvement rate overall. 

My point is not to compare sexual reorientation to mental health improvement near Salt Lake City, Utah. However, I want to raise the issue that considering spontaneous improvement is important when one is communicating the meaning of changes reported without a control group. There are a couple of studies which have looked at spontaneous change, although none would be directly comparable to any current studies of sexual reorientation. Diamond found spontaneous change in her study of 100 women. In 2005, Kinnish, Strassburg and Turner reported varying levels of sexual orientation flexibility in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Their report found that 19% of men and 17% of women in their sample moved in a heterosexual direction (from gay to bisexual,  or bisexual to straight — none went from exclusively gay to exclusively straight). In 2003, Dickson, Paul and Herbison reported spontaneous change in a New Zealand cohort. The chart of movement can be viewed here. Note that 5 of 15 went from some same-sex attraction to only heterosexual attraction and none from “major attraction to the same sex” to straight.  

While these studies are suggestive, they cannot be directly compared to existing studies of sexual reorientation.  However, the fact that some men with some same-sex attraction and many women might shift spontaneously should be taken into account when thinking about the role of therapy in mediating sexual orientation change.

The Dickson study is intriguing in that the results can be interpreted as supporting the existence of different types of homosexual orientation. About their results, the authors note in the abstract:

These findings show that much same-sex attraction is not exclusive and is unstable in early adulthood, especially among women. The proportion of women reporting some same-sex attraction in New Zealand is high compared both to men, and to women in the UK and US. These observations, along with the variation with education, are consistent with a large role for the social environment in the acknowledgement of same-sex attraction. The smaller group with major same-sex attraction, which changed less over time, and did not differ by education, is consistent with a basic biological dimension to sexual attraction. Overall these findings argue against any single explanation for homosexual attraction.

To me, this is a reasonable hypothesis. I believe there are multiple pathways to adult sexual orientation and for some, apparently the social context means more than for others. Also, for some the trait may continue to shift around through life with changing circumstances, yet for others, not at all.

UPDATE: In an odd attack piece, the gay website Queerty reads this post (actually the Crosswalk version) as a kind of strange defense of change therapies or change of orientation in general.  A commenter named Timothy (is it our Timothy?) gets the point, but whoever writes for them and the commenters thus far over there are clueless.

Shame and attachment loss: Reparative therapy and father-son estrangement

Picking up the narrative on the new book from Joseph Nicolosi, Shame and attachment loss: The practical work of reparative therapy, I want to focus on the family dynamics Nicolosi proposes to be at the source of male homosexuality. There are two basic types of family soil which Nicolosi believes grows some same-sex love: the “classic-triadic family” and the “narcissistic family.” If you are looking for the “relatively-normal-often-happy family” in this book, you won’t find it. According to Nicolosi, they don’t produce same-sex attracted men.

In the classic triadic family, the boy “experiences the father as an unsafe/unworthy object of identification,” mothers are “over-involved, intrusive, possessive and controlling,” and the sons are “temperamentally sensitive, timid, passive, introverted, artistic (!), and imaginative.” The result is that the mother and father do not have a good relationship, the father is distant and/or hostile with the son, the son avoids masculine play, the father fails to bring out the son’s masculinity, the mother smothers the boy and robs him of his assertion.

The narcissistic family is worse, it seems to me. The parents are more into themselves than the children. The family is invested in looking good to the world but has many family secrets which must be protected at all costs. I could say more about this family but I will save that for another post. What I want to get to is Nicolosi’s concept of “shared delight.” He says same-sex attracted males didn’t have any of that with their fathers. In a section with the heading, “The ‘Delight-Deprived’ Boy,” Nicolosi expounds on the experiences he says same-sex attracted males missed.

In my search for the particular quality of father-son bonding that is fundamental to the development of the boy’s masculine identity, I have been led to what I call a “shared delight.” I am convinced that the healthy development of masculine identification depends on this phenomenon. This special emotional exchange should be between the boy and his father, although a father figure or grandfather may serve the purpose where no father is available. It is not a single event or one-time occurrence, but should characterize the relationship.

This particular style of emotional attunement is especially important during the critical time of gender identification. Homosexual men rarely if ever recall father-son interaction that includes activities that they both enjoy together. In this vital experience father and son share in the enjoyment (“delight”) in the boy’s success. (p.52).

Nicolosi then declares that homosexual men have great difficulty recalling childhood father-son times which were fun and exciting and which included success for the son. He stacks the deck a bit in favor of his thesis here by saying that gay men infrequently remember being coached by their fathers in an activity that “involves bodily activity or strength.” I say he stacks the deck because he is no doubt aware of research which finds a strong correlation between childhood gender nonconformity and adult homosexuality. While not true of all gay males, many do not remember such activities because neither father nor son liked those activities. And where dad did like them and son did not, it is often a sign of sensitivity that the dad did not force the son to pursue a sport for which the son has no interest or aptitude.  An aspect of what Nicolosi defines as “shared delight” sounds like having fun playing sports or active games together.

He then gives an excerpt of Malcolm Muggeridge’s autobiography where he describes going to his father’s office.

When he saw me, his face always lit up, as it had a way of doing, quite suddenly, thereby completely altering his appearance; transforming him from a rather cavernous, shrunken man into someone boyish and ardent. He would leap agilely off his stool, wave gaily to his colleague…and we would make off together. There was always about these excursions an element of being on an illicit spree, which greatly added to their pleasure. They were the most enjoyable episodes in all my childhood. (Wolfe, 2003, p.26).

He then contrasts this depiction of father-son bliss with clinical tales of clients who were not delighted with their fathers.

When I read this section, I was reminded of stories my clients have told me about their fathers over the years. Most of those clients were straight, and many of those stories were sad and empty. People do benefit when they feel approved by their fathers and indeed people with clinical concerns often relate pain from their upbringing. Here again, Nicolosi seems to be oblivious to the fact that his clients are unhappy and experiencing various problems which bring them to counseling. That these men fail to remember happy office visits may not say anything generalizable to all gay men.

Then I also thought of an email exchange I had with a gay man who wanted to understand my positions on various issues related to sexual orientation. The man is well educated and was raised in the Catholic church. He also sought reparative therapy for several years in an effort to reverse his homosexuality. He eventually determined the effort was futile and accepted that he was attracted to the same sex and worked toward a resolution within his faith. I asked him what he remembered about his father and he wrote:

My father was probably one of the most honest men I ever knew.  Being Italian, FAMILY was important and he showed his love by making sure that we did things as a family.  We ate dinner together always and took many educational vacations.  Dad was very handy with his hands and could fix almost anything around the house that “broke.”  I often helped him when he needed a “third” hand.  He was intelligent and hardworking.  When I was young, he tried very hard to get me interested in sports and other traditionally “masculine” activities, etc., but I just wasn’t interested.  So…what I was able to give him — something that he also valued — was being good in my studies, ultimately obtaining my Ph.D.  He was very proud of me.  When my mother was so rigid in her religious beliefs that she was not able to accept me as a “gay son,” it was my dear father who told me he loved me and who kept the family together. 

Does this sound like a distant father and son? It is clear that this man loves his dad, knows his dad loved him and was proud of him and viewed him as a salient father. If we are to believe adult recollections as Nicolosi does when they come from unhappy men, then what keeps us from believing this man? If the reparative therapist complains that this man is in denial, I will respond that reparative therapist’s clients have been indoctrinated. Or perhaps a more neutral response would be to say that the therapist’s clients are correct and so is my email friend. In which case, perhaps “shared delight” is a feature of the child development of many fortunate boys, gay and straight, but has little, if anything, to do with eventual sexual attractions.

I emphasize attractions here because I do think a poor relationship with father could affect self-control and thus influence a person to gravitate to a more behaviorally promiscuous life, whether gay or straight. I also wonder if some men are so damaged by their fathers that they respond to any kindness and their sexual responses are guided and shaped by their emotional hunger. Although it is possible that father-deprived males compose some important share of the caseload at Nicolosi’s Thomas Aquinas Psychological Services, I do not believe the lion’s share of gay males who are not in therapy would describe their lives this way.

In fact, father-son estrangement is as universal as fathers and sons. Books and movies (note this website with this theme in 25 movies) use this theme constantly as it tugs at the experience of so many men, gay or straight. For a description of this estrangement from a straight male, see this book (I Thought We’d Never Speak Again) and especially the story of Paul Howerton (“There was nothing about his father that Paul wanted to emulate…”).

The next post will address more of the father-son issues raised by Nicolosi’s book and discuss the concerns I have about Christian groups ratifying them uncritically.

Related post:

Shame and Attachment Loss: Going from bad to worse

Also read Fathers, Sons and Homosexuality for a father’s view of the reparative thesis.

Brain plasticity and sexual orientation: Wrapping up with a couple of experts

Earlier this month, I posted three times regarding an article by Neil and Briar Whitehead with the title, “Brain Plasticity Backs Up Orientation Change.” This is a wrap up for those posts to indicate that very little backs up the Whiteheads’ article.

I asked Adam Safron and Norman Doidge to comment about the Whitehead article. Dr. Doidge is the author of the book (The Brain that Changes Itself) misrepresented by the Whiteheads. As I noted in a previous post, the Whiteheads failed to cite Doidge completely and provided quotes which gave the incorrect impression of Dr. Doidge’s views. About sexual reorientation, Dr. Doidge pointed me to the correct passages in his book and wrote in an email:

Readers of all my actual quotes will see that I have made no comments on therapeutic techniques for changing sexual preference and plasticity in my book.

And of course, that is the problem with how the Whiteheads treated Doidge’s book. As I pointed out here, they provided only part of his quotes and failed to include what he actually said about sexual preferences, which was very little.

Adam Safron is a researcher at Northwestern University and the lead author of the article I often cite here titled, “Neural Correlates of Sexual Arousal in Homosexual and Heterosexual Men.” He read the Whitehead article and had several reactions, two of which I will share here. First, the Whiteheads say that changing sexual orientation and learning a musical instrument would be about the same.

Because of brain plasticity it’s quite possible that homosexuals can become more heterosexual and heterosexuals could become homosexual, though persistent work could be needed, about equivalent to learning a new musical instrument.

Safron’s reaction to this was to say, “There is absolutely no evidence for this statement.” However, in spite of no evidence, the Whiteheads press their case regarding musical lessons and sexual preference. They write:

Even if part of the brain is strongly associated with a particular sexuality it should be possible to change it. Stopping a sexual activity and avoiding stimulation of that brain region, and plunging into some other intense brain activity for months would lead to a diminishing of the intensity of that sexual response. Months is about the timescale of first significant change. That can be true for learning a musical instrument too!

To this proposition, Safron responded,

But the devil is in the details here.  How large is the change? How permanent? People can frequently modify their behavior on short time-scales but find themselves going back to their old ways on longer time scales. These arm-chair speculations are no substitution for real studies actually looking at the efficacy of therapy designed to change orientation.

No substitute indeed. Safron makes a good observation. What does plasticity mean in terms of durability? And then how would be able to know unless research can find some verification. Unless the Whiteheads are keeping secrets, we can only go on what research we have. Apparently, learning a new orientation is not as easy as learning a new musical instrument, given the modest changes reported in existing studies.

Parents and Friends of Ex-gays now has this article up as well.

Related posts:

Brain plasticity and sexual orientation: Train it to gain it?

NARTH authors again mislead readers: More on brain plasticity and sexual orientation

My Genes Made Me Do It and brain plascticity