Republican delegates to the National Education Association’s annual convention yesterday changed their caucus’ rules in order to remove their chairwoman over her stance against homosexuality.
A group of liberal Republicans from California and Texas joined forces to oust Diane Lenning, an Orange County, Calif., high school teacher, as chairwoman of the NEA Republican Educators Caucus.
The Republican infighting came as the nation’s largest school union overwhelmingly endorsed Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, who is scheduled to speak to the assembly at 5 p.m. today.
“It’s unfortunate people have chosen this time to stage a liberal Republican coup,” Mrs. Lenning said. “We could be recruiting new members and having a visual and verbal impact on the Representative Assembly floor when Kerry speaks.”
NEA delegates yesterday voted 7,390-1,153 to endorse Mr. Kerry.
Mrs. Lenning last week angered the union hierarchy and homosexual-studies activist Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), by publicly criticizing an NEA human rights award given to Mr. Jennings.
The Washington Times first reported Mrs. Lenning’s criticism of the NEA award, and the story was raised yesterday as a factor in the ouster effort.
Opponents of Mrs. Lenning voted 31-18 to change caucus bylaws and are expected to vote again for Mrs. Lenning’s ouster today. Mrs. Lenning did not attend the meeting, but said she recruited 100 new members for the Republican caucus instead.
In the first caucus meeting earlier yesterday, Mrs. Lenning acknowledged the ouster effort but pleaded for Republican delegates to map a strategy for today’s NEA blessing of the Democratic presidential hopeful.
“There is no hurdle we cannot jump, there is no wall we cannot get through,” she told about 50 delegates. “We have not come here today to throw people off this ship, to be piranhas. We are going to pull our oars together. We are too small a group to have petty differences. We are going to be one ship together, rowing together, in one direction.”
But another California delegate shouted back: “Do not vilify us.”
Wendy Gallimore, an NEA delegate from Sacramento, said Mrs. Lenning’s letter to NEA President Reg Weaver criticizing the GLSEN founder’s award was improper.
“When you come out with a harsh stance, it hurts us,” she said in an interview after the first meeting. “It’s offensive. As a Republican, you have to walk a fine line without going against the organization.”
In the letter, Mrs. Lenning said Mr. Jennings had broken Massachusetts law in 1988 by not reporting a 16-year-old high school student’s disclosure of emotional problems resulting from a sexual affair with an older man in Boston.
Mr. Jennings cited the youth’s problems in a book, saying he sympathized with the boy’s homosexual relationship after he came for guidance to Mr. Jennings, an openly homosexual teacher at Concord Academy in Concord, Mass.
A state “mandatory reporter” law required the teacher to inform state social services authorities of a possible case of child sexual abuse, which he did not do.
Mrs. Lenning asked Mr. Weaver: “Is it a good idea for the NEA to honor as exemplary a teacher who engages in unethical practice?”
Conservative Republican NEA members yesterday supported Mrs. Lenning.
“It’s a California civil war,” said Cindy Gaskins, a Georgia teacher and former vice chairwoman of the NEA Republican caucus.
“The rest of us would love to go on with the meeting. With an 86 percent vote for John Kerry, what are we doing? We’re bickering among ourselves.”
Jenny Evans of Texas, who said she was “a friend of the Bush family,” joined others in criticizing Mrs. Lenning for administrative and communications problems.
Mrs. Evans said she talked to NEA chief lobbyist Randall Moody at the banquet that honored Mr. Jennings and said he backed the effort to oust Mrs. Lenning.
“I know Randy Moody personally. He is aware of the problem,” she said.
Mr. Moody, a longtime board member for Planned Parenthood and co-chairman of Republicans for Choice, is a union adviser for the Republican caucus.