NEW YORK, N.Y. — In 1988, Kevin Jennings, a Winston-Salem, N.C., native and son of a Southern Baptist preacher, was a high school teacher in Concord, Mass. Concerned with the needs of LGBT students in his school, he helped the youngsters start the nation’s first gay-straight alliance (GSA), student clubs which work to offer support for LGBT students and advocacy for safer schools for all.
Kevin Jennings, a Winston-Salem, N.C., native, is stepping down as GLSEN’s head officer.
No one would have guessed then that almost 20 years later Jennings would become known as a nationally respected leader and advocate for LGBT students and their place in the educational system.
Now, as Jennings prepares to step down from his role as executive director, the organization faces a new chapter in its history, one that will not include the daily involvement of its founder and visionary — something they’ve had for 13 years.
“It has been the privilege of my life to serve as GLSEN’s founding executive director, and I believe I will never again have an experience that will be as rewarding and enriching as this one has been,” Jennings said. “As I look at beginning my 14th year in this position on July 1, and as I near the 20th anniversary of starting the first Gay-Straight Alliance at Concord Academy in the fall of 1988, I feel the need to move on and find new challenges in my life through which I can continue to help make our world a better place.
“While I won’t be involved in the organization’s day-to-day operations come August 1, I can’t imagine a time when I won’t be involved with this amazing organization. I’m looking forward to watching GLSEN grow and thrive in the years to come.”
Under Jennings’ leadership GLSEN grew from an all-volunteer group of Massachusetts teachers in 1990 to a national organization in 1994 and then as a recognized leader in the effort to secure safer K-12 schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. At its New York City and Washington, D.C. offices GLSEN employees a national staff of 40, has 35 community-based chapters and an annual budget of more than $6 million.
Today there are more than 3,700 GSAs registered with GLSEN, including more than 50 in Jennings’ home state. The organization operates several national programs, including No Name-Calling Week, which took place Jan. 21-26 and the Day of Silence in April. National leadership training and coordination with student leaders helps to support students in their work at the school level.
“Words cannot express the difference that Kevin Jennings has made to education in the United States,” said Bob Chase, chair of GLSEN’s Board of Directors and former president of the National Education Association. “While we are sorry to see him go, we are confident the organization will continue to grow and thrive under new leadership by building on the remarkable foundation his efforts have provided over the years.”
GLSEN, the largest LGBT-focused education organization, will begin their search for a new executive director soon. Currently, there are no GLSEN chapters in North or South Carolina. At one time, GLSEN had chapters in Greensboro, the Triangle and Winston-Salem. In those areas, new organizations or already existing PFLAG chapters have filled the need for advocacy in local schools.
info: www.glsen.org and www.kevinjennings.com