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social sciences

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Jennings, Kevin (b. 1963)  
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In ninth grade, Jennings reported the gym teacher to a guidance counselor who did not believe the boy's accusations and did nothing. Jennings learned another lesson: He could not count on the authorities to do the right thing because "they tended to side with those who had power already."

When it came time to return to school for tenth grade, Jennings told his mother he was not going back to school. He told her about the harassment and abuse he had suffered for the past four years, and she--after confronting the guidance counselor--helped him transfer to another school.

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Jennings transferred to Paisley High, a school for gifted and talented students. There he joined the debate team and had his first sexual encounter with another boy. He had suspected he was gay but, as he says, because of the Baptist Church, "I wasn't allowed to know. Being gay was unthinkable."

Before Jennings' junior year started, he and his mother moved to Hawaii to live with his sister because his mother was exhausted from trying to support a family by working at McDonald's. There Jennings attended Radford High. When it came time to apply to colleges, his history teacher encouraged him to apply to Harvard, and he was accepted.

At Harvard, Jennings thrived. Not only did he do well academically, but he came out of his closet and told his mother he was gay. For years after his revelation, their relationship was, at best, strained.

After graduating from Harvard in 1985, Jennings accepted a teaching job at Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island where he taught for two years. His next job was at Concord Academy where, on November 10, 1988, Jennings came out to the entire campus in a Chapel Talk.

After his address, his students rushed the pulpit, crying and hugging him. When he got to his classroom, he saw that they had written on the blackboard, "We love you, Kevin, and we're so proud of you."

Soon after his public coming out, one of his students, a heterosexual girl whose mother was a lesbian, asked Jennings to help her start what she called a "Gay-Straight Alliance" at Concord. Jennings was off and running the first lap of what would become his two-decade fight for glbtq students.

In 1988, Jennings and his student founded the country's first Gay-Straight Alliance. Almost immediately other schools sought him out to speak on their campuses, and he became increasingly convinced that what was needed was a national organization to address the problems of glbtq students.

In 1990, Jennings, with three other people, founded GLISTeN, the Gay and Lesbian Independent School Teacher Network. In May, 1991, the organization held its first conference at Concord Academy; over 100 people attended. Also in 1991, the organization changed its name to GLSTN, Gay and Lesbian School Teachers Network.

In 1992, Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld asked Jennings to serve on the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. The Commission's report, released in 1993, was called "Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Youth." The state board of education voted unanimously to make the Commission's recommendations the official policy of the State of Massachusetts; the program, called Safe Schools for Gay and Lesbian Students, was the first of its kind in the nation.

In 1993, Jennings was awarded a Klingenstein Fellowship at Columbia University's Teachers College. He left Concord Academy that year and moved to New York where, in 1994, after receiving his M.A. from Columbia, he started the process of making GLSTN a national organization. GLSTN received $25,000 from an anonymous donor and Jennings set to work running the organization.

That same year he published his first book, One Teacher in Ten: Gay and Lesbian Educators Tell Their Stories. The book compiles the stories of 40 glbtq educators who discuss what it is like to be gay and teaching.

In his travels to help establish GLSTN chapters in 1994, Jennings met David Mixner, then a confidant of President Clinton, who gave him a list of the twenty biggest donors to gay causes, and GLSTN began to receive the funds necessary to expand.

Jennings also met his life partner, Jeff Davis, a financial consultant, at GLSTN's first event in New York in 1994. Davis advised Jennings about practical matters related to GLSTN, and helped guide the organization towards achieving its goals. Today, Davis is the Global Head of Marketing for Lehman Brothers' Equities group.

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