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social sciences

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Jennings, Kevin (b. 1963)  
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Jennings' second book, Becoming Visible: A Reader in Gay and Lesbian History for High School and College Students, was published in 1994. The book's 39 readings describe the contributions of gay men and lesbians to cultures around the world. It is organized in a textbook format that allows teachers to examine important events in the history of gay men and lesbians.

In 1996, at East High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, a battle was beginning that would rock the entire country. Kelli Peterson, a lesbian student, was attempting to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at East High School. The school district immediately attempted to ban the group.

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Because the group could not legally be singled out for prohibition, the school system voted to ban all school clubs, including the chess club and the Bible club. The national news media had a field day with the story. The students at East High staged a massive walkout led by Peterson. GLSTN members from all over the country flew to Utah to support her.

Peterson's story served as the narrative thread for a documentary called Out of the Past, a project conceived by Jennings (who helped write and produce the film) with producer Eliza Byard and director Jeff Dupre. The film won the Audience Award for Best Documentary in the Sundance Film Festival in 1998.

As the 1996-97 school year ended, GLSTN voted to change its name to Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), to reflect the fact that there were more than teachers involved in the organization, and to include all students, gay and straight.

In 1997, Jennings was invited to the White House at the request of Richard Socarides, senior advisor to President Clinton and his liaison to the glbtq community. The invitation reflected Clinton's attempt to repair his relationship with the glbtq community after his inability to keep his promise to end the ban on gay men and lesbians in the military.

Jennings' third book, Telling Tales Out of School: Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals Revisit Their School Days (1998), won a Lambda Literary Award. In this book, forty adults recount their experiences as glbtq students.

In 2003, Jennings and Pat Shapiro published Always My Child: A Parent's Guide to Understanding Your Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Questioning Son or Daughter. The book counsels parents trying to understand and support children who claim an alternative sexual identity.

In the closing--and most poignant--essay of the book, Jennings recounts his personal story of reconciling with his mother in 2000.

In 2005, Jennings published a second, all-new edition of One Teacher in Ten with 39 new essays by glbtq educators. In his preface, "What a difference a decade makes?," he notes that no contributors in the new collection felt compelled to use pseudonyms, as opposed to several in the 1994 edition.

When Jennings started GLSEN in 1990, only one state (Wisconsin) protected gay men and lesbians from being fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation, and there were no Gay-Straight Alliances. Today, eleven states have laws protecting gay and lesbian students from bullying and harassment, and there are 4,200 GSAs in the United States. Under Jennings' leadership, GLSEN has made safe schools a national issue.

GLSEN programs such as GSA's No Name-Calling Day and Day of Silence are now observed in schools all over the country. GLSEN's National School Climate Survey in 2005 found that "students in schools with GSAs were less likely to feel unsafe at school and less likely to miss school because of a lack of safety."

Jennings was named to Newsweek Magazine's "Century Club," as one of 100 people to watch in the new century. He is also the recipient of the Human and Civil Rights Award of the National Education Association.

In 2005, Jennings suffered a near-fatal heart attack after coming off the ice in a game with the New York Gay Hockey Association. In 2006, he published Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son, a book about his life and a tribute to his mother. After her death in 2002, Jennings established the Alice Jennings Fund at the Appalachian Community Fund, which provides support to organizations serving low-income and battered women in the South.

Although focused on glbtq youth, Kevin Jennings' work has benefited the entire gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community in the United States.

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