How sexual identity talks can improve parent-child bond

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How sexual identity talks can improve parent-child bond

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In the end, my being gay, I think, was a gift to my mother and myself, because it forced us to go through a process together that brought us a lot closer. My mother was a fundamentalist Christian, she had a very hard time accepting that she had a gay son, just like she had a hard time accepting that she had a son who married an African-American woman. But she loved her kids and she made a conscious effort to unlearn the homophobia and the racism that all people of her generation – she was born in 1925 in the mountains of Tennessee – grew up with. And because she tried so hard and she was willing to learn and to grow, we had kinds of conversations that I don’t know a lot of parents have, because we actually had to talk about things and we had to talk about our relationship and we had to talk through the issues that brought us together and also tore us apart. And because of that, I think we had an unusually honest relationship and I was incredibly close to her. One of the things that I’m most grateful for was literally my mother’s last words before she died were to tell me, “I’m so proud of you.” And I think that’s what… that only happens in movies, I joke, but that’s what every kids wants out of their parents. And I think the fact that my mother and I were able to have such an honest and open relationship probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been gay.

View Kevin Jennings's video on How sexual identity talks can improve parent-child bond...

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Kevin Jennings

Educational Specialist

Kevin Jennings is the Executive Director of the Arcus Foundation, a leading global foundation advancing pressing social justice and conservation issues. Specifically, Arcus works to advance LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) equality, as well as to conserve and protect the great apes.

Kevin has a long and distinguished career as an educator, a social justice activist, a teacher, and an author. From 2011-2012 Kevin was CEO of Be the Change, a nonprofit that creates national issue-based campaigns on pressing problems in American society. While there he helped launch Opportunity Nation, a campaign designed to increase opportunity and economic mobility in America.

From 2009-2011 Kevin served as Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education, heading the department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS). In this role, Mr. Jennings led federal efforts to promote the safety, health and well being of America’s students. Kevin led the Obama Administration’s anti-bullying initiative, which culminated in March 2011 with the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention keynoted by President Obama.

Kevin began his career as a high school history teacher and coach, first at Moses Brown School in Providence, R.I., from 1985 to 1987, and then at Concord Academy in Concord, Mass., from 1987 to 1995. At Concord, he served as the faculty advisor to the nation’s first Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) leading him in 1990 found GLSEN, a national education organization bringing together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and straight teachers, parents, students, and community members who wanted to end anti-LGBT bias in our schools. Jennings left teaching in 1995 to build the all-volunteer GLSEN organization into a national force, serving as its founding Executive Director until 2008. Under his leadership, GLSEN programs such as Gay-Straight Alliance, the Day of Silence and No Name-Calling Week became commonplace in America’s schools. GLSEN’s advocacy was key in passing comprehensive safe schools laws in eleven states, increasing the number of students protected from anti-LGBT discrimination from less than 900,000 in 1993 (less than 2% of the national student body) to 14.3 million by 2008 (nearly 30%).

Kevin became the first member of his family to graduate from college when he received his B.A. magna cum laude in history from Harvard University in 1985. He is the founder of First Generation Harvard Alumni, an alumnae/i organization of Harvard graduates who were the first in their families to graduate from college who offer mentoring to current undergraduates who are the first in their families to attend college. He also holds an MA in education from Columbia University’s Teachers College, from which he received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2012, and an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. He has received the “Friend of Children” Award from the National Association of School Psychologists, the Human and Civil Rights Award of the National Education Association, the Distinguished Service Award of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Diversity Leadership Award of the National Association of Independent Schools. He is a Board Member of the Harvard Alumni AssociationUnion Theological Seminary, and the You Can Play Project, a groundbreaking effort to combat homophobia and transphobia in sports. He is also Board Chair for the Tectonic Theater Project, which created The Laramie Project. Kevin is a founding member of the New York City Gay Hockey Association, and plays left wing on The Boxers.

Mr. Jennings has authored six books, with his latest, Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir, being named a Book of Honor by the American Library Association in 2006. He also helped write and produce the documentary Out of the Past, which won the 1998 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for Best Documentary.

Mr. Jennings and his partner, Jeff Davis, a senior executive at Barclay’s, are celebrating 20 years together in 2014. They are the proud “parents” of a Bernese mountain dog, Ben, and also have a “granddog” in Ben’s son, Jackson.

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