Protecting LGBTQ youth

Kevin Jennings reflect on his childhood and schooling experience to helps parents with children in the same unsafe environment know who to protect their child and move them to healthier conditions.
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Protecting LGBTQ youth

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If your LGBTQ child is having trouble in school, they are being bullied and harassed, there are a few things that I would recommend. First of all, be absolutely fierce and uncompromising in your dealing with the school to make them do the right thing. Your child has a right to an education and you should make sure they get it. Secondly, if you genuinely feel like your child is unsafe, you may need to pull your kid out of that school. I know if you live in a rural area, that's a lot harder because you may not have any other schooling options. You cannot allow your child to go to a place every day where they are being told they are worthless and they are not being protected because we know what that does is it leads to low self-esteem, feelings of isolation, those are the problems that lead to disproportionate levels of suicide, of depression, and of drug us in LGBTQ youth. If your kid is in a truly unhealthy and unsafe environment, you may need to pull them out. This is what my mother did when I was in Tenth Grade, as a result of her doing that and making the school system put me in a different school where I was safer, I went from being, almost a high school dropout, to being the first person in my family to graduate from college. You may need to take some really extreme measures to protect your kid. Your number one job, above everything else, is to protect your kid. If that means pulling your kid out of the school, I urge you to do it.

Kevin Jennings reflect on his childhood and schooling experience to helps parents with children in the same unsafe environment know who to protect their child and move them to healthier conditions.

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Expert Bio

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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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