Transgender concerns

What are you biggest concerns as the parent of a transgender youth? Kevin Jennings, a specialist on education of LGBTQ youth, provides thoughtful responses to all concerns.
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Transgender concerns

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I think the first concern of parents of transgender children is: Is my child going to be safe? Even compared to gay and lesbian youth, transgender youth are much more likely to become the victims of violence. It would be a normal response on the part of any parent to worry about their child's safety if their child is transgender. So I think that's the first hurdle that a parent has to overcome, is that fear that their child is going to get hurt. Then secondly, we are raised from when we were young to have definite roles based on their gender, beginning at birth. There is now a new tradition at baby showers where people are baking cakes that have white icing, but pink or blue on the inside. When the cake is cut, everybody finds out what gender the baby is going to be. If we are before kids being born, choosing our desserts based on the gender they are going to be, we have a strong sense that a certain gender needs a certain kind of behavior. When we find out that our biologically female child identifies as a male, that can be very confusing and very upsetting for us. I think there are two things that parents of transgender teens deal with. First of all, a legitimate fear for their child's safety. Secondly, an entire history of cultural programming that your biological sex determines your behavior; which in the case of transgender teens, simply is not the case.

What are you biggest concerns as the parent of a transgender youth? Kevin Jennings, a specialist on education of LGBTQ youth, provides thoughtful responses to all concerns.

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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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