Jennings, Kevin 1963-
Jennings, Kevin 1963-
Born May 8, 1963, in Fort Lauderdale, FL (various sources list birthplace as Raleigh, NC, and Winston-Salem, NC); son of Chester Henry (a Baptist preacher) and Alice Verna Jennings; partner of Jeffrey Gerard Davis. Education: Harvard University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1985; Columbia University, M.A., 1994; New York University, Stern School of Business, M.B.A, 1999. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Ice hockey.
Home—New York, NY. Office—Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, 121 West 27th St., Ste. 804, New York, NY 10001-6207.
Educator and author. Moses Brown School, Providence, RI, history teacher, 1985-87; Concord Academy, Concord, MA, history teacher, 1987-94; Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSTEN), New York, NY, founder and executive director, 1994—. Point Foundation, trustee; Appalachian Community Fund, fundraising chair; lecturer and commentator on radio and television; editor; producer.
Joseph Klingenstein fellow, 1993; Lambda Literary Award, 1998, for Telling Tales out of School: Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals Revisit Their School Days; Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for Best Documentary, 1998, for Out of the Past.
(Editor) Becoming Visible: A Reader in Gay and Lesbian History for High School and College Students, Alyson Publications (Boston, MA), 1994.
(Editor) One Teacher in Ten: Gay and Lesbian Educators Tell Their Stories, Alyson Publications (Boston, MA), 1994, 2nd edition, Alyson Books (Los Angeles, CA), 2005.
(Editor) Telling Tales out of School: Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals Revisit Their School Days, Alyson Books (Los Angeles, CA), 1998.
(With Pat Shapiro) Always My Child: A Parent's Guide to Understanding Your Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Questioning Son or Daughter, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son: A Memoir, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2006.
Author and producer of documentary film Out of the Past, 1998.
Since founding the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in 1994, Kevin Jennings has been among the ranks of the leading gay rights advocates in the United States. As a speaker, writer, and commentator, he has promoted understanding and respect for people of all sexual orientations, particularly within the educational sphere. As Randal C. Archibold explained in the New York Times, GLSEN is staffed by fewer than twenty people, its offices located in New York's Chelsea district. With a budget comprised of foundation grants and donations, Jennings and his organization work to "raise awareness of the mistreatment of gay students as well as fight it." As Archibold reported, a 1999 GLSEN survey of almost 500 gay teens around the United States "found that 69 percent had received verbal, sexual, or physical harassment in school, and 42 percent reported having been physically harassed or assaulted." Having experienced such treatment while growing up, Jennings has dedicated much of his adulthood to fighting it. His 2006 book, Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son: A Memoir, documents his struggles growing up gay in an inhospitable environment, as well as other life experiences that got him to where he is today.
Jennings began his publishing career in 1994, the same year he founded and became executive director of GLSEN, by editing Becoming Visible: A Reader in Gay and Lesbian History for High School and College Students. Covering two millennia of human history, the book's thirty-nine readings describe the contributions of gays and lesbians to cultures around the world. Organized in a textbook-like format with each selection prefaced with notes by Jennings, the book allows readers "a chance to examine important events in the history of gays and lesbians," according to Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer Lynn Evarts, adding that it is "a chance that many of us need to take full advantage of." In the Harvard Educational Review Edward J. Miech praised Jennings's introductions as "succinct and informative," and the essays selected "engaging and insightful." Noting that because it is geared for a younger readership Becoming Visible avoids sexually explicit material, Heather Stephenson added in the Lambda Book Report that in this "groundbreaking" text, Jennings "strives to combat homophobia by building empathy, focusing from the start on prejudice and oppression," and in the process "chooses apt analogies for a teen audience."
Other edited collections by Jennings include One Teacher in Ten: Gay and Lesbian Educators Tell Their Stories and the Lambda Literary Award-winning Telling Tales out of School: Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals Revisit Their School Days. Recounting the experiences of homosexual teachers from a variety of educational systems in locations ranging from small towns to large cities, One Teacher in Ten describes dealing with "homophobic parents, the cruelty of kids, unsupportive administrators, [and] concern about exacerbating cultural differences" between teacher and student as hurdles common to many of its thirty-seven contributors, according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. In Lambda Book Report William J. Mann commended the volume as "a proud, compelling affirmation of the power of honesty, and the value of a truly honest education," while Harvard Educational Review critic Karen L. Mapp dubbed it "gripping, poignant, powerful, [and] emotionally charged." Reviewing, Telling Tales out of School, Library Journal contributor Debra Moore maintained that the book will "resonate with gay and bisexual readers."
Together with coauthor Pat Shapiro, Jennings has also authored one of the first books to focus on the day-to-day relationship between gay or sexually questioning teens and their parents. Always My Child: A Parent's Guide to Understanding Your Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Questioning Son or Daughter counsels confused parents attempting to understand and support children who have claimed or may claim an alternative sexual orientation. Suggestions regarding appropriate lines of communication, ways of recognizing and dealing with drug abuse or depression, and situations in which a parent's advocacy can aid a child in the world at large are all discussed. Praising the book in Library Journal, Linda Beck commended in particular Jennings' closing essay, in which he relates his personal story of reconciling with his mother as an adult, an essay Beck cited as being written with "the most fervor."
After being told for years that he should write a book about his life, Jennings finally decided to do so. It wasn't until he suffered a near fatal heart attack in 2005, however, that he was driven to actually finish his memoir. In 2006, Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son was finally published. Commended by reviewer Scott Whitney in Booklist as a "refreshingly readable memoir," it focuses on the events in Jennings' life that were crucial to his development. Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son "is Jennings' memoir of coming of age, coming out and moving on, told without self-pity" said Priya Jain in a review of the book on Salon.com. The book documents Jennnings's struggles growing up gay in a strict Baptist household in the South. It continues on through his later years in college (where he was finally able to come out) up to his experiences as an openly gay educator and activist. David R. Gillespie criticized the style in which the book was written in Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, remarking that "the book becomes a recitation of events, in more or less chronological order, which may not have been the best choice of structure given the often pedestrian nature of these events." He went on to say that "perhaps a thematic approach would have worked better, one that brought out the larger themes of Jennings' genuinely important life's work." In an interview with Matthew Robinson for EDGE Boston, Jennings said the book is "a tribute to my mother." The tribute was apparently a success, as a Kirkus Reviews contributor observed: "This memoir, which ends with Jennings delivering the eulogy at his mom's funeral, would make any mother proud."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Jennings, Kevin, Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son: A Memoir, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2006.
Booklist, September 15, 1994, Whitney Scott, review of One Teacher in Ten: Gay and Lesbian Educators Tell Their Stories, p. 89; August 1, 2006, Scott Whitney, review of Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son, p. 17.
Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, November-December 2006, David R. Gillespie, "One Gay Youth," review of Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son, p. 42.
Harvard Educational Review, summer, 1996, Edward J. Miech, review of Becoming Visible: A Reader in Gay and Lesbian History for High School and College Students, pp. 408-410, and Karen L. Mapp, review of One Teacher in Ten, pp. 412-413.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1994, review of One Teacher in Ten, p. 905; June 1, 2006, review of Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son, p. 557.
Lambda Book Report, July-August, 1994, Heather Stephenson, review of Becoming Visible, p. 38; March-April, 1995, William J. Mann, review of One Teacher in Ten, p. 47; fall, 2006, Jim Van Buskirk, review of Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son, p. 9.
Library Journal, May 1, 1998, David S. Azzolina, Becoming Visible, p. 121; November 15, 1998, Debra Moore, review of Telling Tales out of School: Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals Revisit Their School Days, p. 82; January, 2003, Linda Beck, review of Always My Child: A Parent's Guide to Understanding Your Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Questioning Son or Daughter, p. 146.
New York Times, October 27, 1999, Randal C. Archibold, "A Gay Crusader Sees History on His Side," p. B2.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1996, Lynn Evarts, review of Becoming Visible, p. 114.
EDGE Boston,http://www.edgeboston.com/ (September 20, 2006), Matthew Robinson, "Mama's Boy," interview with author.
Kevin Jennings Home Page,http://www.kevinjennings.com (April 5, 2007).
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (August 21, 2006), Priya Jain, "Son of a Preacher Man."