Kevin Jennings was born to a Baptist minister in Raleigh, North Carolina, at a time when segregation was still rampant, and his uncle was a Grand Kliegel in the Ku Klux Klan. His father died when he was young and his mother, who despite genius-level intelligence had been forced to end her schooling in eighth grade, worked at McDonald's to support the family.
Jennings knew that education was his only way out, but despite the fact that he was headed to Harvard on a scholarship, struggles with his sexuality led him to a troubled adolescence in which he attempted suicide during his senior year of high school.
Jennings' arrival at college led him to try to abandon his Southern accent and other marks of his identity, but slowly he learned that who he was was nothing to be ashamed of, and gradually began to accept himself.
As a history major he became fascinated by the search for a queer past, and by the time he graduated with honors he was already deeply committed to bringing queer history to light and into the classroom. Kevin Jennings graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, where he delivered the Harvard Oration at the 1985 Commencement. In 1993, he was named a Joseph Klingenstein Fellow at Columbia University, from which he received his M.A. in 1994.
He taught history at the Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island (1985-87) and at Concord Academy (1987-1994) in Concord, Massachusetts, prep school, where he started to act as an advocate for gay students. Recognizing the need for support for these students, he first spearheaded a movement for queer history in secondary education, authoring Becoming Visible a queer history reader for students, then moved to create a broader means of support.
At Concord Academy he also served as Chair of the History Department. In 1992 he was named one of the fifty "Terrific Teachers Making a Difference" by the Edward Calesa Foundation.
Kevin has become best-known for his work in the fight for equality for gay & lesbian youth. In 1990, he founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which brings together gay and straight teachers, parents, and community members who are working to end anti-gay bias in K-12 schools.
Today, he is the Executive Director of GLSEN (pronounced "glisten"), which is the largest organization of its kind in the United States, with chapters in over 60 cities. In 1992 Kevin was appointed to co-chair the Education Committee of the Governor's Commission on Gay & Lesbian Youth by Massachusetts Governor William Weld.
He was the principal author of its report, Making Schools Safe for Gay & Lesbian Youth, whose recommendations were adopted as policy by the Massachusetts State Board of Education in May 1993. The Commission led the fight which made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against public school students in December 1993.
Kevin's books include Becoming Visible: A Reader in Gay & Lesbian History for High School and College Students, the first book of its kind designed specifically for a high school audience, and One Teacher in Ten: Gay and Lesbian Educators Tell Their Stories, the latter of which was a finalist for the 1995 Lambda Literary Award for best anthology. His third book, Telling Tales Out of School: Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual People Remember Their School Years, was published in 1998.
Kevin was named one of Out Magazine's "Top 100 Newsmakers and Earthshakers" for his work in both 1995 and 1996. In 1997 he was named to Newsweek Magazine's "Century Club" as one of "100 people to watch in the new century."
Today he travels the world raising money and awareness for GLSEN, lobbying for gay rights, and speaking to students and teachers. He has also authored several more books and written a prize-winning documentary on gay history, Out of the Past.
Kevin currently lives in New York, with his partner, Jeff Davis, and is at work on an M.B.A. from New York University while continuing to serve as Executive Director of GLSEN.