Kevin Jennings

The board of directors of Lambda Legal today announced that the organizations has named Kevin Jennings as its new CEO. Jennings, who founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and led that organization for 18 years, has most recently served as president of New York City’s Tenement Museum. He was also assistant secretary of education for President Barack Obama, after which he led the Arcus Foundation, the world’s largest foundation for LGBT rights organizations, for five years.

Lambda Legal Board Chair Anne Krook, in announcing the organization’s choice of Jennings, said, “Kevin’s deep roots in the LGBT movement, his expertise with federal public policy, his advocacy for immigrants and his personal experience as an educator raised in the South is a blend of attributes that make him the clear choice as the next CEO of Lambda Legal.”

“For nearly 50 years, Lambda Legal has been on the frontlines of the fight for LGBT rights in our courts on behalf of transgender students, workers fired for being gay, transgender service members, and service members living with HIV,” she added. “Now, more than ever, we need a leader who has cut his teeth in the movement and understands and embraces the significance of Lambda Legal’s legacy and commitment to the community.”

Jennings himself described his new position as Lambda Legal’s CEO “a dream job that anyone would love to have.

“I am thrilled to be stepping into this role at such a critical time for Lambda and our nation,” Jennings continued. “From my childhood as the son of Southern Baptist preacher to when I became a member of the Obama administration, I’ve known what it’s like to be the target of hateful, anti-LGBT bullies, but those attacks only made me more determined to challenge them. I’ve devoted my life since I was a high school history teacher to advocating for LGBT people and everyone living with HIV, and I’m excited to join Lambda Legal to continue that work.”

Jennings involvement in the LGBTQ rights movement began in 1988 when he helped students create the first school-based Gay-Straight Alliance club. That led to the founding of GLSEN. He has received several awards, both national and international recognition, including 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, the Diversity Leadership Award of the National Association of Independent Schools, the Bob Angelo Medal from COC Netherlands, and the “Appalachian Hero” Award from the Appalachian Community Fund, where he established the Alice Jennings Fund, which provides support to organizations serving low-income and battered women in the South.

Jennings is also  a Lambda Literary Award-winning author of seven books, with his memoir, Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir, having been 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, and is an Executive Producer of the documentary The Lavender Scare.

Jennings currently the chairs the boards of the Ubunye Challenge and Muslims for Progressive Values.  He is a past board member of the Harvard Alumni Association, Union Theological Seminary, Marjorie’s Fund and the You Can Play Project, and was the founding board chair for the Tectonic Theater Project, which created The Laramie Project.  He is the founder of the Pride Fund of the Connecticut Community Foundation.

Jennings is a graduate of Harvard College, with a masters of education from Columbia University’s Teachers College and an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2012 from Columbia.

Richard Burns, past Lambda Legal board member and former executive director of the NYC LGBT Community Center, has been Lambda Legal’s Interim CEO since last year. He will stay on through January 2020 to ensure a smooth transition. Jennings will start on Dec. 2.

— Tammye Nash