LGBT trailblazer donates to local center
(pictured above: The ribbon is cut to open the North Star Center last year.)
The North Star LGBT Community Center, 704 Brookstown Ave., has received a $5,000 gift from Kevin Jennings, a former Lewisville resident who serves as the executive director of the Arcus Foundation, which works to advance LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) equality and to conserve and protect the great apes.
In acknowledgement of the gift, North Star will name the Center’s Resource Library after Jenning’s mother, Alice Johnson Jennings.
Jennings said he grew up in a rural atmosphere of intolerance and was constantly taunted and bullied. He attended Paisley Magnet School, where he did well academically, but says he was beaten by classmates for what they perceived as his effeminate behavior. Jennings attempted suicide after realizing he was gay. He and his mother eventually moved to Hawaii, where he completed high school.
When asked about his gift to the Center, Jennings explained, “Growing up gay in Winston-Salem in the ’70s was a difficult experience (that) I’d never want anyone to have ever again. By supporting this new center, Jeff and I are doing our part to make sure the next generation doesn’t have to go through what we went through. We decided to name the library after my late mother to remember her support of us and her own activism as the founder of the PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays) chapter in Winston-Salem in the late ’80s.”
Jennings began his career as a high school history teacher and coach and served as the faculty advisor to the nation’s first Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), leading him in 1990 to found the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (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 11 states, increasing the number of students protected from anti-LGBT discrimination from less than 900,000 in 1993 (less than 2 percent of the national student body) to 14.3 million by 2008 (nearly 30 percent).
“Mr. Jennings immediately revealed his pleasure at the progress made by Equality Winston-Salem and North Star for LGBTQ rights and visibility in our community,” said North Star Board Member Dirk Robertson. “He was more than happy to offer immediate financial assistance to help see our goals of equality, acceptance, and accessibility met. He has also offered to do more work with the Arcus Foundation and others in New York City to help continue funding while gathering matching pledges from corporate friends in the Triad area.”
The North Star LGBT Community Center officially opened its doors to LGBT individuals and straight allies last September. It is the first center of its kind in Forsyth County and aims to enrich the lives of the LGBT community by providing a safe and accepting place for people of all ages and backgrounds.
For more information on North Star activities and events, call 336-893-9053 or visit www.northstarlgbtcc.com.