Gay rights activist to speak at assembly


Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, the Oct. 10 assembly speaker, has shared his experiences with upper school audiences twice before.

Jennings gave a speech in 1999 and 2005 at the Upper School that people still talk about, said Jeff Snapp, adviser of the Gay Straight Alliance.

Upper school dean, Canh Oxelson, described Jennings’s speeches as “phenomenal”.

“One of the greatest things he did, was he made me really think about who I am as a person,” said Oxelson.

“It made me think a lot about the kind of kid we want to graduate Harvard-Westlake,” he said, “students that really celebrate diversity and students proud of themselves.”

Jennings graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1985. He became a faculty adviser to the nation’s first gay-Straight Alliance at Concord Academy in Massachusetts.

In 1990 Jennings founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. With his leadership, GLSEN has increased the number of students protected from harassment and discrimination based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity by over 600 percent. They also made school safety a national issue.

Jennings was rewarded with the Human and Civil Rights Award of the National Education Association.

He has authored six books and helped write and produce a documentary.

Jennings’ one-hour presentation entitled, “Hidden from History: Five Centuries of LGBT history in America” discusses the experiences of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender people in America from before the arrival of white people in North America to the battle over gay marriage in the 21st century.

“As a lesbian woman and “out” teacher, I think it’s important to let students know, heck even other adults, that it’s okay to be just who you are — gay, straight, bi-sexual, transgender…. an artist, a chef,” said Leslie Rockenbach, an upper school history and social studies teacher.

“I think it’s so much more than about being gay…it’s about being the truth of who you are. We all need support to uncover the ways we hide from each other and ourselves,” she said.