GLSEN Gets a New Boss

You could say GLSEN is getting a new principal. On Wednesday the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network announced that Eliza Byard will become its new executive director, replacing founder and longtime executive director Kevin Jennings. Byard, who takes the reins on November 1, spoke to The Advocate about the task ahead for LGBT students and all of us who want to see them thrive.

BY Anne Stockwell

October 14 2008 11:00 PM ET

You could say
GLSEN is getting a new principal.

On Wednesday the
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network announced
that Eliza Byard will become its new executive director,
replacing founder and longtime executive director
Kevin Jennings. Byard, who takes the reins on November
1, spoke to The Advocate about the task ahead
for LGBT students and all of us who want to see them
thrive.

Any discussion of
GLSEN has to begin with Jennings, whose face has been
synonymous with the organization he founded. Byard has been
Jennings’s deputy since 2001, yet a GLSEN
without Jennings may take a bit of getting used to.

“GLSEN was
the brainchild of a very visionary, powerful
individual,” Byard said. “Our history to
date has been very much intertwined with his, and I
think that makes sense. [Now] we’re at a stage in the
organization’s growth where it’s ready to be
an institution that has many different faces.
That’s been forced upon us by Kevin’s decision
to leave, but it’s also the next right step for
the institution as a whole.”

Byard threw her
hat in the ring for the executive director job but
“insisted” on a national search, according to
a statement by Bob Chase, GLSEN national board chair.
Six months later, Byard got the job by unanimous vote.

“I was
pretty overwhelmed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the
response,” she said. “It meant the world
to me.”

While Jennings
came to GLSEN directly from the classroom, Byard got her
start as a producer working in film and TV.

“I was
working at channel 13 [the PBS flagship in New York] when I
was 13,” Byard said, not kidding. She even
interned as a teen with journalist’s journalist
Bill Moyers. “I always had the opportunity to
work on things that really matter to me. Mentors like
[Moyers] really gave me a sense of the larger purpose
of the work.”

Byard and
Jennings first crossed paths in 1995, when both joined the
creative team for the 1996 documentary Out of the
Past,
which interweaves the story of the struggle to
create a GSA in Salt Lake City with pivotal chapters
of LGBT history. Byard cowrote, coproduced, and
coedited the film; it won the audience award at Sundance
and later aired on PBS.

Education
fascinated her, for a couple of reasons.

“One, I
was studying U.S. history,” she said. (She would go
on to earn a Ph.D.) “Two, I did a project for
Frontline [in 1994] called School Colors
that was about multiculturalism in public education 40
years after Brown v. Board of Education. From my own
experience and from the people I was around making
that film, I’ve always had a clear sense that
education and school experience is crucial as one of the
few shared experiences that Americans have.”

Tags: Youth

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