GLSEN, the organization advocating for safe and inclusive schools for LGBTQ+ students in grades K-12, has named its first Black and first nonbinary executive director.
Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, who has been interim executive director since Eliza Byard stepped down a year ago, has been named to the executive director position, GLSEN announced Wednesday. Willingham-Jaggers, who uses she/they pronouns, is the first person of color, first nonbinary person, and first Black woman to lead the organization.
"I am thrilled to continue and accelerate the important work GLSEN started more than 30 years ago," Willingham-Jaggers said in a press release. "Education is the cornerstone of our democracy and GLSEN's work is rooted in the belief that education can and should be an experience that is safe, inclusive, and affirming for all students. I am committed to ensuring our organization lives up to that promise and advances work based always on GLSEN's core strategies: anti-racism, gender justice, and disability justice."
Willingham-Jaggers joined GLSEN in 2019 as deputy executive director and before that was program associate director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. They have extensive experience in social justice movements involving a variety of marginalized groups, such as those who are currently or formerly incarcerated, involved in the underground economy, LGBTQ+, youth, immigrants, people with disabilities, and senior citizens. They also served as board chair at the Audre Lorde Center from 2016 to 2019.
"The appointment of Melanie Willingham-Jaggers heralds an exciting new chapter in the organization's history," said GLSEN founder Kevin Jennings, who is now CEO of Lambda Legal. "I look forward to seeing GLSEN reach new heights under their leadership."
"Melanie's expertise as an organizer and deep connections across movements are invaluable for the next chapter of GLSEN's work," added Byard, now senior adviser at Campaign for Our Shared Future. "The world of K-12 schools has been turned completely upside down over the past few years, and Melanie's vision and experience will provide the essential ingredients of new strategies for a new time."