• Nic F. Anderson

GLSEN Appoints Its First Black, Nonbinary Director


Head shot of Melanie Willingham-Jaggers via GLSEN press release.


LGBTQ+ advocacy group, GLSEN, has a new director and the first Black nonbinary director, at that: trailblazer Melanie Willingham-Jaggers.


“LGBTQ+ students across the country are facing a crisis amid attacks on their rights and the ongoing pandemic, and we need bold leadership now more than ever,” GLSEN Board of Directors Chair, Rocío Inclán, said in a press release. “A true leader for their community, Melanie always looks first to the grassroots leadership of the LGBTQ+ youth of color, trans youth and youth with disabilities who are on the frontlines, and centers their experiences and needs in all GLSEN’s work. Melanie is exactly the leader our movement needs to bring our fight for LGBTQ+ justice to the next level as GLSEN’s Executive Director.”


GLSEN works toward making schools safer for LGTBQ+ students from grades K-12 and was originally founded to stop bullying against LGBTQ+ youth.


“LGBTQ+ young people in schools and their student groups, like GSAs, have always been the hub, kind of the breeding ground, the soil from which these sparks of activism come up. What we understand is that young people — period — are going to help us understand the vision forward and the way forward to the future,” Willingham-Jaggers said to NBC News.


GLSEN has conducted research on LGBTQ+ students in school and uses the findings to suggest new school policies. One of the more known reports is the National Climate Survey, which focuses on LGBTQ+ middle and high school students’ experiences with discrimination, bullying and harrassments.


Willingham-Jaggers told NBC that GLSEN has made building safety based on three pillars: 1) advancing racial, gender and disability justice outcomes and education; 2) building digital connections; and 3) unifying GLSEN across its 38 chapters to ensure grassroots organizing.


The new director has been working with LGBTQ+ youth officially and unofficially since they were 17 years old, starting when they were a camp counselor in Southern California. Officially, however, they began in 2009 in New York City where they worked for an organization that supported runaway and homeless LGBTQ+ youth whose families rejected them due to their identities.


“It was really kind of a formative moment for me to understand that, yeah, I was working with runaway and homeless kids, but this is part of a larger LGBTQ+ movement to really change the world so that these young people know that the world is worth sticking around in,” they said to NBC.


“The appointment of Melanie Willingham-Jaggers heralds an exciting new chapter in the organization’s history,” s CEO, Lambda Legal and GLSEN founder, Kevin Jenning, said in a press release, “I look forward to seeing GLSEN reach new heights under their leadership.”