The Best Of Everything New York (TBOENY) was honored to sit down with Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal and former Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools to discuss his involvement with this year’s must-see documentary, Welcome to Chechnya, and his love of everything New York.
COVID-19 has not sidelined Kevin Jennings. As the newly minted CEO of Lambda Legal, Kevin and his army of legal eagles are on the frontline battle for LGBTQ+ civil rights. The courts are open and there were 200+ anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures in 2020 looking to chip away at LGBTQ+ advances made in recent years. Kevin’s goal at Lambda Legal is to defend the progress that has been made and to finish the fight for full equality. Lambda Legal has been at the forefront of every major LGBTQ court decision since their inception in 1973 and Kevin looks to continue that track record.
Kevin also spent the last few years working on the documentary, Welcome to Chechnya, which is set to air June 30 on HBO. As an Executive Producer, Kevin partnered with Oscar nominated director, David France (How To Survive A Plague), to tell the story of a group of brave activists risking their lives to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ+ campaign in the Russian Republic of Chechnya. “Security was of the utmost importance with this project,” Kevin says. “If any officials in Chechnya became aware of the filming, lives would have been lost.”
Since 2016, Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has waged a vile campaign to “cleanse the blood” of LGBTQ+ Chechens that has included kidnapping, detainment, torture, and death. This documentary shines a light on the activists who face unimaginable risk trying to rescue at-risk Chechens and to bring attention to these atrocities.
Diversity and standing up for human rights are vital parts of New York life that Kevin connects with. For most of his adulthood, Kevin has called New York ‘home’. His very first visit to the Big Apple was back in college, where he recalls being fascinated by the graffiti covered subways he had seen in movies. He had never encountered anything like them in rural North Carolina where he grew up. The energy he felt from the people that day began a love affair with New York that has never ended. He was left with a lasting feeling that he “could be anyone, and do anything”. He has lived by that principle ever since and has gone on to author numerous books, serve in the Obama administration, and lead the Tenement Museum, among many other impressive roles.
Indulge with some of Kevin’s New York faves:
*Best New York Pizza: Grimaldi’s Pizza (Original Brooklyn location or Chelsea Limelight location). Thin crust classic NY Pizza at its best.
*Best New York Bar: Boxers Chelsea. The “Cheers” of the gay community.
*Best New York Museum: Tenement Museum (Orchard St). The stories of the immigrant and migrant experience in New York.