The activist and face of the LGBTQ+ community is forging her own path.
By Madison Patterson.
At first glance, Genevieve Onyiuke-Kennedy’s story begins with tragedy.
In 2017, Scout Schultz, the president of Georgia Tech’s Pride Alliance student advocacy group was shot and killed by a campus police officer. Scout was experiencing a mental breakdown, and as a result, an officer without crisis training took his life. There was of course national outcry, and as vice president of Georgia Tech Pride Alliance, Onyiuke-Kennedy was thrust into a national spotlight. The loss and publicity and pressure of that day certainly did change everything for her. But taking a closer look, it’s clear that she was destined for leadership from the start.
Onyiuke-Kennedy was born and raised in the United States but is also a dual citizen of Nigeria. Her parents, now divorced, are both Nigerian immigrants, which has proven an undoubtedly influential component of her identity. “I am a Nigerian-American, through and through,” she says. “I identify more with the African experience– honestly it’s an interesting straddling of identities.” She is multilingual, speaking both English and Igbo, which posed its own unique set of challenges growing up. “When I was a kid going to school, there were a lot of colloquialisms I didn’t get. It took me a long time to become talkative at all,” she says.
Another obviously integral aspect of her identity is her bisexuality, which she only shared publicly a couple of years ago. “I came out in college,” she says. “[I was] totally in the closet until basically my first day here at Tech.” Onyiuke-Kennedy and her best friend came out to each other the summer beforehand, and together they joined Pride Alliance during the first week of school. “Pride Alliance just made sense. It was something we could do to get comfortable with our identities, meet other people like ourselves, and understand what it means to be out.”
During the subsequent years, Onyiuke-Kennedy underwent a process of self-examination, figuring out how much her bisexual identity meant to her. “Your identity doesn’t get to develop if it’s a secret,” she says. Pride Alliance helped this process, and she eventually earned a leadership position and continued on that trajectory until she was vice president. “It was a huge learning opportunity,” she says. “I wasn’t fully educated on trans issues and identities, I didn’t know about the experiences of other people of color who are queer.”
As president, she had a number of items on her agenda to make Georgia Tech a more LGBTQ+-friendly environment, such as gender-inclusive housing and bathrooms, increased intersectionality within the group and a memorial bench for Schultz. Each initiative received pushback, ranging from a directive to not advertise inclusive housing to being forced to get creative in fundraising for the bench. For Onyiuke-Kennedy, the obstacles served as a stark reminder of the politics of change.
Although fighting for LGBTQ+ rights is one of Onyiuke-Kennedy’s major passions, leadership in many forms comes naturally to her. She is the vice president of student life in Georgia Tech’s Student Government Association, a Communications Center student consultant, and a diversity ambassador, to name just a few of the hats she wears. She also won the 2020 Southeastern Writing Center Association undergraduate peer tutor of the year award and, in 2018, earned a Victory Congressional Internship from the Victory Institute. Her work involves a lot of student advocacy and teaching. As she puts it: “I train other teachers and team leaders to make sure that their classes are inclusive, and how to [show] students that we’re accepting of all identities.” She fights for electric buses and more prayer spaces for Muslim students on campus, and takes on topics such as cancel culture with far more grace than many of our international leaders, most of whom are more than double her age. She works to ensure every corner of Georgia Tech is at its best for the students.
Her major is international affairs, an appropriately global pursuit for a truly global thinker. She has political aspirations post-graduation, aspirations that Georgia Tech and her congressional internship have certainly prepared her for. But she is not without doubt. “Sometimes I’m not really sure how I feel about [media attention],” she says. “I sometimes feel concerned that Scout’s death and everything that happened on campus subsequently, that my success is because of that.” But after speaking with her and understanding her accomplishments, little doubt remains that she was always destined for greatness.
Schultz’s memorial bench was one of those accomplishments, and a difficult one at that. After jumping through endless hoops made of red tape, she was finally able to secure funding for it. “When you look at it on paper it shouldn’t have been that hard, but it was. So, when it finally arrived on campus it was like a bit of a chapter closing,” she says. “It was a physical ending, but I know that I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure this never happens again. The end of one chapter and the beginning of another.”
Image credit: Selen Krgo