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James Pennington

Board Member

Membership Co-Chair

Pronouns: he/him/his


James Pennington was born and raised in Booneville, MS until he moved with his Auntie Annabelle to the South Side of Chicago when he was 11 ½ years old. He completed his education at the University of Chicago and Concordia University, River Forest, Illinois. He Majored in Educational Psychology, Theology and Philosophy and later secured his Master of Social Work.


James is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, a progressive, open, and affirming denomination. He served two fully inclusive communities of faith in Minneapolis, MN and Phoenix, AZ.


He lived in Novosibirsk, Siberia for 1 ½ years working with an underground organization supporting HIV positive individuals and doing leadership development at Novosibirsk State University. Upon his return from Siberia, James was the Central Wisconsin area Director for the Wisconsin AIDS Network, specifically targeting gay men and other targeted populations at risk of HIV/AIDS transmission. While employed at the Madison AIDS Network he directed a harm-reduction clean needle exchange for thirteen counties throughout south-central Wisconsin.


James later became the Director of the Pathfinders shelter and Street Beat Street Outreach Programs that served at-risk homeless and runaway youth throughout Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha, Wisconsin.


He eventually became the Executive Director of the Milwaukee LGBTQIA Community Center working tirelessly for full-marriage equality for our community.


Finally, James has landed back in Mississippi on the Gulf Coast. He serves as the Executive Director of Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, MS and started service there on February 22, 2021. Back Bay Mission serves the unsheltered and persons living in poverty throughout our coastal community. Confident that this is an opportunity to serve utilizing all his previous experience, he perceives this as “coming full circle.” He is thrilled to be on the Board of Gulf Coast Equality during this historic time when many of the rights of those in the margins are being threatened.

James was a foster parent to Jamile and Jamal – brothers.  Eventually he adopted them and it was one of the greatest gifts of his life.  They both reside in Milwaukee, WI.

James has always had a heart for justice and has spent a lifetime seeking to understand the dynamics of the civil rights movement and how it can inform other movements for equity and justice. His constant companion is Jackson, a “boxador” who loves to offer therapeutic pets and licks. James' observations are peppered with insights of the Deep South, the Upper Midwest, the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, and Eastern Europe.

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