Kevin Xiong poses for a portrait at New Millennium Academy in Brooklyn Center, MN on April 4, 2022. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Kevin Xiong, Executive Director, New Millennium Academy, Hmong charter school

Pronouns: Gender Fluid

Kevin Xiong moved to Minnesota from North Carolina in 2006 with $500 in his pocket. After reading a story in the “Hmong Times” newspaper about Shades of Yellow, Xiong relocated in order to join their informal support group for LGBTQ Hmong men. Xiong was 25 at the time.

In 2009, SOY received a grant from the Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders Philanthropy Fund and hired Xiong as its first executive director. The non-profit received national recognition for its work in the LGBTQ Hmong community and created safe spaces for youth and adults to socialize and network. 

After SOY closed, Xiong signed on as director of operations at New Millennium Academy, a Hmong charter school in Brooklyn Center. He examined the school’s resources for LGBTQ students, and implemented an on-site therapist and two additional school counselors to work with students.

He left the school in 2019 for a short time, but returned in 2020 as the school’s executive director. In 2021, Xiong declared the school an anti-racist school, citing the killing of two Black men by local police.

Xiong said he made the declaration, “In light of all of the murders of Black and brown men, and with George Floyd and Daunte Wright right in our backyard, to the increase in Asian hate and rhetoric across the United States. Part of that means that we are creating an equity structure both through a curriculum lens and through an operational lens.”

He said that includes creating spaces for Black, brown, and LGBTQ students.

Xiong is currently developing a strategic plan with equity and inclusion expert Tyneeta Canonge, who is the director of the office of equity and community engagement at The Blake School. The plan will include strategies to help eliminate barriers students face and promote social justice within the school culture. 

New Millennium Academy also recently started using the AMAZEWorks curriculum, a learning platform based on respecting individual differences, supporting healthy identities, and connecting different communities.The tool provides strategies for teachers to talk directly with students about sexuality and personal identity while providing an inclusive environment. The school offers individual therapy and group sessions for LGBTQ students and plans to include family members in therapy sessions.  

Xiong wants to continue fostering understanding about LGBTQ issues with the school’s families. At least 50 percent of the families are immigrants and refugees from Laos or Thailand, and the other half are first- and second-generation Americans who were raised in the United States. 

“We are making waves in getting the support of our families, but we still have very traditional, conservative Hmong families that will require more time and more conversations and engagement for them to understand LGBTQ folks,” said Xiong. 

“Even as the former executive director of SOY and as a leader of a mainstream Hmong institution, my responsibility and my role is to make families understand. That is going to continue to be my effort–to engage and to include parents in these conversations so they understand that LGBTQ folks do exist, and we need their support.”

After Xiong began work at the school in 2017, he increased the LGBTQ staff by 200 percent. Currently, at least 12 staff members identify with the LGBTQ community. He said creating a school environment that supports LGBTQ staff and students can also help families talk about LGBTQ issues at home.

“If we train and teach our scholars the importance of acceptance and why it’s important to accept everyone, then they will go back home and teach their parents,” Xiong said. “If we educate our Hmong staff and students, they are going to go out there and a rippling effect is going to happen. There is still some more work to be done and we hope to continue these conversations with our school community.”

Marla Khan-Schwartz is a social worker and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in Growler Magazine, Northeaster Newspaper, 89.3 The Current's blog, and Mitchell Hamline School of Law.