We have a few updates on the volleyball coach from Denver, Colorado who was fired from his school because he’s gay. While some of the news is good, some of it is bad.
First, the bad news. We recently shared the story of Inoke Tonga, a boys’ volleyball coach who was fired after a Facebook post about his sexuality was discovered by school officials. Now, according to ABC Denver, Lauren Benner, who was the head women’s lacrosse coach and the school’s 2019 coach of the year, says she experienced the same thing.
“I feel it is important for me to no longer stay silent and to share my similar experience of being mistreated by Valor,” she wrote on Instagram. “As I write this I am anxious and am in tears, but it is clear that so many other LGBTQ+ Valor staff and students need to know they are not alone.”
In her post, Benner shared that the school’s athletic director and human resources manager confronted her in early 2020. A tip from an undisclosed parent was made to the officials. The tip shared that Benne was dating another woman.
“I was asked to confirm or deny. My stomach dropped. I was still on a journey to self-discovery and so for someone, an employer nonetheless, to spontaneously ask me about my sexuality and dating life felt beyond violating,” Benner wrote.
Caught off-guard, Benner initially denied the idea that she was dating another woman. That led to a reaction of laughter and smiles.
”We knew that couldn’t be true! How could our CO State Coach of the Year be gay?!” the officials responded.
“To connect my professional achievements to my sexual orientation was one of the most ignorant comments and exposed their massive misunderstanding of LGBTQ+ people,” Benner reasoned.
Lauren Benner then asked what would have happened if she said yes and their response was conversion therapy.
“They explained to me that their stance on homosexuality would be that they would ask that person to disassociate — to no longer be able to partake in same sex relationships,” Benner explained. “That they would be matched with a spiritual partner and would go through prayer and connection to essentially guide them towards a life that would be in alignment with their beliefs that homosexuality is wrong.”
Benner then added that she had no idea the school had a problem with LGBTQ staff because there was no mention of it in the employment documents. In addition, she’s seen several openly gay students walking the halls.
In the end, Benner decided to stay for the rest of the school semester, for her students and to come out on her own terms. At the end of the semester, Benner had another meeting with school officials. She, unfortunately, was met with more homophobia.
She shared, “It was right then and there that I made the formal decision to end my employment at Valor; though it really was not a choice.”
In the end, Benner had to leave the job without giving the full details about why she’s left. She then had to wait a full year before getting to tell her truth.
Now for the good news. After hearing Inoke Tonga’s story, several students at Valor Christian High School have protested the firings. According to CBS Denver, about 30 students walked out of class on Tuesday to support Tonga.
“Reading the statements from Coach Inoke broke my heart to hear that they called him a danger to the school,” said 16-year-old Valor student Lucy Sarkissian who organized the protest. “For every queer teen sitting at this school right now, to hear that they are a danger, breaks their heart.”
“There’s some concrete changes we would like to see made, and number one is going to be not firing teachers based off of their sexuality,” she told CBS Denver. “Additionally, we would like to see that students are able to be more open about their sexuality without fear of being reprimanded by the deans.”
“We see the signs that say ‘love thy neighbor,’” Sarkissian added. “If we’re truly called to love thy neighbor, that means love your gay neighbor, love your trans neighbor, love your queer neighbor, and this is not loving thy neighbor.”