StoryCorps’ National Teacher Initiative took me and my co-facilitator, Naomi Greene, to St. Louis, Missouri, to record with public school teachers. During our stay, Gateway Institute of Technology High School Principal Beth Bender recorded with her friend, co-worker, and fellow teacher, Amy Horton.
After sharing stories about her childhood and school day memories, Beth broached the elephant in many classrooms and school hallways: sexual orientation. In doing so, she described the importance of strong student-staff relationships and the challenges she has faced as a principal who is also a lesbian.
One year, at a school Beth previously worked at, parents and community members protested to school representatives when a gay male student was elected homecoming queen. Eventually, they learned that Beth is also gay and publicly accused her of deviance. The environment grew so toxic that it spoiled her long-term relationship with her partner, and she was forced to resign.
Once Beth found her way to a new school, she found that students faced homophobia there, too. “‘They don’t get me,'” she remembered one girl saying about her parents. But amid intolerance from the student’s community and family, she opened up to one of the few adults she trusted: her principal.
For Beth, her students’ questions of gender identity and sexuality are one aspect of the job that she can’t simply leave at the office. This past summer, she and her partner came as close to marrying as a same-sex couple in Missouri possibly can. But as Beth shared this with Amy, she felt she couldn’t share her memories of the joyful summer event with her students. Perhaps this StoryCorps interview will be a new opportunity to engage her students about sexual orientation. After all, Beth and Amy’s recording is just the beginning of the conversation.