John Byrne is a high school English teacher in New York. He describes his classes as rowdy—and he’s known for encouraging students to be themselves. But, as he told former student Samantha Liebman, when John was a young teacher 30 years ago, he had a very different style.
Note: StoryCorps founder Dave Isay went to high school at Friends Seminary, where John teaches. That fact had no relation to choosing this story for broadcast.
Click here for the transcript.
I'm an English teacher. You know, you're teaching literature, and some gay scene or character would come up, and I would start to blush. I was always frightened… until one year I decided to march in the St Patrick's day parade. Because they refused to let the gays march and I thought, "I've got to take a stand." So I went and marched with them.
And the next day I went to school, and the kids said to me, "Where you were you yesterday? It was St. Patrick's day, you were drunk!" I said, "I was not! I was marching in the parade." And they said, "Well, who were you marching with?" and I said, "The Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization" and they said, "Well why were you marching with them?" and I said, "Because I'm gay!"
And they were so kind, and they saw that I was nervous and they helped me along. You know, it had hurt me to live in the shadows and then when I came out it freed me to teach, it made me better at helping kids who had their own particular secrets.
Two years later, that class that I came out to, they asked me to be their graduation speaker. And I talked to the parents about how proud they should be of their children for having taught me and helped me through a really difficult time in my life. It was a wonderful turning point.