A second former coach at Valor Christian High School came forward this week to allege she was forced to choose between living authentically as a gay woman and keeping her job coaching girl’s lacrosse at the private religious school.
Lauren Benner, 32, said she was inspired after reading Inoke Tonga’s Instagram post detailing his story about being pushed out of his job coaching volleyball at the Highlands Ranch school after administrators confronted him about a social media post suggesting Tonga was gay. On Tuesday, students walked out of class in support of Tonga.
The story sounded almost identical to Benner’s own experience last year, she said.
“I reached out to him right away, and we talked, and I told him he was not alone,” Benner told The Denver Post on Wednesday.
Benner attended a Christian school growing up and was strong in her faith, so when she heard Valor Christian had an opening for a girls lacrosse coach, she said she jumped at the opportunity and was hired in 2017.
“It was the most cherished coaching role I ever had,” Benner said. “I can’t tell you the joy those girls and their families brought me.”
Officials with Valor Christian did not immediately respond to questions about Benner.
In a statement responding to Tonga’s allegations earlier in the week, school officials said they require staff, faculty and volunteer leaders to agree with Valor’s Christian beliefs set forth in the school’s statement of belief and to live in accordance with it.
“Valor Christian High School embraces, loves and respects all students, families and other participants in our community, regardless of whether or not they agree with Valor’s beliefs,” Valor Christian’s statement said.
In December 2019, Benner said she was called into a meeting with Valor’s athletic administrator and a human-resources employee during which they asked Benner to confirm whether she was in a relationship with another woman.
“My stomach dropped,” Benner wrote in her own Instagram post. “I was still on a journey of self-discovery and so for someone, an employer nonetheless, to spontaneously ask me about my sexuality and dating life felt beyond violating.”
Caught off guard, Benner denied the accusation, which, she wrote, was followed by the school administrators laughing and saying, “We knew that couldn’t be true! How could our CO State Coach of the Year be gay?”
When Benner asked what would have happened had she said she was gay, she wrote that the Valor administrators told her they believed someone can be gay as long as they don’t act on those feelings. If a Valor faculty or staff member is found to act on those feelings, Benner said that person would be asked to leave the school.
Benner said she left the conversation at that and continued her job out of love and dedication for her team. COVID-19 interrupted the school year and game schedule, and as the academic year inched toward an end in the spring of 2020, Benner thought about whether to stay at the school.
Benner set up a meeting with the athletic director and campus pastor to discuss her future at the school and the school’s stance on LGBTQ matters.
“I was bombarded with ignorant and irrelevant statements like ‘gay marriages don’t last’ and ‘God made man and woman for the sole purpose of procreation,’” Benner wrote. “One of them even compared his belief that acting on same-sex desires is a perversion.”
Benner said the administrators told her if a student came out to her, she could welcome them with open arms and offer to pray with them for God to guide them to live a life of celibacy and self-control over their same-sex desires.
“I will NEVER tell an athlete or other student of mine that they can only be an accepted child of God if they deny who God made them to be by denouncing their sexuality,” Benner wrote. “God loves every one of his children exactly as they are and that is true for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Benner parted ways with Valor Christian after that — “Though it was really not a choice,” she wrote — and decided to share her story publicly this week after Tonga shared his own.
“I feel it is important for me to no longer stay silent,” Benner said.
The reception to Benner’s post has been 99% positive, she said, with only a small number of people arguing that, of course, her gayness would not align with a Christian school. Benner said there is nothing within Valor’s written values that mentions sexuality.
“There is nothing in their statement of beliefs or culture documents that I don’t feel I align with,” Benner said. “I believe in what it says.”
Benner said she is still processing all that happened to her at Valor, but hopes that by sharing her story, she can enact change in how these conversations are handled.
“The thing that pains me and brings me to tears today is the fact that I no longer get to coach those amazing girls,” Benner said.
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