This Christian High School Fires Gay Coaches

Episode · 6 months ago

This Christian High School Fires Gay Coaches


Denounce your sexuality or lose your job. That was the ultimatum offered to two athletic coaches at Valor Christian High School in Highland Ranch, Colorado. Inoke Tonga was a coach for the boys volleyball team before he was fired in 2021 for being gay. One year earlier, lacrosse coach Lauren Benner was forced to leave her position for the same reason--her sexuality didn’t align with the school’s beliefs.

In today’s four part episode, Levi speaks with Lauren and Inoke about their positions at Valor, the events that led to their termination, and how this intolerant environment will continue to affect the faculty and students if change doesn’t come soon. We also chat with Lucy Sarkissian, a young but resilient advocate and student of Valor who organized several protests against the school’s policies.

Your host is Levi Chambers, founder of Rainbo Media Co. You can follow Levi @levichambers across socials.

Follow the show and keep up with the conversation @PRIDE across socials.

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PRIDE is produced by Levi Chambers, Frank Driscoll, Maggie Boles, Ryan Tillotson, and Brandon Marlo. Edited by Frank Driscoll and Daniel Ferrera.

Have an interesting LGBTQ+ story to share? We might feature U! Email us at

*This podcast is not affiliated with Pride Media.

Straw media. Still, to me until this day, was kind of shocking because even the policies and stuff that they gave to me didn't mention, you know, marriage between a man and a woman, or beliefs and their statements and their stance on the LGBT Q plus community. I don't know if my body has just gotten used to just starting to cry when I see them, whatever it is, but I can't even talk about them, even, you know, still here right now, without tearing up and knowing what could have been and what should have been. Really, denounce your sexuality or lose your job, and that was the ultimatum offered to two athletic coaches at Valor Christian high school and Highland Ranch, Colorado. and Ok Tanga was a coach for the boys volleyball team before he was fired in for being gay. One year earlier, Lacrosse coach, Lauren Benner was forced to leave her position for the same reason. Her sexuality didn't align with the school's beliefs. In today's four part episode, we speak with Lauren and an oak about their positions at valor, the events that led to their terminations and how this intolerant environment will continue to affect the faculty and the students if change doesn't come soon. We also chat with Lucy Sarkissian, a young but resilient advocate and student of Valor who organized several protests against the school's policies. I LEA by chambers. My pronouns are he, him, his, and this is pride. My name is Um. I'm kind of from everywhere, uh, but mainly West Valley City, Utah, and Oak was raised in a Mormon community. He went to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or elds for Short, with his family and had deep ties to his faith as a child. That's why it was so difficult for him to come to terms with his sexuality. A few of my ecclesiastic leaders would tell me they're you know, you're not gay, you're just not busy enough with life. And because you're not busy enough, you know, the devil is is kind of attacking your brain into thinking that you are gay. And noak was twenty six and in a relationship when he knew it was time for him to come out. I actually was dating another my ex Um. I was dating him and it was kind of heartbreaking to hear that he was in a relationship prior to, you know, before me, Um, and he was a secret because his previous boyfriend at the time wasn't out. So he was kind of introduced as a friend and for me I felt that that was kind of the kick in the butt that I needed, you know, to try it out, be honest with yourself, be honest with God for once. But even after publicly coming out through a blog post, people still tried to convince an oak that what he was feeling wasn't real. They made it about them and not about the person who finally found the camp coming out. So I had a lot of people disagree with the fact that I wrote this huge blog about my experience and people telling me left and right that, you know, I I was not gay and that I needed to basically just keep myself busy so that way and and date women a little bit more and try to find the right girl. And it never sat right with me until I did finally, you know, I was in that relationship, decided to come out Um, and just felt this huge weight off my chest, as you know, a lot of people do. Fast forward four years and NOKA is happily engaged to his fiance Charlie, and has the support of his entire family. In fact, his biggest concern is that his family might like Charlie a little too much. They are the favorite son. All my brothers are like yeah, whatever, he's a favorite son. He's BABIED and it's a blessing because I am that I'm welcome that way for his family, you know, they're like, if anything happens, be seen you and Charlie. He's leaving in you're we're keeping you and Noga is...

...currently working in healthcare, but when he's not there he's coaching volleyball. He's been coaching for almost nine years and with the encouragement of some of his peers, he applied for a job in the Athletic Department at Valor Christian High School. So a few of the parents who have their boys under me at club and at Valor, they were like, you should apply for this position at Valor Um. You know, they met my fiance. I didn't think anything of it and they knew I was still actively Christian and and uh, a big example to their their kids. So they encouraged me actually to apply. When anik was applying for the position at the private school. It never crossed his mind to be worried about his sexuality affecting his odds of getting the job. And and for me, Christianity, it's not. It's a nondenominational school and because Denver is very open with affirmative churches, it was never an issue. In my mind it never was going to be an issue, you know, me being gay and applying for a Christian school. And plus the parents are and the students are the ones encouraging me to apply because they wanted me to continue with the growth of their boys. Many of the parents and the students that are now interacted with while coaching, we're all aware he was gay. Some even reached out to let him know that they were excited that he might be coaching at Valor because a lot of them were, you know, struggling with their sexuality and they just thought it was cool that, you know, I was going to be there coach, because they I I want to say that they haven't really had that Um leader or or an adult in their lives, adult figure who was gay. During the interview, the topic of sexuality or gender identity was never mentioned. The interview was based around my integrity my relationship with cry Feast Um. You know how often I pray and what I do to film my religious and Spiritual Cup. With an oak strong reputation in the community and his religious background, he was offered the job. My final interview was actually with the two men who did my exit interview. Um. It was a campus pasture and the director and I had left such a great impression about my faith on them, so they were like yeah, Gung Ho about it, hired me immediately and and we know, you know, we even ended our conversation or the interview Um with them asking me to pray for their family because they, you know, they loved the faith and relationship I had with God. And noake was starting his second year as an assistant volleyball coach when the current head of the volleyball program approached him. She let him know she was leaving and encouraged an oak to apply for the open position. I was excited because that's kind of what I was pushing for anyway. It's just to kind of Um, help build the boys program to what it should be. So I applied. I reached out to the athletic director and I said, you know, just so you know, I applied for the position, I saw that I was posted. Um, let me know if you need anything else. And then two weeks after Um, Wednesday, that same coach, that the head, who was stepping down. She was like Hey, just heads up, I kind of vouched for you and I was like we need to have him take over the program and all the boys do. So Thursday after she had told me that they had reached out and said that they wanted to have a spiritual connection with me. Um. So I was super exstatic and super excited because I'm like, you know, I'm going to get this job, like this is what I wanted. Um, went in and, as I you know, walked through the school. Um, I was greeted with them and they were walking me towards the hall, through the halls and towards the off us where we're going to have the spiritual connection.

And got me more excited because it was right before my girl's practice, Um, and some of the kids were sitting in the hallway, some of my boys, one of the girls, and they were just super ecstatic to see me. So they were excited and, you know, saying hi and saying that they'd see me later on in practice. Um, and just some of the kids I haven't seen all summers. It was really cool to say hi to them. Got In the room and, you know, it was just bright eyed of waiting for this good news. But then things took a turn for the worse. I was, you know, it was the conversation kind of intric was introduced with the question if I've had any changes in lifestyle, um. And for me I'm like, you know, no, and I didn't know where they were getting at until they kept asking me for about five times, Um, and I can tell that they towards the fifth or sixth time, they were kind of irritant because I wasn't giving them the answer they wanted. And it finally clicked, like are they asking me what I think they're asking me? Um. And finally he the pastor, was like, have you posted anything on social media saying that you're an advocate for the LGBTQ community and making a statement saying that you're gay? And I said Yeah, you know, I that's all I love to do, especially because we society teaches us that being gay and being Christian can't co exist. So I said yes, it opened, you know, the floodgates of all of this um their their stance on the community. They called an NOCA danger to their school and said that the only way to protect him and all of their students was to remove him from campus. Because really, how bad could it be if the school was seen having a gay coach? And so I told him, you know, I thought, I know that it looks good. But they asked me if I knew valor stance and I said no, no one had made me aware of it. It was never on, you know, the website or the code of conduct that you guys sent me. Nowhere in Valor's list of policies are there any rules against being a member of the LGBT Q plus community. But in their culture document they outline their stance on cultural corruption. It states the greatest risk slash damage to our culture will not come from circumstances or incidents, but will come from people, those who express commitment to our culture but we're never aligned, and those whose alignment has changed over time. It is everyone's responsibility to spot these inconsistencies and encourage alignment. Um, he said that the parents. Obviously it's a private institution. He said the parents pay weight so much money for their kids to be mentored and coached by someone who identifies as gay. Speaking of Alignment Valor, staff ordered an oak an ultimatum. He could either denounce his sexuality and conform to being straight or lose his position at the school. And he said it's it's funny because I see how pure your heart is and I see how much the kids love you. Um, and because of that, I don't even think you're gay. It's like. He's like, you know, they want to be able to love you. Is kind of insinuating that if, m you know, your sexuality is what defines how pure you can love people. And he was getting at that, saying that, you know, I don't even think you're gay, I just think, you know, you're just distracted and you're having the spiritual struggle and spiritual battle. And he's like that's where we come in. We can help you, you know, become a child of God, Um, and by becoming a child of God, you have to just admit that you're not a gay man, you're not gay, you're whatever. You have to denounce it, Um, he's like, but you have to just you have to be humble and accept our help and becoming a child with God. That night and no quote, an email to valor to tell them whether or not he was willing to conform to the demands they had given him in order to keep his job. And I told them basically what they asked me to do. I said, I'm not going to denounce being gay, I'm not going to go back on all my social media posts and to leave everything... you guys asked me to. I'm not going to cut off communication with my fiance. So, Um, I said, ultimately it's it's up to you, guys. Um, I didn't hear back from them, still haven't. But the very next day they sent an email out to the volleyball community and they said I decided to walk away from the position and that, you know, I was in a spiritual battle and that's the reasoning for me leaving. Um, and one of the coaches sent it to me, asking me what was going on. And after reading that, because obviously I wasn't part of that email, um email chain, I i read it and kind of took it as well. I guess this like this was their answer, responding to me, but not directly responding to me. And No, didn't plan to go public with the story, but he knew we wanted to issue a statement of his own to his students, their families and his fellow coaches. So we sent out a text explaining the situation from his point of view. But when the school heard what he was doing, they sent out another statement which said a nook was lying. So after they said that, I felt obligated to in a way of response to that and just say, well, this is actually what happened, this was the experience that happened, and I posted it and you know it. I kind of feel like I was the curtain man and all I did was have to open the curtain, and then everybody took the stage and started telling their stories and telling their experiences, and that's how he met Lauren Benner, Valor's former Lacrosse coach. She reached out to me via instagram because one of her lacrosse girls reached out to her and was like hey, did you read the story? Um, she did, and she reached out saying, you know, I experienced this the same and I had mentioned to her. I said, you know, let's let's definitely meet for coffee. I would love to hear your story. I'd love to connect and just talk and late with somebody who was in the same position not even a year ago. So it was funny because she was like is it weird and crazy if I say can we meet today, and I said no, absolute let's meet. My name is Lauren Benner. I grew up on the east coast. Lacrosse is a very prominent sport out there. I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland. Lauren was an employee at Valor for four years when she applied in for the Lacrosse coaching position. She said her experience was very similar to that of an Oak. She was studying and playing Lacrosse collegiately at the University of Virginia when her friend tipped her off that she was planning to leave her coaching position, meaning there would be an open spot in Denver. It was a place that I could continue to grow my faith along with Um Coaching and continue to mentor students. So it just really felt like the right decision and um I was happy to have accepted that job and be at the beginning of just a really what was going to be, a many cases, was, you know, a bright opportunity during the time that I was there. Like an Oak, Lauren's background was deeply rooted in religion. I grew up in a pentecostal church. Um. It was very much a fundamentalist church, and kind of found my way into my own faith probably in middle school the most. I attended a young like camp while I was attending a Christian middle school and just really fell in love with Jesus there for myself. Obviously, again, I was brought up in the church. I had a relationship with God and the Bible. When she went off to college in Virginia, she majored in Religious Studies. Her primary focus was on religious beliefs, behaviors and institutions of Christianity. It was a really awesome perspective on the Bible. was very much a history based Um kind of curriculum, being a non religious institution, though she had not fully come out of the closet yet. Lauren always believed that religion and identity should be able to coexist, and so...

I felt like that wasn't even a question that was on my mind at the time, especially because at that point in life I had not really explored that side of me. That's again something that Um I was always there but never had come to truly ahead where I felt like I needed to Um explore yet in my life. So it wasn't even on my mind for myself. It wasn't until Lauren's late twenties when she began to truly explore her sexuality. At that point she had already acquired her position as an athletic coach at Valor. I think that's where it just really kind of set in of like hey, you really need to kind of confront this stuff because it's starting to weigh on you heavier and heavier and it really is, at this point, starting to impact how you view yourself, who you are, what you want to do with your life, the relationships you want to be in and so forth. So I felt like it was the right time to address those feelings and to go on this self exploration process, Um, and so as I was kind of go through that, like I said, as meeting doctors, you know, going to therapy, just listening to a million podcasts, reading books mostly about faith and sexuality and homosexuality, just to kind of, you know, deconstruct some of those teachings that I was taught at a very young age in the church, Um, and being able to just accept myself as I started to learn more about my own sexuality to kind of deconstruct thoughts that would be negative, Um, and how I view myself and my sexuality. Then one day lauren got an email requestion. She joined some of the staff for a meeting December of Twenty nineteen. I was UM meeting had been put on my calendar for Friday late in the afternoon with the athletic director and a member of the HR Department who also had a role in finance, and so I had thought that this meeting could have been about a potential pay raise and title change, which I had already been in discussion with the Athletic Director About for quite some time. Um. So I was pretty excited about the meeting. Didn't have any reason to think that the meeting would go, you know, really in any other direction. Didn't think I was going to be offered some you know, crazy pay raise or title change right in that moment, but I just thought it could be part of that discussion and addressing it and hopefully taking at least a step forward. But when I was brought in, I was small talk normal, just sat down and then they had said, you know, we love you, we just have a really sensitive matter to talk to you about. We received an anonymous phone call that suggested that you were in a relationship with another woman. Is this true? Lauren froze and then she began to panic. She had been reading so much about faith and religion and how the LGBT Q plus community fits into it all, but at that moment she reverted back to every lesson and conversation she had had at church about homosexuality. And because of this, she told them no and they just started kind of laughing and it was just this moment of Um, you know, we knew that couldn't be true, like awkwardness. It was like, Oh, we had to ask you this just to make sure it wasn't true, and then, Um, you know, she said no, so great, we can move on, and it was just like, Oh, you know, we knew it couldn't be true. How can our Colorado state coach of the year be gay? And that always has stuck with me because, as I mentioned in my letter, to connect my sexuality to my professional achievements is degrading and it hurt me a lot. No one can deny that Lauren is an amazing coach. During her time at Valor, she led the Lacrosse team to win their first conference championship. They went to the state finals for the first time and they had the most postseason awards. I was awarded coach of the year, Colorado state coach of the year. That year I was also awarded the school state or school coach of the year. So every year they award one coach from Um, you know, amongst both men's and women's sports. Um and I had received that award that year. So life was going pretty good. So to clarify on that, valor actually considered you the as coach...

...that they had on the faculty. Correct. Yep, after Lauren's meeting in December, she was worried about returning to work after the holidays. She felt like she was walking on eggshells and any conversation she had with a coworker could cause her to reveal her sexuality and end her career. And then the pandemic hit. So we had just started our season. Um, we were a weekend and pandemic hit. We got the news that we um were no longer going to be able to compete that season. The season wasn't definitely canceled and at that point it was honestly the most devastating thing and the most Um, relieving thing at the same time. So devastating in the sense that we've put in all this work. I know how hard those girls had worked up to that point. Um, they said it was, you know, our year to win state, and I believe that. You know, I think a lot of people here in the Lacrosse community believe that we would have been competing for a state championship that year, Um, and much to just the hard work of the girls. But on the flip side, it was also I was now able to just rest and breathe a little bit easier, knowing that I could work from home and kind of hide in private. But for how long? Lauren knew she couldn't keep living alive forever. She had come to the conclusion about where she stood on the issue and she wanted to see if it aligned with the school's beliefs. I believe that God loves everyone and that people who are gay can go to heaven and, uh, you know, they don't have to denounce any piece of them in order to receive God loves, God's love and it's for everyone to have and nobody can tell you otherwise. And I think that's a super important Um thing for everyone to know, and it's something that has taken me a really long time to accept for myself. So I understand that people are in all different ranges of where they are with their faith and their sexuality, but I set that meeting up with the athletic director in our campus, pastor, to really see where the school stood on the matter. Now I'm asked a lot of her questions, received a lot of hard answers and ultimately it ended in that there was absolutely no way that I could continue to work there and we did not see eye to eye on the matter Um and that it was my time to step away. So, unlike an oak, you were able to actually take control of that narrative, which, you know what, and it's always like. It is sad, right, but it is nice that you were able to be the one in power to say like no, I'm rejecting you for the way you discriminate against people. In ways, I yes, but in other ways it still felt like I wasn't actually given a choice. We're sitting there in a meeting, I'm sitting there thinking of how much I love my girls, how much I love their family and how much I love what I do for work and I'm being told that I'm not welcomed. So yes, in many ways, ultimately, I suppose was my decision to step away, but at the end of the day it wasn't my decision. Yeah, so it's it is a hard place. I mean I still see those girls consistently and just it's like, I don't know if my body's just gotten used to just starting to cry when I see them, whatever it is, but I can't even talk about them, even, you know, still here right now, without tearing up and and knowing what could have been and what should have been. Really, when we come back, how the community responded to a no story, the effect the school's policies have on the students and staff and Valor for change. Welcome back. You just met and noak and Lauren to athletic coaches who were let go from Valor Christian High School for Being Queer. When Lauren was pushed out in no one in the community knew about it, but when a note was fired in August, people pushed back. Noke was fired on Thursday. He posted his statement to an online blog on Saturday and by Tuesday students were walking out of class to show their support for him. The walk out was...

...organized by Sixteen Year Old Lucy Sarkissian, who said when she saw an oakes post, she immediately launched into action. You know, social media gets around very, very fast, and coaching oaks story just blew up like I don't know you've seen how many likes and comments and re shares it has, but it blew up. It was everywhere and you know, we I saw it and you know, it was heartbroken like reading that and hearing that the school called him a danger because he was gay and that, you know, parents paid too much money for their kids to have a gay coach. My heart absolutely broke because if that's the perception of you know, coaching Oak, what is their perception of Queer students on campus? To spoiler alert, it's not great. So I can tell you that from personal experience. I identify as Queer and also disabled. I have multiple chronic illnesses and I can tell you that it is difficult to attend that school as somebody who is not, you know, the norm there, because people are constantly throwing, you know, slurs around. After the protest I was called, you know, the F slur at school on multiple occasions and teachers are not very supportive. They regularly tell students with you know, who might need accommodations that they should leave the school because valor wasn't created for, you know, disabled students and valor wasn't created for anybody who's outside the norm. When Lucy found out that the same thing that happened to a note had happened to Lauren the year prior, she didn't want to believe it and, you know, that made me very upset as well, being, you know, my friends were very close to her and she's somebody that I met and, you know, to see that this wasn't an isolated incident like valor wants to claim it was, was obviously very upsetting for a lot of students. And then as well, when the you know, dozens of alumni and ex faculty and, you know, former students, stories started to come out about the discrimination that occurs within, you know, Valor. It's at all kind of snowball to create like a lot of like anger and a lot of frustration, but also a really like a lot of passion and direction. The Monday following the incident, Lucy said it felt like everyone had read an oak statement it was all people could talk about and it was clear right away which side they stood on. I'm not afraid of confrontation, so I wore some various pride items to school, including a Um Jeane jacket that has a rainbow on the back that my trans friend painted for me Um and you know. So I wore that and then pride makeup and it was like, you know, you could very clearly see a division, because the people who stood with an oak made it very clear that we stand with an oak, and the people who did not made it very clear that they did not. Lucy said, the school's response was very minimal. They sent out an email to all the parents claiming an oak statement was false, which only angered students like Lucy Moore. So they decided to walk out of class to show support for their former coach. They threw us off campus, like they literally told me that I cannot stay on campus anymore, and so we laughed and we walked across the street and you know, the next day obviously brutal, like the some of the tweets and the instagram dms I got from people, or terrifying from kids at that school, and also the harassment that you know I faced in person and that a lot of my peers who helped organize faced in person was, you know, a lot of name calling, you know, getting slurs thrown at us, everything like that. Lucy has faced bullying valor before, but now that she's one of the main faces of the protests, she's dealing with more backlash now than ever. Unlike there's a lot of students who work behind the scenes, but I really put myself out there as like Hey, I'm the one doing this. If you're gonna harass anybody, just harass me leave everybody else alone. And I kind of accepted that risk and you know, on some levels it's been very gratifying and I've had students a lot of underclassmen come up to me and tell me that, you know, I gave them a voice and that they were proud of me. And, you know, it's been very gratifying in that regard. But to say it's not difficult would be a toe. It a lie.

Now, is there any part of you that regrets, you know, getting that involved in that active in it? NOPE, not a not for a second have I regretted my decision to be active with this fight. You know, I think I would regret if I hadn't been more involved and if I hadn't been more active, because it's you know, if you see injustice, it's your job to try and correct it, and I would have regretted a lot more if I hadn't done the right thing. Lucy estimates that on campus one in every seven students is either a member of the lgbt q plus community or an ally but a noakes said, even standing in solidarity with the community is highly discouraged. Recently they pulled one of the the parents aside from the girls Um and she she's one of our lead parents and she's a volunteer, so all she does is communicate for the coaches, like just hey, let's bring some food for the girls or whatever, and has the communication. They saw that she was posting, you know my story, and just saying how much this isn't right. They pulled her in and asked her to sign the code of conduct and saying that she can't advocate for it, and she refused to do so. They told the athletes they'd be suspended from games and practices if they walked out and advocated for the lgbt q lgbt q plus community. Um, and some of them did you know one of my boys going to go to practice or play because of the fact that he was leading as well. So, Um, not only do they not accept the community, but if you're an advocate for it, then yeah, they also just looked down on that. As you can imagine, this attitude towards ally ship has created a toxic environment for the students on campus. And I grew up Catholics, so I knew, Hey, this is what religious schools like and you know, maybe religious school isn't, you know, it's going to be less tallerant than a public school. But I had zero clue that it was going to be as bad as it was. You know, I thought it would be a little bit of you know, like God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, not full on you know, verbal harassment, Gay bashings, you know, people getting, you know, confronted by teachers about their sexual orientation. I just never imagined it would be quite as hateful and big at it as it is. In light of recent events, some staff members at Valor who reject the school's homophobic policies and beliefs decided it was time to take action of their own. A school counselor Mrs Irvin, quit her job because of this and our former assistant debate coach, his name's Andrew Wickson, quit his job and I was very close to both of them and they've provided me with, you know, so much support. We also have some current teachers there. Valor told them they're not allowed to speak about the situation, but I can think of one teacher there who has liked some tweets about the situation and, you know, I kind of acknowledged that. I was like, Hey, I know you can't talk about it, but just know I'm seeing you liking this stuff. Like I know like you like, are pretty supportive about this and it was like not allowed to talk about it, but yeah, so you can definitely tell there's some support going on there. There's a teacher in the theater department who has been very, very supportive. Um, so there's been some teachers. Just the large amount of teachers are staying silent because they've been threatened with their jobs if they speak out. It makes me feel a lot less alone to know there's teachers and faculty who are on our side, even if they're not vocal about being on it. The protest Lucy and her fellow students are organizing go beyond objecting to the treatment of two of valous coaches. Current Valor students and alumni have teamed up to create Valor for Change, an official nonprofit dedicated to changing valorous policies to make the school more lgbt q plus inclusive. They've issued an official list of demands for things like gender neutral bathrooms and a more neutral dress code. I would like to...

...see an end two valorous discriminatory firing policies valarid discriminatory policies towards queer students. I would like to see that transgender students and non binary students can use the correct name, their correct pronouns at school, because that's not currently happening. Um, we'd like to see the treatment of saying same sex couples the same and that, you know, people should be allowed to bring a same sex state to school dances, which they can't currently do, and also, you know, like a system put in place for students who are being HARASSD for being gay at the school that there is going to be some type of disciplinary action against the people harrassing them. So far, no one from the school has acknowledged the protests or the list of demands by Valor for Change, but Lucy and her team have a plan to fix that. You know, what really talks to them is money. So we're still working on getting sponsors to pull out of the school and expressing that there won't be any financial support for the school until they change their policies. Multiple people confirmed that valor has huge sponsors for their programs, like Adidas and Pepsi. She hopes that by targeting these sponsorships she'll really get their attention. I think realistically, a lot of the things were demanding are not unrealistic expectations. It's literally saying, like, respect transgender kids identities and, you know, maybe don't like kids get gay bashed at your school. So we're not making unreasonable demands and I could see valor complying with a lot of them if we gave them the resources and the tools to do so, which is the other part of what we're working on. Is Providing things like mental you know, like resources about queer you know, queer use mental health and providing those resources to the school. So we're equipping valor with every tool they need to make these changes and Nokan Lauren didn't know Lucy before they were let go, but after attending the protests she and the other students put together, it's guaranteed they won't forget her. She is so funny because she's like you're my hero, and I was like no, you're you're my hero. She's I feel like she needs to be highlighted more than she is. Um. You know, they're taking my story and just kind of putting me out in a way to be a victim. But people like Lucy, especially Lucy, like I went from victim to victor so fast because of the fact that she wasn't gonna let me be that victim. She wasn't gonna let me just sit and feel like I'm alone. Um, yes, I have like my family and friends to support me, but to see a student rally a community together with her voice, Um, and create change because of you know, she didn't she was never any of my she was she didn't play sports for me. You know, I had an indirect relationship with her, but the fact that she just saw how wrong it was and stood up for that and just again brought the community together. That, to me, is what excites me the most about this new generation. Now we we kind of laugh. A lot of my friends in us we always laugh at this new join our generation for not knowing the things we did. But I look at them now, especially after you know the protests that she's been leading, the words that she says when she's leading Um and the heart and passions he has behind it. If you were to ask me at my age if I would be walking out to support you know all of this, I probably would just shoot my coach at text and be like Hey, I'm not going to be out there, but you already know I love and support you. So it. Lucy to me is the epitome of an advocate for human beings, not only the LGBT Q plus community, but she's a perfect example of what a Christian is, perfect ample of what advocacy is. I was...

...watching the Valor for change instagram live yesterday and just completely amazed at again, like you said, I mean she is a boss lady and she is getting stuff done. And it's not just her. It is incredible the team of people who have come together. They have, you know, Action Plan. There's reason behind it. There is a clear Um, direction and intention behind everything that's being done. Um, we joke that they like should open up a firm of just like a PR firm of like representing and, you know, different kind of social movements and things like that. It's truly amazing all of the people that came, alumni, current students, to create these events and to to continue to put together resources. And I think one of the most important things that they're saying is we want to continue to help valor in making these changes and we want to be able to educate them and hold their hand, and they're organized in a way in order to do that. They've they've proven that they have the structure and the you know, the minds behind it and the resources behind it to be successful in helping in change. But it truly is an incredible feat that she, along with the entire group of other people, have been able to do in just such a short amount of time. And it hasn't gone away currently and no, is not an active member of the church, but honestly, I go sometimes ecclesiastic leaders who I'm still really close with, Um and bishops is what we call them. They reach out to me, you know, during Easter programs or Christmas and ask if I can stop by that just sing during the Christmas programs and Easter programs. So I'll go on occasion, you know, just at least they hie to some friends or, as I said, just sing. So more family functions as well. But even after her departure from the school, Lauren has maintained a strong relationship with the church. Her message to any one who is struggling with accepting both their faith and their sexuality is to remember this. God loves you. I think that's something that you have to tell yourself over and over again, because you're told so often that you can't be loved by God if you decide to pursue a same sex relationship or are part of the queer community and are not willing to lead a life of Celibacy, Um, or change your sexual identity to fit who you are. And so Um, one, know that God loves you. I always said this to my player. God loves you, I love you, Um, and you're going to be okay. So you know, if they need to hear that from a stranger that they are loved, Um, you know I'm always here to do that. That's something that I prided myself in with my players. I always want to be a safe space for them. Um. I was fortunate to have people who are safe spaces for me. Um. And so just know that. And then education is key. I mean, if you need resources, I'm happy to share them. What I me. You know, my girlfriend Lindsay have explored. She also came from a faith based community and we're both still strong in her faith. Um. And if you read a bunch of books, listen to podcasts and so forth, and so any kind of resources, but just really know. You know, what do you stand for? Um? What are those education pieces, nuggets of just info that you can use to combat those kinds of things that you know are going to be fired your way, whether it be scripture or just social beliefs when it comes to homosexuality, um in general, and then also add that level of a faith component involved, Um, and so that you can really feel confident, because when you get in those conversations it's really hard and we all know when you're in those hard situations it's harder to Um, just kind of formulate your thoughts articulate them well. And so the more that you can feel empowered by the knowledge that you have in your convictions and those beliefs in that knowledge, the better you can relay the message, even in a stress build Um situation. Valor for Change said if the school did not issue a response to their demands by October, the would take further action in order to promote change and protect...

...their community. October eleventh came and went and valor high still hadn't acknowledged their demands. In response, Valor for Change became an official Colorado nonprofit and valor students came together to create an off campus G S A, or Gender Sexuality Alliance, monthly meeting. In their statement, Valor for change wrote the community has come together to support the creation of a safe space and to offer the support that valor has failed to provide for those students. You look around at the world around us and we see like us kids are the future. You know, I spoke about a film called US kids over the summer and it really it's true. You know, we look at the kids from March for our lives and we look at the kids, look at Greta Thunberg and you know, we look at kids all around the country and all around the world who are making the change and it's you know, I think I'd have to say like it's our future, so don't be afraid to, you know, make your mark on it and don't be afraid to try and change the future of your not happy with how the world's treating you or the you know, the people around you. You have the power to make change as it is right now. And then, I guess like the one thing I would say is don't stand for oppression in any form. You don't have to, you know, be quite as vocal as I am about everything, but at the same time, don't stand for oppression. Don't just stay silent when you hear Kids Bang her. I asked because you know it's things aren't going to change. There's power and numbers and until a lot of people start speaking up about these issues, or at least saying they're not going to tolerate it, change is going to be very hard to make. I want to personally be able to walk through the halls of Valor and other Christian institutions and genuinely feel, you know, that my kids are safe, and I'm not only talking about my volleyball kids. I'm talking about all of these kids who's rallied behind me Um with their stories. Those who don't have stories but still are just advocating for, you know, their friends and and me, and even when you know I'm not saying much, I want to be able to feel all of them feel safe and whether it be, you know, like anti bullying classes or Um classes, for the teachers to just make open conversations during classes instead of making kids feel belittled Um, not only for their sexuality but for for whatever. I again, I don't want to see it, I don't want to read it. I want to feel in my heart that these kids are safe and I want to make sure that they know Um. You know that I'm going to keep fighting for that, and no one should ever have a right to impinge upon infringe upon Um, your timeline and Um, you know, the decisions that you make for yourself. So really important stuff, because everyone's journey is different. That's right. Is To support Valor for change, find lgbtq plus resources and learn more about the organization. PLEASE VISIT VALOR FOR CHANGE DOT com. Pride is a production of Straw hut media. If you like the show, leave us a rating and review on Apple podcasts, spotify or wherever you listen to podcast. Then follow us on instagram. TIKTOK, facebook, twitter and snapchat at pride and tuning weekly for more. Be Sure to share this episode with your friends and subscribe for more stories from Amazing Queer people. If you'd like to connect with me, you can follow me everywhere at Levi Chambers. Pride is produced by me Levi Chambers, Frank Driscoll, Maggie Bowls, Ryan Tillotson and Brandon Marlowe. Edited by Frank Driscoll and Daniel Ferrara.

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