HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (KDVR) — Lauren Benner is still healing from the circumstances surrounding her departure from her coaching position at Valor Christian High School.
In late 2019, Benner was the school’s head girls lacrosse coach. She thought she was meeting with the athletic director and a human resources representative to potentially discuss a pay raise and title change.
“It was light-hearted in the beginning, and then they said, ‘We have a question for you. We had an anonymous phone call that you’re allegedly in a relationship with another female,'” Benner said.
Benner was caught off guard. She said she was going through a period of self-discovery and wasn’t comfortable discussing her sexual orientation with anyone — let alone her employer. She denied the relationship but asked what would happen if she was dating a woman.
“They said Valor believes that a man should be with a woman. A person can announce that they are gay, but they are not to act on their sexuality. They are to remain celibate and seek guidance to continue on a path of celibacy,” Benner said.
Benner said the conversation was the beginning of the end of her time with the school. She parted ways with the school about six months later after another meeting, but she wasn’t comfortable sharing her story until she heard of another coach leaving the school because of issues surrounding his sexual orientation.
Inoke Tonga told FOX31 this week he was forced to resign from his position as the high school’s volleyball coach for being openly gay.
In a statement, Valor said it “embraces, loves and respects all students, families and other participants in our community, regardless of whether or not they agree with Valor’s (believes). As a Christian faith community, Valor requires its staff, faculty and volunteer leaders — those who represent the Valor community and guide (the) spiritual development of our students — to agree with Valor’s Christian beliefs set forth in our Statement of Beliefs and in other policies and to live in accordance with such beliefs.”
“It’s OK to have that differing belief. And people I interacted with at Valor, there were differing beliefs, so I just assumed that you can believe how you believe and we can respect one another in that belief,” Benner said.
Benner said the lack of sensitivity during her conversations with administrators was troubling.
“I felt like it was completely inappropriate for them to be asking those questions. I don’t think any employer should ever ask you those questions or feel they have the right to ask those questions,” Benner said.
Many Valor students are showing their support for the two coaches. Dozens of current and former students gathered in front of the school Friday evening to protest the response from the administration.
“I think people naturally resist change but I think change is here, change is coming, it’s now,” said Lucy Sarkissian, a Valor junior and lead organizer of the protest.
Sarkissian says she doesn’t feel Valor is a safe place for the LGBTQ community and says other students have called her homophobic slurs in response to organizing the protests.
The backlash I’ve gotten from my peers has been a little bit much and it’s been difficult for sure. But I’m not afraid of them,” said Sarkissian.