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The Teacher Learns A Lesson: Coming Out In Class
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The Teacher Learns A Lesson: Coming Out In Class



And it is Friday morning, time again for StoryCorps when we hear from every day Americans talking about their lives. And this morning we'll hear the story of John Byrne, a high school teacher at Friends Seminary in New York. John describes his English classes as rowdy, and he's known for encouraging students to be themselves. But 30 years ago, as a young teacher, John had a very different style.

JOHN BYRNE: I would make the kids line up before they came into class. And then they would stand by their desks and I would say, you may sit down when I sit down. I said, good morning, Mr. Byrne.

I was very strict, because I was afraid the kids would discover I was gay.

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 in the parade, and I thought, I've got to take a stand. I just wanted to be myself. So I went and marched with them.

And the next day I went to school and the kids asked me where 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? I said, with the Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization. And they said, why were you marching with them? And I said, because I'm gay.

And they were so kind. 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.

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.


INSKEEP: John Byrne told his story to his former student, Samantha Liebman, at New York City. Their recording will be archived along with all StoryCorps interviews at the Library of Congress. And the Podcast is at


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