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San Francisco teacher allegedly sexually harassed students, outed them as gay

Two former students at June Jordan School for Equity alleged that a former teacher sexually harassed them and pressured them to come out as gay before they were ready, according to a district report. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

A San Francisco public high school teacher resigned last month after the school district began investigating allegations that he sent three former students salacious messages on social media and had sexual encounters with two of them soon after they graduated. 

The teacher also pressured students to come out as gay and tried to manipulate them into outing their peers, according to a school district investigation report from July that The Standard received through a public records request. 

The revelations follow numerous other incidents of alleged misconduct by teachers in the San Francisco Unified School District that The Standard has documented.

The allegations against Trueman Bender, a local artist and former special education teacher at June Jordan School for Equity in the city’s Excelsior District, emerged this year after two former students reconnected on social media. 

The two men concluded that they both had endured unwanted advances from the same teacher at a time when they were vulnerable and not fully comfortable with their sexual orientation.

According to the report, one of the men was a “17-year-old junior” when the alleged harassment began, while the other described himself as a junior in his statement to the district. The Standard does not know their names, and their accounts of their experiences come from the district report.

“He forced me to come out when I wasn’t ready,” one former student, who graduated in 2019, told the district earlier this year. “Due to all that, I hated to be a gay man. I had many suicidal thoughts, and it changed me as a person.”

In April, the two students returned to their alma mater to make a report, leading the district to place Bender on administrative leave, contact police and launch its own investigation. In July, rather than appear for more questioning, Bender resigned. 

The Standard attempted to reach Bender by phone, email and social media. He did not respond.

In an interview with the district investigator, Bender denied many of the allegations against him, but admitted to expressing his attraction toward students and having sexual contact with at least one after graduation, the report stated.  

The district’s investigation is now closed, a spokesperson told The Standard in an email.

June Jordan School for Equity, in San Francisco on Tuesday, August 22, 2023. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

“SFUSD takes allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and abuse very seriously,” the spokesperson said. “The moment we found out about these allegations, the district took immediate action to ensure that Mr. Bender did not have any further contact with students.”

The San Francisco Police Department took a “desk report” on the two graduates’ allegations against Bender, but “it does not appear they undertook any follow-up investigation,” the district report stated. The Standard reached out to SFPD but did not receive a response.

School districts are required to inform the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing when an educator’s employment status changes in relation to allegations of misconduct. The San Francisco Unified’s report is addressed to the commission and states that the district believes Bender’s alleged conduct justifies revoking his credential.

‘An Even More Exploitative Sexual Interaction’

Bender, 34, was not just a teacher at June Jordan, a high school with approximately 250 students whose mission includes a strong emphasis on social justice. He was also a member of its first graduating class in 2007. 

After receiving an arts degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2011, Bender returned to June Jordan in 2013 to work in special education. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in special education from the University of San Francisco and secured a teaching credential during the 2019-2020 school year.

According to the district report, his alleged inappropriate behaviors began as early as 2015. 

Bender did not have sexual contact with any of the young men when they were still students at June Jordan, the district found. But his one-time students described his actions as hardly subtle. 

He explicitly expressed his interest in them while they were still students and invited them out, according to the report. He also made no secret that they were his “type,” young Mexican or Latino men, the investigator wrote.

According to the 2019 graduate, during his senior year, Bender invited him to the movies on the pretense that other friends would be there. Instead, the student found himself alone with his teacher.

Bender took him to the back row of the theater, the 2019 graduate told the district investigator, and inched closer to him, which made him uncomfortable. In response to that, Bender said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to kiss you,” according to the student’s recollection in the report.

A San Francisco Unified School District investigative report obtained by The Standard includes excerpted quotes from former students at June Jordan School for Equity who accused teacher Trueman Bender of pursuing them sexually. | Source: SFUSD

Bender did not make his sexual interest in the student a secret, the investigator concluded.

The student said he awoke one morning to a message on Instagram from Bender that said, “I had a wet dream about you.” The student found the message “disgusting” coming from a teacher. He said he replied with, “Ha ha ha.”

“What? You’re not interested?” the student said Bender responded. The report provided to The Standard did not include images of the messages.

June Jordan School for Equity is a high school with approximately 250 students whose mission includes a strong emphasis on social justice. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

For the remainder of that year, Bender attempted to set up “hangouts” with the student and tried to make him feel guilty for not participating, the investigator said. This persisted until the student’s graduation.

Around graduation time, the student told the investigator, Bender sent him another message on Instagram saying, “I really want to suck your dick.” 

During his interview with the district investigator, Bender denied sending those two messages to the student. But the district found his denials to be less than definitive and noted that he also said he could not remember whether he made such statements.

“I don’t want to lie to you … like, in case you have something,” Bender said to the interviewer.

Bender reportedly also invited the second student, who graduated in 2016, to see a film. However, the student’s mother “was opposed to the idea of an adult male taking her teenage son to the movies,” and the student declined the invitation, the report stated.

The weekend of the same student’s high school graduation, Bender invited him out to dinner, where the district concluded he attempted to initiate a relationship.

The teacher ultimately pressured the 2016 graduate into a “plainly exploitative sexual interaction in his parked car in a darkened and nearly empty parking lot.” This was followed by an “even more exploitative sexual interaction” in Bender’s home after he requested help moving, the report stated. The Standard was unable to determine how old the student was when the alleged sexual contact occurred.  

“I realize now that Mr. Bender was grooming me while I was a student, at a time in my life when I was particularly vulnerable both as an [undocumented] immigrant and as a still-closeted young person,” the report quotes that 2016 graduate as saying.

In a quote from the school district's investigative report, a graduate of June Jordan describes how his teacher, Trueman Bender, allegedly forced him to come out as gay before he was ready. | Source: SFUSD

In his interview with the district investigator, Bender admitted to receiving oral sex on one occasion from a third student after he graduated in 2017. This third man refused to speak with the investigator; however, the district administrators believe his experience parallels that of the other two June Jordan graduates. The Standard does not know his name or identity. 

Bender admitted to telling the 2016 graduate that he was sexually attracted to him but emphasized to the investigator that he had not acted on that attraction before that student graduated.

Forced Out

Perhaps the worst element of this experience for the 2016 and 2019 June Jordan graduates was being pushed to come out as gay before they were ready.

The two men identified this as part of Bender’s modus operandi.

As the 2019 graduate dodged his teacher’s alleged advances, he said he found himself under increasing pressure to open up about his sexuality.

Bender claimed to know his “little secret,” even though the student had not told anyone about his orientation. The 2019 student also noted that Bender was close with other male students. 

“It got to the point where I had to come out to Bender to satisfy him,” the report quoted the student as saying. “Like, I had to tell Bender I’m gay. It was a very dark time for me. It wasn’t the right time for me to come out. And I was like, ‘This is what this person wanted the whole time to hear, that I’m a gay man.’”

When the 2016 graduate had dinner with Bender, the teacher claimed he “knew the truth already” about his sexuality. Bender then asked the student what his “type was”—implying it could be him.

Students and faculty wrote messages of support in chalk on the parking lot of June Jordan School for Equity following a 2016 shooting that wounded four students at the school. | Source: Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

Both students told the district that Bender had questioned them about which of their classmates at June Jordan might be gay. He indicated to the 2016 graduate that it was his “mission” to out these students, the report stated. 

In reporting Bender, the 2016 graduate expressed concern the teacher may have targeted other boys, too.

“I suspect Mr. Bender may have tried to groom others,” he said in a written statement to the district, “and make them vulnerable to his sexual approaches.”