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Victim comes forward to detail alleged harassment by San Francisco teacher

Luis Gante sits for a portrait at Mountain Lake Park in San Francisco on Wednesday. Very few people who experienced abuse at the hands of their teachers ever share their stories. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

It was March 2023, and Luis Gante was lying in bed and grappling with a moral dilemma.

A shooter had recently walked into an elementary school in Nashville and opened fire, killing three 9-year-old children and three teachers. The news had shaken Gante, a San Francisco resident who works at a Bay Area preschool.

As Gante stared at the ceiling, he wondered: If I really care about kids, why am I staying quiet?

That late-night internal monologue spurred Gante to come forward about his own childhood trauma. He told the San Francisco Unified School District that in high school, he had been sexually harassed by a teacher who also pressured him to come out as gay before he was ready.

His decision to speak out would lead to special education teacher Trueman Bender resigning from his job at June Jordan School for Equity, a small school in the Excelsior District with a focus on social justice.

“I didn’t want any other high-schooler going through the experience that I went through,” Gante told The Standard.

A sign at June Jordan School for Equity, whose mission is driven by social justice, directs people to the entrance. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Cases of alleged abuse by teachers often don’t come to public attention. The alleged perpetrators may simply resign and avoid further investigations or criminal charges. Victims’ identities are usually protected, and lingering shame can make them reluctant to speak out. 

In that light, Gante’s choice to speak publicly is unusual. 

The Standard first reported last month that school district investigators had determined that Bender had behaved inappropriately toward students and had sexual contact with two of them after they graduated, citing an internal district report that redacted the alleged victims’ names. This year, The Standard has revealed multiple cases of alleged sexual misconduct by employees of San Francisco Unified

After the article on Bender was published, Gante contacted The Standard and recounted his experiences firsthand.

His story reveals the challenges: for victims, of reporting abuse and, for schools, of dragging sexual misconduct out into the light—particularly when the victims are LGBTQ+ students. 

Gante said he believed there were more students who were targeted by Bender, but they were not willing to come forward.

Gante said the harassment he suffered at June Jordan made him develop suicidal thoughts and hate being gay. Now 22, he has sought therapy to process his experiences.

“To this day, I still have a lot of phobia towards gay people—even though I identify as a gay man,” Gante said.

Light illuminates a mural in the hallway of June Jordan School for Equity in San Francisco's Excelsior District. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Bender did not respond to multiple phone calls, emails and social media messages, either for this story or for The Standard’s previous story detailing his resignation. 

When interviewed by a district investigator earlier this year, 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.

‘I Know Your Little Secret’

At the core of the allegations against Bender are claims that he not only pursued high school students sexually, but also attempted to out them as gay against their wishes.

The alleged victims appear to be Latino males, whom Bender said were his “type,” according to the district investigation.

In Gante’s case, the alleged harassment began in his junior year. The former June Jordan student recounted that Bender had approached him, claiming, “I know your little secret”—that he was gay.

That made Gante extremely uncomfortable.

“My parents are super homophobic,” he said. “I grew up with so much homophobia.”

Gante said Bender began to make inappropriate comments on campus—sometimes in the presence of Gante's friends who didn’t know about his sexual orientation. He recalled his former teacher saying at one point, “Don't you have to go to Westfield mall Downtown and go cruising to meet up with some guys?”

In a statement to The Standard, the district said it takes allegations of misconduct very seriously and took immediate action regarding Bender.

According to the district report, Bender also invited Gante to the movies and sent him explicit messages on Instagram, claiming to have had a wet dream about Gante and, near graduation in 2019, telling him, “I really want to suck your dick.”

“That’s disgusting, coming from a teacher,” Gante told the district.

Gante told The Standard the messages made him so uncomfortable at the time that he deleted them. 

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.

“I don't want to lie to you ... like, in case you have something,” Bender said at one point during the interview, according to the report.

Revelations From the Past

Luis Gante, an abuse survivor, poses for a portrait at San Francisco's Mountain Lake Park. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

After making his decision to come forward in March, Gante’s first step was to contact Annette Luckett, a former June Jordan physical education teacher whom he trusted.

Although she did not know Bender well, she was shocked and upset by the revelations. They also made certain memories of Gante as a student click in her mind: He sometimes seemed sad but wouldn’t tell her what was wrong. 

“That’s a well-respected teacher who a lot of kids went to,” Luckett said of Bender.

Luckett put Gante in touch with his former high school adviser, who told him that, since he didn’t have documentation of his allegations, the case against Bender would be stronger if another person could corroborate it. 

In fact, there was a second person. Gante had reconnected with another former student who had graduated from June Jordan in 2016. He, too, said he had suffered similar advances from the teacher and agreed to come forward and talk to the school district.

The 2016 graduate was not willing to be interviewed for this story. But according to the school district report, Bender pressured him into a “plainly exploitative sexual interaction in his parked car in a darkened and nearly empty parking lot” shortly after graduation.

Gante said he and the 2016 graduate also reached out to three other former students to join them in coming forward to school officials, but the other students weren’t ready to speak up because they aren’t out. 

Studies show that LGBTQ+ students are more likely to experience sexual harassment and assault than straight students and less likely to report it. The fear of being judged for their sexual orientation and the fear of retaliation are some of the major factors preventing LBGTQ+ students from reporting, researchers say. 

The district also attempted to contact a third June Jordan graduate—one of the two who reportedly had sexual contact with Bender after graduation—but he declined to speak with the investigator.

“He did not want people knowing he was gay, and he was undocumented at the time,” Gante said. “He was just really scared.”

After the two young men filed their report with the district, a district investigator interviewed Bender. When the investigator approached him for another round of questioning, he resigned in July.

The district’s investigation has closed, and the matter is now in the hands of the state credentialing commission. The two graduates also took their allegations against Bender to the San Francisco Police Department, but the police appear not to have conducted a follow-up investigation.

Picking Up the Pieces

Months after speaking to school administrators, Gante said that he’s “at peace now.”

The district and June Jordan leadership declined to comment on how the allegations against Bender affected the school community. 

“June Jordan School for Equity takes this matter seriously and remains focused on the healing and support of their students, staff and community,” a district spokesperson said.

Luckett believes the school will pull through and hopes the community has an open discussion about what transpired. Whatever shock it may have caused the school, she says she is proud of Gante and the 2016 graduate for coming forward.

“I’m glad they had the courage to do that,” Luckett said. “If they didn’t, [Bender] would be on that campus right now.”