Laurel Murphy teaches 8th grade English & Literature in Columbus. This year she is entering her 16th year teaching – but to many of her students, she has been more than just an educator; she has been an advocate. Laurel doesn’t brag about how much she means to her students, but her partner, Julie Rowell, is quick to sing her praises.
And it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the fact that’s she’s gay. Not all of her students are gay, but all of them do a have a role model upon whom they can rely. Laurel has created a safe environment for her students in her classroom: a place where they can avoid being scared, bullied, or harassed. She stands up for students who may not fit in, for whatever reason, and she makes a difference in the lives of her students by simply being true to herself. She may not get paid enough to put up with the crazy antics of middle schoolers, but she doesn’t do it for the money, but as Julie explains, “she does it for the love of it.”
Columbus Schools has also been supportive of her authenticity, as their nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation, and they provide same-sex benefits. The Teacher Union, also supportive, even marches at Pride with school’s Gay-Straight Alliance – also co-run by Laurel.
Laurel, originally from Cincinnati, came to Columbus seeking a teaching opportunity at a diverse school within an inclusive city. She and Julie met through their own children, when Julie’s ex moved into Laurel’s neighborhood in 2010. Together they’ve created a blended family, with Maddie, 9 and Grace, 7. “It’s cool because we’re the only blended family we know,
and stepfamilies in the gay community are especially rare,” says Laurel. “The kids can’t wait for us to get married so they
can be sisters!”
But for now, despite some discussions about running off to New York to get hitched, Laurel and Julie are holding off on getting married until the laws in Ohio change. “If it became legal, I’d drag her [Julie’s] ass downtown,” says Laurel with a laugh. “Quick, before someone appeals this!”
In the meantime, this fall, you can expect to see former students stopping her Clintonville home to say hello, or offering to help put together her classroom for the school year. Says Julie: “If every school had someone like Laurel, Columbus would
be a better place to go to school.”
Photos | Amy Tannenbaum