ON A CRISP SUNDAY EVENING LAST FALL, Della Nagle stood in the living room of her suburban San Antonio home and ordered everyone to get ready for church. Nagle, who is 45, has taught junior high for most of her career, and you can hear it in her voice—a tad louder than necessary, with a preference for short, declarative sentences that leave little room for adolescent mischief. Three of Nagle’s five children play in the church ensemble—in fact, they are the ensemble—so they had to be on time for services. Daniel, the oldest at sixteen, sat at a makeshift computer desk beneath a tchotchke-covered wall in the living room, absently tapping at a keyboard as he waited for the family to assemble. First down the stairs was his thirteen-year-old sister, Sammie, bearing a clarinet case. “It sucks,” she announced. “I’d rather sing.” Her purple T-shirt read “I’m in charge here, the parents are just for show.”
When everyone was finally gathered in the back of the family’s cluttered red minivan, Daniel, who had recently obtained his learner’s permit, began lobbying to drive. “I need the highway practice,” he said. (His very first attempt had resulted in a collision before the van had left the driveway.) His driving problems notwithstanding, Daniel, who has a thin mustache and a mop of thick black hair, is uncommonly bright. He attends a medical arts magnet school, where he is at least a year younger than his fellow seniors. He is a whiz at calculus, and he somehow managed to pass the Advanced Placement physics exam, even though he only took the regular physics course. He is applying to Yale for this fall.
Though he has grown into a confident young man, Daniel’s birth was shrouded in secrecy. From the beginning of her career as a teacher, Nagle had hidden from her colleagues and supervisors the fact that she was gay. She and her partner of four years, a fellow schoolteacher named Ruth Pinkham, lived together and were raising two teenage girls from Pinkham’s first marriage. When the couple decided they wanted a child of their own, Nagle told her supervisor only as much as she had