"She has always been one of my biggest supporters," Scott Lyons tells PEOPLE of his aunt
Susan Sarandon is not one to sit idly by.
After Sarandon’s nephew Scott Lyons wrote an impassioned plea asking his former high school teacher to stop posting anti-gay comments on her public Facebook page, the Academy Award-winner was among the first to voice her support of Lyons’s message of acceptance.
“So proud of my nephew Scott and the dialogue he started,” Sarandon, 68, posted on her Facebook page on March 11. “He was responding to a teacher he had at his high school who still believes that homosexuality is a learned behavior. High school is a tough time anyway … students don’t need teachers making it even more difficult.”
Lyons first became aware of his former teacher Patricia Jannuzzi’s Facebook posts thanks to his brother Ben – a fellow alumnus of Immaculata High School in Somerville, New Jersey.
“A lot of alumni had been talking about it over the last few months,” Lyons, 35, tells PEOPLE. “Her page was public so anyone could read her posts but the ones that were spread were not even the most shocking ones.”
Lyons – who was elected homecoming king before graduating from IHS in 1998 – says he was initially shocked to read Jannuzzi’s posts.
“That was not the teacher that I had and that certainly was not something I was exposed to when I was her student,” he says. “I definitely did not have anything bad to say about my experience with her while in school.”
In response to the outcry of disapproval, the administration at IHS has publicly stated that Jannuzzi has been put on administrative leave and was told to take down her Facebook page, which contained content “completely inconsistent with our policy and position as a Catholic Christian community.”
Lyons says that it is Jannuzzi’s position as an educator that made him particularly sensitive to her comments.
“I believe that everyone is entitled to their own views but when you are in a position where you have an influence on children, you have to be careful with your words. They can be very damaging,” he says.
Though some are calling for parents to remove their children from the Catholic school in protest of Jannuzzi’s suspension, Lyon’s says he has received messages from people “around the world” who have reached out to thank him.
“I just hope that the kids who had access to that Facebook page – not just the gay kids but any kid who struggles with their identity or is being bullied – can walk through those halls with their head held higher knowing that her language and message is not acceptable in that kind of place,” he says.
And Lyons – who married his husband Jason in October and will celebrate their adopted son’s first birthday in June – couldn’t be more grateful for the support of his aunt.
“From as early as I can remember, she has been one of my biggest supporters,” he says. “I think she knew from very early on that I was different and she kept me safe and feeling that I was great just the way I was. She is just the coolest person and it means a lot. When I thanked her, she texted me back and said, ‘It feels really good when people have your back.’ And it really does.”