Valor Christian High School students organized a walkout after the school forcibly dismissed their volleyball coach Inoke Tonga for being gay.
Forced removal: Tonga was confronted about his sexual orientation during a meeting with the campus pastor and athletic director on Aug. 19, according to the former coach’s lengthy Facebook post.
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During the meeting, which the athletic director and pastor called a “spiritual connection,” the two men asked Tonga if he had any changes in his lifestyle lately or if he had posted anything “inappropriate” on social media, to which he answered both questions with no. He then confirmed at the meeting that he made a post about being gay, not realizing that this was an issue for the school.
After the questions, Tonga explained to Denver7 that the school gave him two options. “The first option was to denounce that I was gay,” he said. “They told me, 'We'll give you a day, we'll give you a week, however long it takes for you to accept our help to be healed and come to become a child of God and denounce being gay. If not, I would have to be released as a coach."
The pastor and athletic director allegedly berated and belittled Tonga for his sexual orientation during this meeting, Denver Post reported.
Tonga eventually left the Highland Ranch, Colo. high school. In the Facebook post, he said the private school told the volleyball girls team that he decided to resign, but “they left out the part where they pushed me out.”
Tonga worked at the Valor Christian High School as a volleyball coach for the boys' team for the 2020-2021 season. The school then approached him to coach the girls' team for this year’s season.
Denver Post reported Tonga made a now-deleted post on June 15, writing, “If you really want to see the lack of charity, love, and compassion (or any ‘Christ Like’ attributes) in any Christian individual, from any Christian religion, tell them you’re gay. Fair warning though, if you don’t like passive-aggressive comments, do not do it. For whatever reason, talking about racism, and homosexuality will bring out the best, but also the worst in people.”
The school’s response: Valor Christian High School released a statement after the issue made headlines.
In its statement, the school confirmed they were aware of Tonga’s social media post. They responded to the backlash by saying that the Facebook post in question made them think that the coach “may not support Valor’s beliefs pertaining to sexuality and marriage," which led to the meeting. The statement added, “Valor’s campus pastor and athletic director initiated a conversation with Coach Inoke to explore this matter further. Following this discussion, Coach Inoke provided a statement to Valor in which he concluded that he does not support Valor’s beliefs and he requested a separation from Valor."
The statement also said the school’s staff, faculty and volunteer leaders are required to agree with “Valor’s Christian beliefs set forth in our Statement of Beliefs and in other policies and to live in accordance with such beliefs.”
However, Tonga said this issue was never brought up to him. “I was never asked and never addressed and never spoken to that my sexual orientation was going to be an issue…To me the God I believe in welcomes and loves you gay, straight, Black Asian, whatever,” he told CBS Denver.
The aftermath: Many high school students organized a walkout in protest after learning Tonga’s forced removal as the volleyball team’s coach, CBS Denver reported.
Students appear to be gathering outside the school. Some have LGBTQ flags and signs of support.
Media are being kept off the private campus, so I can’t get close enough to hear their messages or read their signs at this point. Will keep you posted. pic.twitter.com/mRJKvnvHBt
— Elizabeth Hernandez (@ehernandez) August 24, 2021
The students have marched to the other side of the street. They’re talking into a bullhorn about how Valor can’t continue to use religion as a guard for bigotry and how students stand with LGBTQ students/employees. “We will not forget your bigotry. We will no longer stay silent” pic.twitter.com/uzqX4ETT4x
— Elizabeth Hernandez (@ehernandez) August 24, 2021
“Reading the statements from Coach Inoke broke my heart to hear that they called him a danger to the school,” Lucy Sarkissian, the 16-year-old student who organized the Tuesday’s walkout, said. “For every queer teen sitting at this school right now, to hear that they are a danger, breaks their heart.”
One of the parents who saw Tonga’s post online reached out to Denver7 and said she was disturbed by the news. “I just want whoever was responsible for this decision to be removed from that school immediately."
A trans student shared he also had an encounter similar to what Tonga had gone through. “They told me that I couldn’t present as male here, which is my preferred gender identity, they pulled me into the dean’s office and said, if you want to stay here, you have to present as female, or you can leave the school,” the sophomore student said. “It’s just so wrong.”
Tonga is currently coaching at the 303 Volleyball Academy. The academy's executive director Erik Rhee issued a statement saying the academy will continue to support the coach.
“Our coaches are a colorful representation of the youth we so dearly love. Inoke Tonga, thank you for so bravely reminding us all that our differences should be something that are celebrated, not hidden,” Rhee said. “And to every youth that walks through our doors…please know this…you are welcome here just as you are.”
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