HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (KDVR) — Fallout continued on Tuesday after a high school volleyball coach said he was forced to resign because he is openly gay.
Inoke Tonga said he resigned from Valor Christian High after he was pulled aside and asked to choose between identifying as gay or “a child of God.” He ultimately chose to live in his truth, saying he is a gay Christian.
In a statement, the school said their separation was appropriate:
“Valor Christian High School embraces, loves and respects all students, families and other participants in our community, regardless of whether or not they agree with Valor’s beliefs. As a Christian faith community, Valor requires its staff, faculty and volunteer leaders – those who represent the Valor community and guide the spiritual development of our students – 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.
In connection with his employment, Coach Inoke signed a statement affirming his alignment with Valor’s beliefs and community standards. Last week, Valor became aware of a Facebook posting by Coach Inoke that suggested he may not support Valor’s beliefs pertaining to sexuality and marriage. 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. Based on this conclusion, Valor agrees that a separation is appropriate.
Although Coach Inoke has misrepresented many aspects of this matter, Valor appreciates the contributions he has made to the student-athletes in our volleyball program, and we wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”
Students, some teachers, and parents within the Valor Christian community protested in support of Tonga on Tuesday, calling for a culture of change.
“For me they are the reason why. They are the reason people are speaking out,” Tonga told FOX31. He said he was moved to tears seeing students at Valor Christian support him and LGBTQ rights.
“When Coach Inoke and Coach Benner’s stories came out in the past three days, my heart broke for both of them and it broke for every queer teen at this school,” said Valor High junior Lucy Sarkissian.
Even former students came back to the school to show support.
”Discrimination against the LGBT community is not something that’s new for Valor, it’s something that’s baked into the foundation when the school was opened,” said Cole Watson, an alumnus who graduated back in 2018. Watson has gathered testimonies from more than 30 LGBTQ current and former students who had negative experiences with sexual orientation at the school.
“I hope they hear this message from their current students, I hope they hear the messages shared on social media from past LGBT students about the discrimination and psychological abuse they received at this school. I hope they hear it, I hope they are willing to change. But every time Valor has been confronted in the past with the option to change, they’ve turned it down,” said Watson.
School security turned FOX31 and students away from their property. An email from the head of the school asked students participating in the protest not to return to class Tuesday.
“At Valor, I’ve never seen this many police officers. Which tells me, one thing; they are scared,” Sarkissian said.
Students still showed up with the hope it could lead to solutions for the future.
“This is about an end to all of those discriminatory policies because we have the light on us right now because you guys are here, alumni are here, we’re all here. The whole community is watching right now. And we’re in a rare instance where we can truly make a change to their policies,” Sarkissian said.
Despite everything that happened between him and the school, Tonga said he would still go back to work here if given the opportunity because of the connection he had with his students and the inspiration he could provide to others facing pushback at the school because of their sexual identity.
This story has been corrected to reflect that school security, not police, turned FOX31 and students away from the property.