School Spirit

High school explodes in student protests over ouster of gay coach

Inoke Tonga. ABC Screenshot.

A Colorado high school erupted in student protests this week after the resignation of a popular volleyball coach. The coach in question has publicly claimed he was forced to resign because he’s gay.

Inoke Tonga claimed administrators at Valor Christian High in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, pressured him into resigning after learning about his sexual orientation. Tonga has said in the press that the school warned him if he continued to live as an openly gay man, he could not live as a “child of God” and would therefore have to see a different employer.

Related: This Texas athlete came out to his high school, then started a gay-straight alliance

In an odd move, Valor Christian appeared to corroborate Tonga’s account, writing in a statement:

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. 

Now, students are voicing their objections.

Fox affiliate KVDR reports that students at Valor High have staged a walk-out in support of Inoke.

“When Coach Inoke and Coach Benner’s [another coach, allegedly pressured to resign for being gay] 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,” Valor High junior Lucy Sarkissian told reporters.

“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,” she added.

Valor alumni also joined in the protests.

”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 Valor graduate Cole Watson. “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.”

For Inoke Tonga, the protest affirms his love of his students.

“For me they are the reason why [I teach],” Tonga told KVDR. “They are the reason people are speaking out.”

In light of the protests, Valor High administrators requested a police presence at the school. The school also released a statement ordering students participating in the protest not to return to class on Tuesday, and threatening them with “unexcused absence” status. Inoke, meanwhile, has said he would return to the position if offered, so long as the school accepts him as both a gay man and a Christian.