A high school volleyball coach has claimed he was ‘pushed out’ of his job after his employers told him being gay made him a ‘danger’ to the school and its students.
Inoke Tonga opened up about the conversation he had with a campus pastor and the school’s athletic director in a lengthy post shared on Facebook this month, in which he explained he had been called into a meeting at his school, Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, on August 19.
Tonga described himself as ‘happy to be there’ because he had never previously had negative encounters with his employers, but things took a turn when he began to face questions about his sexuality.
The coach was repeatedly asked about whether he had posted anything online that would ‘go against Valor’s culture and beliefs’. He responded that he had not, but when asked if he had posted anything about being gay, he could only answer, ‘Yes’.
The coach claimed that he had never previously been aware of the school’s stance on LGBTQ+ people, but it quickly became apparent when he started to be ‘grilled about how being Gay is a “danger” to the school and to the kids’.
The employers are said to have referred to the queer community as ‘LGGTBG or whatever’, and told Tonga that with him ‘identifying as a gay man, they can’t put the kids at risk by having [him] in front of them’.
It allegedly became apparent that Tonga would not be able to continue coaching his volleyball team as normal, instead being told that he could either be himself and leave, or ‘denounce being gay’ and continue his work.
According to Tonga, the employers said, ‘I want you to cut off that part of who you think you are. Go home and delete any posts on social media that speak about being gay. We want you to realize you aren’t gay. You need to become a child of God.’
They added, ‘I don’t want to seem like I’m hanging a coaching position over your head to ‘convert’ you, but we just can’t have you in front of the kids if you identify that way.’
Of course, Tonga would not choose to ‘denounce identifying as a gay man’, and so walked away from the job. Staff are said to have told his volleyball team that the coach made his own decision to leave, and while Tonga noted this was true ‘in a sense’, he said, ‘They left out the part where they pushed me out.’
After Tonga shared his post, students walked out of class to show their support for the teacher, and another former employee at the school came forward to say she shared a similar experience.
In a post on Instagram, Lauren Benner said she was called into a meeting with Valor’s athletic administrator and a human resources employee in December 2019, in which they asked her to confirm whether she was in a relationship with another woman.
Benner initially denied the claim, though in the spring of 2020 she set up a meeting to discuss her future at the school and the school’s stance on LGBTQ+ matters. She parted ways with the school after telling the athletic director and campus pastor she would welcome any child who came out to her, noting that leaving the role was ‘really not a choice’.
In response to the allegations, Nancy Columbia, Valor’s marketing coordinator, said:
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.
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Columbia added that Tonga was called into the meeting after the school became aware of a Facebook post that suggested he might not support Valor’s beliefs pertaining to sexuality and marriage.
She continued, ‘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.’
Tonga said he decided to speak out about his experience to demonstrate to his students how to ‘learn to love themselves’, stick up for one another and stand up to against those who cause harm.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 10am–6pm Monday to Friday, or email [email protected]
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