A volleyball coach says administrators at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, forced him to leave his job because he refused to denounce being gay.
Inoke Tonga said in a Facebook post that administrators asked him if he posted about being gay on social media and then told him “they can’t put the kids at risk by having me in front of them.”
Speaking with CNN on Tuesday afternoon, Tonga said he’s felt “every emotion on the spectrum,” but that the biggest one he feels is love after he posted about the ordeal.
He told CNN he started at the school last year, coaching the boys’ volleyball team and was approached to coach the girls’ team this season.
“The culture document of Valor Christian that was given to me during the interview process didn’t mention anything about their stance on LGBTQ+,” Tonga said in the post.
Tonga told CNN, and said in the original post, that in the course of the 90-minute meeting last Thursday, he was told the students’ “parents pay too much money to have their kids be coached and taught by someone like you who identifies as a gay man.”
Administrators also said they doubted he is gay, Tonga wrote, and said that “You just need some direction to reach the goal of becoming a child of God.”
Ultimately, Tonga says, he was given the option to “denounce being gay,” which he refused to do and was told that would lead to him being released from the school as a coach, he wrote on Facebook. He said while he’s not sure of his full status at the school, he said he was told he cannot come back without denouncing being gay.
CNN has reached out to Valor Christian High School for comment but did not hear back.
In a statement obtained by the Denver Post the school said, “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. 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 that he sent the school an email that detailed his stance that he can be gay and a Christian.
“I know I can be a gay man and a child of God,” he told CNN.
He said the school has yet to respond to his outreach — but has emailed students and parents to say that he decided to leave the program because he’s struggling with a spiritual battle. He said that he was unaware the school would reach out with an email to parents so soon.
Robert Galop is the parent of two students at the school, but his children do not play for Tonga. He told CNN on Tuesday that while he personally doesn’t know Tonga, the coach is “very well-respected and loved as a coach.”
Galop said he was on his way to a walkout at the school hosted by students to show his support.
“That world view is just not consistent with where we are at today,” he said, referring to the administration’s comments. “We chose the school because of the support they provide to the kids and the growth you expect to see in your child going through a program like that,” he said.
“What they’ve done to this coach, and especially seeing the quotes that have come out from the administration, is gut-wrenching,” Galop said.
The father said he disagreed with what the administrators allegedly said about the parents paying too much money to have their kids be coached and taught by someone like Tonga.
“I would appreciate having him in front of my kids as a coach there, and as an advocate and a mentor,” Galop said.
Based on the reaction from parents who Galop says he has been in touch with, “the action of the administration absolutely does not reflect the feelings of the school community, of the parents, of the children, and there’s a handful of teachers that are apparently willing to talk about it to the kids and lend an ear to them if they want to say anything about it,” he said.
According to Tonga, he has not heard from anyone at the school since the meeting last week. He said he’d prefer to stay at the school and coach.
“I want to work with these kids. They help me and motivate me to be closer to God,” Tonga told CNN. “I want to stay at this school because of these kids.”
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