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Students stage mass walk-out after Christian school forced coach to resign for being gay

Patrick Kelleher August 25, 2021
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Ivie Hunt, 15, front, and about 50 Valor Christian High School students walked out of classes to support a volleyball coach Inoke Tonga, who says he was forced to leave his job over his sexuality, in front of the high school in Highlands Ranch, Colorado on Tuesday, August 24, 2021.

Ivie Hunt, 15, front, and about 50 Valor Christian High School students walked out of classes to support a volleyball coach Inoke Tonga. (Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty)

Students have staged a walk-out at Valor Christian High School in Denver, Colorado after a gay volleyball coach was “pushed out” because of his sexuality.

Inoke Tonga was met with a wave of public support when he said in a Facebook post that he was forced to resign as a volleyball coach after school officials found out about his sexuality.

On Tuesday (24 August), around 50 students at Valor Christian High School staged a walk-out to “show support for all LGBT+ students and show the administration that discrimination and bigotry will not be tolerated,” according to an online post.

Students gathered across the street from Valor at around 1.30pm where some shared their thoughts about the treatment of LGBT+ staff and students at the school.

The students spoke through a bullhorn while maintenance staff from the school used leaf blowers nearby, almost drowning out the sound of the demonstration, the Denver Post reports.

Students held signs that said “Schools of quality don’t fear equality” and “Love thy neighbour” as they marched out of the school.

Students won’t stand for Valor’s ‘bigotry’ after gay volleyball coach was ‘forced out’

Lucy Sarkissian, 16 – who helped to organise the protest – told the gathered students that the school’s apparent decision to use Christianity “as a guise for bigotry” would not be tolerated.

She characterised the school’s actions as “disgusting”, adding that discriminating against LGBT+ people is “not Christ-like”.

“We will not stand for it. We will not forget your bigotry. We will no longer stay silent,” Sarkissian said, according to the Denver Post.

The student went on to tell the gathered students that she has personally seen examples of anti-LGBT+ discrimination at Valor Christian High School.

She said she once witnessed a teacher refuse to use a trans student’s correct pronouns and name, adding that she has an “obligation” to “speak out against bigotry”.

A trans student also attended the demonstration, according to CBS Denver. He told the news outlet that school staff brought him into a meeting when he came out, telling him he would “have to present as female” if he wanted to remain at the school.

“It’s just so wrong,” he said.

Avery Calvert, 16, left, and about 50 Valor Christian High School students walked out of classes to support a volleyball coach Inoke Tonga, who says he was forced to leave his job over his sexuality, in front of the high school in Highlands Ranch, Colorado on Tuesday, August 24, 2021.
very Calvert, 16, left, and about 50 Valor Christian High School students walked out of classes to support a volleyball coach Inoke Tonga. (Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty)

Later in the protest, students bowed their heads in prayer, saying they don’t “hate” the school’s dean and administration staff, but affirming that they “hate their actions”.

The group of teens closed out their demonstration by shouting “we’re praying for you” at the school.

The demonstration came after volleyball coach Inoke Tonga made international headlines when he shared his story, saying he had been forced to resign by the school when senior officials found out about his sexuality.

In a wide-ranging Facebook post, Tonga said he was hauled into a meeting with the campus pastor and the athletic director when they learned that he had posted online about being gay.

Tonga said he was given two choices: he could “denounce being gay” and live his life as a straight man, or he could continue being openly gay and leave Valor Christian High School.

“I sat in that room for an hour and a half being belittled by men who knew nothing about who I am, what I’ve done in life, what obstacles I’ve overcome, the understanding I have of the living scriptures, and more importantly the love I have for my saviour and lord, God,” Tonga wrote.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Inoke Tonga (@inoke.tonga)

“With my head held high, and with tears ready to be shed for hours, even days, I walked away knowing that my journey as a coach at Valor Christian had come to an end – I was not going to ‘denounce identifying as a gay man.'”

Valor Christian High School said gay volleyball coach ‘doesn’t support our beliefs’

In a statement, a Valor spokesperson said the school requires its “staff, faculty and volunteer leaders… 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”.

“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,” the spokesperson said.

“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.”

About 50 Valor Christian High School students walked out of classes to support a volleyball coach Inoke Tonga, who says he was forced to leave his job over his sexuality, in front of the high school in Highlands Ranch, Colorado on Tuesday, August 24, 2021.
About 50 Valor Christian High School students walked out of classes to support a volleyball coach Inoke Tonga. (Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty)

The school went on to claim that Tonga had “misrepresented” the matter, but said it “appreciates the contributions he has made to the student-athlete in our volleyball program.”

The controversy intensified further when Lauren Benner, a former lacrosse coach at Valor Christian High School, said she was pushed out by the school after she came out as gay.

Writing on Instagram, Benner said she almost lost her job when the school received an anonymous tip off that she was dating a woman. She initially denied that she was gay, but she later organised a meeting with senior officials to discuss her sexuality and the school’s commitment to LGBT+ staff and students.

Benner said some of the things said in that meeting were “shocking”, claiming she was “bombarded with ignorant and irrelevant statements”.

She said she made the decision “right there and then” that she would not return to the school, adding that it “really was not a choice”.

PinkNews has contacted Valor Christian High School for comment.

Related topics: Homophobia

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