Gay volleyball coach told he could be seen as a ‘danger’ to children by Christian school
Gay volleyball coach Inoke Tonga, who was forced to quit his job at a Christian school because of his sexuality, has told Ellen DeGeneres why he had to speak out.
During an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Thursday (16 September), Inoke Tonga revealed that he decided to speak out about his experience after a friend offered some sage advice.
Speaking to DeGeneres, Tonga recounted how he was “excited” when he was called in for a meeting by school officials, wrongly believing he was about to get a promotion.
He even called his fiancé before going into the meeting to say he thought he had gotten the job.
Sadly, Tonga couldn’t have been more wrong. What followed was an hour-and-a-half long meeting in which he was repeatedly grilled about his sexuality.
“They had asked me a few times if I had any lifestyle changes or if I had posted anything inappropriate,” Tonga told DeGeneres.
“I kept saying no, they asked maybe five times, and after the fifth or sixth time I think they were just kind of tired, they were going around beating around the bush and then eventually they were like: ‘Did you ever post anything about identifying as a gay man or advocating for the LGBTQ+ community?’
“For me, I was happy to say yes because that’s who I am, that’s who I was brought up to be, is to advocate for those who are silenced.”
Tonga was subsequently asked how his sexuality might affect the school and was told that he could be seen as a “danger” to children.
Inoke Tonga told Ellen DeGeneres that he was offered ‘conversion books’ by school
“As I was leaving he offered me books, kind of conversion books, and said, ‘When you are ready to accept our help – we’re not holding this coaching position over your head – but when you are ready to denounce being gay and accept our help to becoming a child of God then you can have your position back.'”
Inoke Tonga said he was left in floods of tears after the meeting, and he found himself reflecting on his turbulent and often challenging journey to accepting his sexuality.
“I remembered the 16-year-old me, and then I felt overcome with such emotion from when I was 26 and how proud and free I was when I finally just admitted to the world and to my family that I was gay and I promised myself I would never go back,” Tonga said.
The sacked volleyball coach later emailed his bosses and told them that he would not be denouncing his sexuality. He never received a response, but the next day, the school’s volleyball community received an email saying Tonga had left his position because he was having a “spiritual battle”.
Reflecting on the experience, Tonga admitted that he was initially “scared to even post” online about what he had been through – but he eventually came to realise that he had a duty to speak up.
“I actually was scared to even post about it speak up because they had told me the parents pay too much money for their kids to be mentored by someone who identifies as gay,” Tonga said.
“So in my thought process, before even posting, I’m like: ‘I can’t tell my girls, I can’t tell my boys, because I don’t want their parents to take them away from me, because these are my kids – anyone I coach, they’re my kids.’
“But I’ve also taught my kids, advocate for yourself, advocate for other people when they can’t. And it hit me.
“One of my really good friends was like, ‘What message are you sending your kids if you don’t speak up?'”
That conversation prompted Tonga to open up about what he had been through. He subsequently attended the girls’ team’s opening game, where he was greeted warmly by parents and students alike.
Tonga went on to speak of how proud he was of the girls’ volleyball team, saying they had been coping with “a lot of emotional stress” since the incident.
Ultimately, he came to realise that he was happy to put himself in uncomfortable positions if it benefitted his students.
Inoke Tonga’s appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show comes weeks after he made international headlines when he shared his story of being forced out of his job for being gay.
In the weeks afterwards, students at Valor Christian High School staged a walk-out to protest against the way Tonga had been treated.
In a statement released at the time, Valor Christian High School said it requires its staff “to agree with Valor’s Christian veins set forth in our statement of beliefs and in other policies”.
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A spokesperson for the school said senior officials had become aware that Tonga had posted on Facebook suggesting that “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,” they said.
“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.”
The school went on to claim that Tonga had “misrepresented” the matter, but did not provide further details
PinkNews has contacted Valor Christian High School for comment.