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A student-organized walkout was held at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch voicing support for former volleyball coach Inoke Tonga, who said he was forced to quit because he is gay.
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A student-organized walkout was held at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 24, voicing support for former volleyball coach Inoke Tonga, who said he was forced to quit because he is gay.
About 50 students, alumni and parents came together at the planned walkout organized by Valor Christian Junior Lucy Sarkissian.
Sarkissian said she has attended the Highlands Ranch high school since she was a freshman, adding that she has often been disgusted by what she called the school’s homophobic behavior towards students and staff.
“There are times where teachers refuse to respect how to speak to trans students,” she said. “I have heard teachers comparing gay people to horses. What happened to Coach Inoke gives the community a much-needed voice on this issue and what Valor is doing. It gives a voice to the rights that gay people deserve.”
In several social media posts over the last week, Tonga has spoke out against how he was treated by the Valor Christian administration. Tonga said the school’s pastor and athletic director held a meeting with him on Aug. 19, questioning him about a social media post that led them to believe he is gay.
Tonga acknowledged gay, which Valor Christian officials have said violates school policy for staff and teachers.
Tonga said he was given the option to denounce being gay, which he did not want to do. Tonga ended up quitting, ending his tenure as girls’ volleyball coach. This year would have been his second season with the private school team.
In a statement provided by Valor's marketing coordinator, Nancy Columbia, 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. 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.”
Columbia said in connection with his employment, Inoke signed a statement affirming his alignment with Valor’s beliefs and community standards.
Via Facebook, Tonga said, “I sat in the room being grilled about how being gay is a danger to the school and to the kids,” Tonga said. “That with me identifying as a gay man, they can’t put the kids at risk by having me in front of them.”
Columbia said while the school agreed to mutually part ways with Tonga, they do have issues with his account of the Aug. 19 events.
Sarkissian said the treatment of Tonga should not be OK at a Christian institution.
“I always go back and forth on faith,” she said. “God teaches us to love and not behave like this. We are created by the love of God. This is truly and un-Christ-like thing to do. To say he is a danger to students is ridiculous.”
With her parents’ support, Sarkissian said she does not know if she and the 30 students who followed her in the walkout will face a penalty. The high school junior said students were warned by the dean that a student walkout would result in unexcused absences.
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