Students at Valor Christian High School in Denver staged a walkout on Tuesday after a gay volleyball coach said he was forced to resign due to his sexual orientation.
Inoke Tonga, who is a Christian, wrote about his experience with Valor on an Instagram post earlier this week. School officials found out about a previous social media post where Tonga wrote about his disagreement with the school’s view on LGBTQ+ issues.
About 50 students participated in the walk-out, according to The Denver Post. They walked across the street from the school at about 1:30 p.m. and spoke about the situation through a bullhorn. Sometimes, the paper reported, they did so over leaf blowers the school was using at the same time.
“Hiding behind Christianity as a guise for bigotry is not only disgusting, it’s not Christ-like,” Lucy Sarkissian, 16, an organizer of the walkout, told The Denver Post. “We will not stand for it. We will not forget your bigotry. We will no longer stay silent.”
Sarkissian said that she’s seen anti-LGBTQ+ behavior from teachers at the school, including hearing teachers use the wrong name and pronouns for a trans student.
“My obligation as someone called to love others as the Lord does is to speak out against bigotry and stand up,” she said.
A gay alumnus, Cole Watson, went to support the walkout. Watson told the paper that while he had a great time at Valor he also faced discrimination due to his sexual orientation.
“I’m disappointed and disgusted by this, but not surprised,” he said.
One trans student told KCNC-TV that the school's administrators wouldn’t let him go by his correct gender at school.
“They told me that I couldn’t present as male here, which is my preferred gender identity, they pulled me into the dean’s office and said, if you want to stay here, you have to present as female, or you can leave the school,” said the student. “It’s just so wrong.”
A statement provided to The Denver Post by a representative for Valor 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," they continued.
Inoke had said that during a meeting last week with school officials they said his sexual orientation was “a danger” to both the school and students. He said that officials gave him two options: denounce his sexual orientation or quit.
A former lacrosse coach, Lauren Benner, revealed in an Instagram post that she too left Valor due to pressure on her over her sexual orientation.