A gay man who was forced out as a Christian school’s volleyball coach was told he was “a danger” to children, he said this week on The Ellen Show.
Inoke Tonga appeared with Ellen DeGeneres Thursday. He had coached at Valor Christian High School in Denver. In response to a blogger’s inquiries, he had put up a social media post saying he was gay, a Tongan-American, a Christian, and many other things.
School administrators called him in to a meeting in August. He was excited because he thought he would be getting a promotion he’d applied for. But a few minutes in, he realized that wasn’t the case, he told DeGeneres.
After “beating around the bush” a bit, asking about his “lifestyle” and if he’d posted anything “inappropriate” on social media, they asked him directly if he identified as a gay man or an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, he said. “I was happy to say yes, because that’s who I am,” he noted.
They then “opened the floodgates,” he said, telling him he reflected badly on the school, he told DeGeneres. “You’re a danger to put in front of the kids,” one administrator said. That “broke my heart,” Tonga recalled.
After about an hour and a half, the meeting closed with administrators offering him books on changing his sexual orientation and telling him that “when you’re ready to denounce being gay and accept our help to become a child of God, then you can have your position back.” The next day administrators emailed everyone in the volleyball program with the message that he’d left due to a “spiritual battle.”
Students responded by staging a walkout in support of Tonga, and when he attended the girls’ volleyball team’s first game of the season, he was welcomed by students and parents. Another former coach at the school, Lauren Benner, who had been in charge of the lacrosse team, has shared that she was forced out due to a same-sex relationship as well.
GLAAD issued a statement on Tonga’s firing and the interview, noting that despite the 2020 Supreme Court ruling that firing an employee for being LGBTQ+ is illegal, exemptions for faith-based employers make situations like this possible. It shows the need for the Equality Act, pending federal legislation that would ban anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere, while narrowing those exemptions, GLAAD officials said. The act has passed the U.S. House but is stalled in the Senate.
“Inoke Tonga’s story highlights the lack of legal protections LGBTQ people continue to face, and now millions of Americans can hear one example of anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination, thanks to Ellen’s platform,” said Ross Murray, senior director for the GLAAD Media Institute. “It’s imperative that Americans learn from Inoke’s story and act to ensure that LGBTQ people don’t face discrimination at work, at home, in places of business, or anywhere.”
DeGeneres closed the interview with words of encouragement to Tonga. “You’re going to be led and you’re being guided to the exact right place you’re going to be,” she said. She also announced a gift to him and his fiancé, Charlie. Watch the full segment below.