UPDATE: Valor Christian students organized a walkout following news of Inoke Tonga’s dismissal.

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (CBS4) – Students and parents are talking about the departure of Girls JV volleyball coach Inoke Tonga in what Tonga says was effectively a dismissal from the school over his sexual orientation and support for LGBTQ+ people.

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“My name is Inoke Tonga. I am an American-Tongan gay man,” the post begins. Tonga, who was coaching boys JV volleyball in his first year at Valor last year, moved over to girls JV this year. The varsity boys coach was leaving. When he was asked to a meeting with a school pastor and athletic director, he thought it might mean job as head coach for the boys.

“I tricked myself into believing I was going in there to meet them to be prepared to take over the boys program but it was the opposite.”

Inoke Tonga

CBS4’s Alan Gionet interviews Inoke Tonga. (credit: CBS)

“In connection with his employment, Coach Inoke signed a statement affirming his alignment with Valor’s beliefs and community standards. 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. Valor’s campus pastor and athletic director initiated a conversation with Coach Inoke to explore this matter further,” said Valor in a statement. Tonga says he was asked if he’d posted inappropriate things.

“I kept saying no to posting anything inappropriate because I first of all that’s not me. And honestly I don’t see anything inappropriate that I did post.”

Tonga has been coaching volleyball for 8 years. Recently he’s also been coaching club volleyball for the 303 Volleyball Academy. Some of the players there were Valor players and he got to know some of the parents. The fact that he’s gay, he felt, would not be a problem as some parents encouraged him to apply to Valor.

“I honestly thought it was never going to be an issue because some of the parents knew from club.”

The school maintains in its statement that Tonga’s posting may be an indication of his disagreement with the school’s beliefs.

Valor Christian High School

(credit: CBS)

“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,” said the Valor statement.

But Tonga says that hadn’t come up.

“I was never asked and never addressed and never spoken to that my sexual orientation was going to be an issue … To me the God I believe in welcomes and loves you gay, straight, Black Asian, whatever.”

Among the girls Tonga coached was Scott Newman’s daughter. He got email from the school informing him vaguely about the situation.

“I’m like, ‘Man there had to have been something more behind it and you know’ … Here we are Monday and we’re just trying to sift through it. None of it made sense to us.”

His daughter was fond of the new coach.

“She really liked him and it was the first time that she really enjoyed the high school coach and was super excited to play for him.”

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Newman noted that perhaps he had not looked closely enough at some of Valor’s statements on the issue before sending his daughter to school there.

“I’m a devout Christian, and the church I go to does not say if you’re gay you cannot attend this church,” he explained.

“Valor can have whatever beliefs they want — and at the end they’re a great school — I’m just confused by how this was handled. Because it seemed to go against what Valor stood for.”

His daughter he says can view this is a learning experience. She opposes the school’s move. So does he.

“Christianity decides that you shouldn’t have been divorced. But does that mean that everyone inside Valor should never get divorced and if they should, should they fired? So at what point are all sins created equal?”

Inoke Tonga

(credit: CBS)

Coach Inoke is still going over the discussion he had with the school in his mind.

“If they asked me right now if I wanted to leave, I would say no. But also at the same time if they ask me and continue to ask me as they did to denounce being a gay man I would also say no.”

How his separation from the school went, appears to be in dispute.

“I feel like I was forced out. It was basically do this and keep your job or don’t do it. And I said I can’t do it and left it up to them.”

Valor’s statement says, “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.”

“It hurts that the school publicly said that I walked away. Because that goes against everything I’ve told my kids and it’s against everything that I promised them,” said Tonga.

“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,” said the statement.

CBS4 asked the school to further explain its claim that Tonga had misrepresented the matter, but the school declined further comment.

Tonga will continue to coach volleyball with the club. And now he’s standing on principle.

“I have to put the expectation on myself to put myself in something uncomfortable. As the Bible teaches as well, I’m willing to be crucified for what I’m standing for and for what I know to be true. For the love that I have for these kids and for the community.”

303 Volleyball Academy’s executive director Erik Rhee also issued a statement saying it will continue to support Coach Inoke. It said, in part:

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“Our coaches are a colorful representation of the youth we so dearly love. Inoke Tonga, thank you for so bravely reminding us all that our differences should be something that are celebrated, not hidden. And to every youth that walks through our doors … please know this … you are welcome here just as you are.”

Alan Gionet