HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (CBS4) – About 30 students walked out of class on Tuesday to support a coach who says he was forced to resign for being gay. They say they also want to see significant changes to the school’s policies and culture.
The protest comes after Inoke Tonga, the junior varsity girl’s volleyball coach, says the school made him choose between his job or his sexual orientation.READ MORE: Colorado Polio Survivor Reflects On Life-Long Disease & COVID Vaccines Now
“Their terms were renounce being gay or be released as a coach fully,” Tonga told CBS4’s Alan Gionet.
In an Instagram post, Tonga said the school told him “we can’t just have you hanging around the kids if you identify that way.”
In a statement, the school said Tonga misrepresented many aspects of what happened and wished him well in his future endeavors.
“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.
At the Tuesday afternoon protest, students were fired up about the remarks.READ MORE: Denver Cops, Sheriff's Deputies Lagging on Vaccinations; 'There Is A Lot Of Pushback" Says Deputy Safety Director
“Reading the statements from Coach Inoke broke my heart to hear that they called him a danger to the school,” said Lucy Sarkissian, 16, a Valor student. “For every queer teen sitting at this school right now, to hear that they are a danger, breaks their heart.”
Sarkissian organized Tuesday’s walkout. She says the school needs to have more accepting policies.
“There’s some concrete changes we would like to see made, and number one is going to be not firing teachers based off of their sexuality,” she said. “Additionally, we would like to see that students are able to be more open about their sexuality without fear of being reprimanded by the deans.”
One trans student at the protest said school administrators told him he couldn’t go by his preferred 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 sophomore at the school. “It’s just so wrong.”
CBS4 reached out to the school for additional comment about Tuesday’s protest, but have not received a response.MORE NEWS: Colorado AG Report Finds Pattern Of Racially Biased Policing In Aurora
“We see the signs that say ‘love thy neighbor,'” Sarkissian said. “If we’re truly called to love thy neighbor, that means love your gay neighbor, love your trans neighbor, love your queer neighbor, and this is not loving thy neighbor.”