HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — Inoke Tonga is a Christian, a volleyball coach and a gay man. The first two got him hired at Valor Christian High School as a head coach for the boys JV volleyball team and an assistant coach on the boys varsity team. The third, he says, caused him to be pushed out less than a week before school started for his second year at the Highlands Ranch school.
"They said I had two options," Tonga explained. "The first option was to denounce that I was gay."
The second option, he said, was to resign.
"They told me, 'We'll give you a day, we'll give you a week, however long it takes for you to accept our help to be healed and come to become a child of God and denounce being gay,'" he explained. "If not, I would have to be released as a coach."
School officials confirm that the athletic directors were made aware of a Facebook post made by Tonga where he discussed his life as a gay Christian man.
"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," a spokesperson for the school said in a statement. "Valor’s campus pastor and athletic director initiated a conversation with Coach Inoke to explore this matter further. Following this discussion, 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."
Tonga says the conversation was one of the most invasive of his life.
"What (school officials) said was, 'We don't want to make it seem like we're trying to convert you into being a straight man, but we just want you to be a child of God,'" he said. "I was scared after that, because I felt that I would be released for identifying as a gay man."
Over the weekend Tonga posted about his experience on Instagram. The post has been shared among students and parents at the school who also reached out to Denver7.
"And as a parent, I'm very disturbed," explained one parent who did not want to share her name for fear of retribution to her child who attends the school. "I just want whoever was responsible for this decision to be removed from that school immediately."
The statement from the school says "Coach Inoke has misrepresented many aspects of this matter," but the spokesperson for the school declined to explain how.
"I'm more than motivated to become a better coach and just to keep pushing forward even though I get pushed back," Tonga said.