An estimated 50 students, alumni and parents of Valor Christian High School participated in a protest against the school's treatment of gay volleyball coach, Inoke Tonga, on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021 (CCM photo)

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A student-organized walkout was held at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch on Tuesday afternoon, where demonstrators voiced support for former volleyball coach Inoke Tonga, who said he was forced to quit because he is gay.

About 50 students, alumni and parents came together at the planned walkout organized by Valor Christian Junior Lucy Sarkissian.

Sarkissian said she has attended the Highlands Ranch high school since she was a freshman, adding that she has often been disgusted by what she called the school’s homophobic behavior toward students and staff.

“There are times where teachers refuse to respect how to speak to trans students,” she said. “I have heard teachers comparing gay people to horses. What happened to Coach Inoke gives the community a much-needed voice on this issue and what Valor is doing. It gives a voice to the rights that gay people deserve.”

In several social media posts over the last week, Tonga has spoken out against how he was treated by the Valor Christian administration. Tonga said the school’s pastor and athletic director held a meeting with him last week, questioning him about a social media post that led them to believe he is gay.

Tonga acknowledged that he is gay, which Valor Christian officials have said violates school policy for staff and teachers.

Tonga said he was given the option to denounce being gay, which he did not want to do. Tonga ended up quitting, ending his tenure as girls’ volleyball coach. This year would have been his second season with the private school team.

In a statement provided by Valor’s marketing coordinator, Nancy Columbia, the school 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. As a Christian faith community, 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.”