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Opinion: A queer lens on what happened to Valor Christian’s volleyball coach

It is a bold and audacious gift to oneself to walk away, though there will be relationships to grieve and questions unanswered

I am a Colorado native who also happens to be an educator, who also just happens to be queer. For the past two decades, I have served youth as an educator and advocate for marginalized populations within public, private, and charter schools, and the Division of Youth Corrections. As a queer language arts teacher, adjunct professor, and administrator in educational settings, I have seen, first-hand, discrimination and oppression.

Klaudia Neufeld

What has taken place recently at Valor Christian High School is no surprise. 

Now, as an educational research activist located in Westminster, I advocate for inclusive policies for LGBTQIA intersectional youth and educators that make them visible, with high-level training for leaders around inclusive language, restorative discipline, and equitable hiring and evaluation practices. None of this could have been possible without my walking away from my first teaching job in a private school because I could no longer deny my own identity as a queer woman. 

Many factors prevent or delay a queer person from “coming out”: unsupportive families, unsafe environments and exclusive policies can force someone who identifies as gay to hide that aspect of their identity. Let’s not forget internal homophobia. When society reminds you daily with public misgendering, blatant discrimination and rhetoric of hate being promoted by political leaders, the result is often an internal hatred that shoves individual identity deeper and often leads to self harm and suicide. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Organizations such as The Trevor Project exist to intervene for queer youth who have been driven to the point of considering death as an alternative to the pain of living amid the hate and bigotry. How are we surprised that rates of death by suicide are much higher for members of the LGBTQIA community when there are blatant, systemic forces fighting to prevent their thriving? 

From 2002 to 2005 I served as an English teacher and coach at Maranatha Christian Center, a small private school in Arvada that no longer is in operation. Maranatha operated as a family run, for-profit school with ultra-conservative policies. It had a dress code for women and for men, as well as expectations around the consumption of alcohol and their concept of morality. Contracts included a required signature to live up to “lifestyle of a Christian,” and mandated church attendance each Sunday. 

How I tried to live up to the contract, and follow the lifestyle requirements, to no avail. After three years of attempting to sacrifice my own happiness and being out at work, I could no longer prioritize my erasure for aesthetics and compliance.

At some point, queer individuals learn there is greater joy in embracing self than serving in a role where you are only half of yourself. At some point, queer individuals learn there is greater risk in shunning their own identity. When your life’s mission has obviously taken a back seat to the mission of a job, it is time to move on. When you have to deny the beauty of your individuality, there is nothing for you here. 

It is the most bold and audacious gift to oneself to walk away, though there will be relationships to grieve and questions left unanswered. There is joy in choosing yourself.

While we adults battle one another on the frontlines of social media, fueled by political contempt and the false notion that some members of our community are more valuable than others, the youth are rising up. Students are leading the work of inclusive pronouns, and now they are protesting for the rights of Inoke Tonga, the beloved Valor Christian High School volleyball coach. Tonga was told to renounce his queer identity or to be fired.

Good work, youth! Continue to model for us adults while we work to remember we are all connected and have important contributions. 

It is hard to hate a person up close, and we should seek first to understand. Each of us possesses a moral frame that drives our thinking and actions, yet my rights should never prevent another from thriving.

As Americans, we rage wars of tongue upon those who disagree with our frame. Isn’t it time to rethink norms, and embrace not just inclusive policies but also a tenacious commitment for the good of the whole. There is harm in hate speech, and what took place at Valor reminds us we have work to do. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Undoubtedly, the topic of LGBTQ rights will continue to be argued from the community to political level, but until we sit down at the same table as those with whom we disagree, or hate, or those who we don’t value, our youth will have to keep protesting. 

It is a beautiful and amazing life that is born queer, with a lens that the majority will never possess. A resilience shared in our community and celebrated at Pride each June. How much better would it be if we could stop asserting our rights and superiority of mind and existence, and just love our neighbor. Because that is what the “good book” is all about, right?


Klaudia Neufeld lives in Westminster.


The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggest writers or give feedback at opinion@coloradosun.com.


The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to opinion@coloradosun.com


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