A religious high school in Colorado forced a volleyball coach out of his post after it learned his sexual orientation and told him the only path forward was to "denounce being gay," the man said Thursday.
Officials at Valor Christian High School, in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, acknowledged that they confronted coach Inoke Tonga over his beliefs "pertaining to sexuality and marriage" but contend that he walked away on his own accord.
Tonga, 30, a health care administrator, completed his first season as an assistant boys volleyball coach last spring and had been tapped for a similar spot with the girls' program this fall.
The head coaching spot for the boys volleyball team became available over the summer. So when Tonga was called into a meeting with Valor Christian's athletic director and pastor last week, he assumed the chat was going to be about the boys volleyball spot.
Instead, Tonga said school officials confronted him demanding to know whether he is gay.
A pastor told him that "parents pay too much money to have their kids be coached and taught by someone like you who identifies as a gay man," Tonga said. He said last week's meeting was a complete reversal from just a year ago, when he was hired into the boys' program.
"During the interview process, it was such an uplifting experience. We talked about spirituality," Tonga said Thursday. "My faith in Christ was evident to them. It [sexual orientation] was never an issue or even mentioned until someone came across a post on Facebook that I identified as a gay man."
In a statement to NBC News on Thursday, the school acknowledged that its athletic director and pastor called Tonga into a meeting, worried that "he may not support Valor's beliefs pertaining to sexuality and marriage."
"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," the statement said. "Based on this conclusion, Valor agrees that a separation is appropriate."
Tonga said he was given a choice to denounce homosexuality or lose his post. Tonga became aware that he had been pushed only out a day later, when the school sent an email to volleyball players' parents announcing his departure, he said.
Some Valor Christian students walked out of class this week in support of Tonga and Lauren Benner, a former Valor girls lacrosse coach who came forward after Tonga's ouster became public and said she, too, was pushed out of her post last year because of sexual orientation.
Tonga said last week's sudden departure hasn't shaken his Christian faith.
"Being gay, in the LGBTQ+ community and identifying as Christian can co-exist," said Tonga, who also coaches local club volleyball. "That's what I want to stress to my kids."