At the end of August, as Inoke Tonga was preparing to start the volleyball season at Valor High School in Denver, Colorado, he was confronted by school staff. He was asked to delete any social media posts with a pro-LGBTQ message, even posts that identified him as a part of the LGBTQ community.
Inoke refused and was fired, and his story was picked up by local and LGBTQ media. Ross Murray, Senior Director of Education and Training at the GLAAD Media Institute, reached out to Inoke to offer support and coaching on handling the media interest that was coming his way since he went public about his firing.
Since then, students, alumni, and former staff at Valor have rallied around Inoke, speaking out against the discriminatory firing. The media attention increased, and got a major boost today when Ellen DeGeneres invited Inoke onto her daytime talk show to discuss his firing, and offer her support.
“I was scared to post about it or speak up. But I’ve also told my kids to advocate for yourself and advocate for other people when they can’t,” Inoke told Ellen. “And it hit me, “What sort of message are you sending if you don’t speak up.”
Check out the interview between Inoke and Ellen.
“Inoke Tonga’s story highlights the lack of legal protections LGBTQ people continue to face, and now millions of Americans can hear one example of anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination, thanks to Ellen’s platform,” said Ross Murray, GLAAD’s Senior Director, GLAAD Media Institute. “It’s imperative that Americans learn from Inoke’s story and act to ensure that LGBTQ people don’t face discrimination at work, at home, in places of business, or anywhere.
Despite a 2020 Supreme Court ruling that found that firing for someone for being LGBTQ violated Title VII, broad religious exemptions allow schools like Valor to fire a volleyball coach. LGBTQ people also still face discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and in many other aspects of everyday life.
GLAAD research shows up to 91% of Americans believe it should be illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Most Americans already think it is illegal to discriminate. Polls show a majority of Americans of all faiths and political affiliation support in laws to protect LGBTQ people. Passing this bill secures those core American values of fairness and equal treatment.
President Biden supports the Equality Act and promises to sign it into law when it passes. The House of Representatives passed The Equality Act on February 25, 2021, amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include comprehensive protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is the most significant civil rights legislation for LGBTQ people, and it comes as an overwhelming majority of Americans already support laws to protect LGBTQ people.