To the board, leadership, faculty, and staff of Valor Christian High School:
Following the forced resignation of Inoke Tonga and Lauren Benner on the basis of their sexuality, the past three weeks have illuminated systemic discrimination within Valor’s community, environment, and policies. As a result of these events, countless alumni, current students, former faculty, and community members have bravely come forward with their testimonies of harm caused directly by Valor. These testimonies include, but are not limited to: harassment, bullying, discrimination, conversion therapy, and the disregard of the Valor community’s safety and mental health as a direct result of the school’s policies.
Prior to this statement, a group of alumni approached Valor with a carefully written open letter that condemns the forced resignation of Inoke Tonga and Lauren Benner, and has garnered roughly 1,000 signatures in support. While Valor did not send a formal reply to this open letter, Dr. Fisher (Head of School) distributed to Valor parents and community members a signed letter claiming that the victims and their statements "have very little truth regarding actual events” and labels any such testimonies as “false statements.”
As a 'trusted' institution tasked with guiding youth, Valor should prioritize the safety of all students and faculty; this should be at the core of the school's foundation. There is no excuse for putting students or faculty in danger. In its discriminatory actions, Valor has done exactly that.
Valor for Change, a non-profit which has formed in response to Valor’s actions, passionately rebukes the claim that the student and staff testimonies are false. Valor for Change believes the response from Valor was negligent, dismissive, and does not reflect the beliefs of the entire Valor community.
Our objective is to reject discrimination in every form and help lay the foundation for a safe space for all individuals at Valor and beyond. To start achieving this, we must invoke changes in the treatment of LGBTQIA+ students and faculty both on and off campus. Both Valor and the community must be a safe environment that allows individuals to exist without fear of discrimination, punishment, bullying, harassment, and ostracization.
Valor has a right to religious freedom. However, this right must be reexamined when it violates standards of equality and individual freedom on and off campus. We implore Valor leadership to reevaluate its blatant discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and we invite Valor to meet its own standard as a non-denominational religious school.
As such, Valor for Change demands that Valor leadership addresses and takes action on the following:
Acknowledgment of Harm:
Valor must publicly acknowledge the harm caused by the administration, its environment, and its policies in regard to the testimonies. Valor must apologize to those who have been harmed by Valor.
Diversity and Inclusion:
Valor for Change demands that Valor shall create a ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ department on campus. This department oversees that a safe and inclusive environment is fostered for students and faculty alike, as a safeguard against discriminatory practices.
This department must include specialists who are licensed mental health professionals and are qualified in the field of diversity and inclusion. Those in the department would be tasked with upholding standards of anti-discrimination and would provide intersectional resources for all students and faculty regardless of such resources’ basis in faith.
Valor for Change encourages Valor to use the same structure that has already been established by their peers in religious education: Regis Jesuit High School, Mullen High School, and St. Mary’s Academy.
Valor for Change demands the following Policy changes and/or additions:
Valor must add the terms ‘sexuality’, ‘gender identity’, and ‘gender presentation’ to ALL anti-discrimination policies.
Valor cannot ask nor disclose a student’s or faculty member’s sexuality. To do so would be classified as sexual harassment. By this, Valor for Change demands that Valor follows its own policies regarding sexual harassment, as it is stated in Valor’s current Cultural Handbook.
Diversity and inclusion training must be required for all Valor staff and current and future students. This training will be overseen and approved by the Diversity and Inclusion board.
Valor must affirm and comply with students’ and faculty’s wishes regarding the pronouns and names they present and are addressed by. Valor must respectfully integrate those individuals’ pronouns and names into their school experience.
Allow trans and non-binary students to use the bathroom of the student’s professed gender and/or make gender-neutral bathrooms accessible.
Valor must provide full transparency in regards to all policies and procedures that have an effect on diversity and inclusion. Those policies must also be open for external review prior to such measures being enacted.
Valor must define their stance on LGBTQIA+ within public cultural documents.
Participation in Valor board meetings must be made available to stakeholders, including individuals from Valor for Change.
Valor must provide biologically accurate sexual education that does not exclusively rely on abstinence.
Valor must not use or encourage ‘conversion therapy'.
The dress code must be gender inclusive and not gender specific.
Valor must include LGBTQIA+ organizations in its community outreach, including Valor for Change.
The demand that Valor establishes an environment that is inclusive and safe for LGBTQIA+ students, administration, and the outside community should be obvious. To facilitate an affirming environment, Valor for Change offers to guide Valor in the abovementioned policy changes by providing resources, open dialogue, and volunteer efforts.
Valor for Change requests that Valor acknowledge the receipt of this letter. If Valor does not provide a response promising positive action on the points listed in this letter by September 30th, Valor for Change will take further action to ensure and protect equal opportunity, safety, and the dignified respect of its community.
Valor for Change
Appendix A: Definitions
As part of furthering effective communications it is important we establish a shared understanding of the use of language and definitions. Valor for Change acknowledges the below definitions based on common academic use.
Affirm/Affirming: The dictionary defines affirm as to state as a fact; assert strongly and publicly; and to offer emotional support or encouragement. Within the educational, academic, and medical sphere, to affirm means to provide support to an individual while recognizing and acknowledging their identity and expression. Affirmation and affirming education require positive recognition, acknowledgment, and continuing support of an individual’s identity. Valor for Change acknowledges the well-researched and documented importance of affirming an individual’s identity and its direct impact on an individual's mental health.
Bullying: Bullying is a repeated, unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Bullying often takes different forms, including, but not limited to, verbal, written, physical, behavioral, and does not have to occur in person. Valor for Change recognizes that bullying causes both short-term and long-term negative effects on its victims, witnesses, and perpetrators. Valor for Change recognizes that an individual does not need to have intent to engage in bullying.
Conversion Therapy: The Colorado Revised Statutes define conversion therapy as any efforts to change an individual's sexual orientation, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attraction or feelings toward individuals of the same sex. Valor for Change recognizes the well-researched and documented findings that conversion therapy does not work and can directly and negatively impact an individual’s mental health. Valor for Change recognizes any efforts to engage an individual in conversion therapy to be an act of harassment.
Dead name: The use of a dead name, or “dead naming”, means to call an individual by their birth name when they have expressed a preferred name. Name changes often occur as part of an individual affirming their gender identity. Valor for Change recognizes preferred names to be personal and only be determined by the individual. Valor for Change acknowledges the well-researched and documented importance of affirming an individual’s identity, by using their preferred name, and its direct impact on an individual's mental health.
Diversity: The dictionary defines diversity as the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc. Valor for Change acknowledges the importance of exposure to diversity and its impact on dispelling implicit and explicit bias and its contribution to creating a more informed education.
Epithet: The dictionary defines epithet as a term used to characterize an individual or thing. Epithets are often used to make statements about an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/presentation, national origin, and ability status. Valor for Change recognizes many times epithets are used to convey negative attitudes toward or stereotypes about their target. Valor for Change recognizes the use of epithets in this manner as a form of harassment.
Equality: The dictionary defines equality as the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities. Valor for Change acknowledges the importance of an education free from discrimination or bias. This includes the fair and unbiased disciplinary system in which students are disciplined solely on an identified behavior.
Gender Expression: The APA defines gender expression as the presentation of an individual, including physical appearance, clothing choice and accessories, and behaviors that express aspects of gender identity or role. Valor for Change recognizes an individual’s gender expression may differ from their identified gender or their assigned sex at birth. Valor for change recognizes gender expression to be a personal identity that can only be determined by the individual.
Gender Identity: The APA defines gender identity as an individual’s deeply‐felt, inherent sense of being a male; a female; or an alternative gender (e.g., genderqueer, gender nonconforming, gender neutral) that may or may not correspond to an individual's sex assigned at birth or to an individual’s primary or secondary sex characteristics. Valor for change recognizes sexual orientation to be separate and distinct from gender identity. Valor for Change recognizes gender identity is internal and an individual’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others. Valor for Change recognizes gender to be a personal identity that can only be determined by the individual.
Gender Norms: Gender norms are defined as social beliefs which govern the behavior of individuals in society and restrict their gender identity and expression to society’s perception of the individual’s sex assigned at birth. Valor for Change recognizes an individual’s gender expression may differ from their identified gender or their assigned sex at birth. Valor for change recognizes gender expression to be a personal identity that can only be determined by the individual.
Gender: The American Psychological Association (APA) defines gender as a term that refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with an individual's biological sex. Valor for Change endorses the APA’s view that there is a distinction between gender and sex, wherein gender implies the psychological, behavioral, social, and cultural aspects of being masculine, feminine, neuter, both, or all. Valor for Change recognizes gender as a bi-modal spectrum that is inclusive of all identities. Valor for Change recognizes gender to be a personal identity that can only be determined by the individual.
Guilt: Guilt is defined as a feeling of having done wrong or failed in an obligation. Valor for Change recognizes guilt is often invoked, both intentionally and consequently, as a result of addressing a perceived moral failing. Valor for Change condemns the use of guilt in order to achieve compliance
Harassment: The United States Federal Government defines harassment as unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, older age (beginning at age 40), disability, or genetic information (including family medical history). Harassment often takes different forms, including, but not limited to, verbal, written, physical, behavioral, and does not have to occur in person. Valor for Change recognizes the Federal Government's prohibition on retaliating against individuals who identify harassment and/or individuals who participate in an investigation. Valor for Change recognizes that an individual does not need to have intent to engage in harassment.
LGBTQIA+: LGBTQIA+ refers to individuals who identify as not straight and/or whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth. Valor for Change recognizes these identities to be personal and only be determined by the individual.
Licensed Mental Health Professional: Master’s or Doctoral level individuals who are licensed and regulated by the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) in Colorado and are beholden to the Mental Health Practice Act and to a clearly identified ethics board.
Minority: The dictionary defines a relatively small group of people, especially one commonly discriminated against in a community, society, or nation, differing from others in race, religion, language, or political persuasion. Valor for Change recognizes the importance of recognizing an individual’s minority status as part of the process of achieving equality.
Out/Outing: To out or “outing” someone is the act or practice of revealing the gender identity or sexual orientation of an individual. Valor for Change recognizes the act of coming out to be a personal journey to be undertaken by an individual when and to whom they determine appropriate. Valor for Change acknowledges the well-researched negative consequences of disclosing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent. Valor for Change recognizes any “outing” without the individual’s express permission to be an act of harassment.
Pronouns: Pronouns are words that refer to either someone or something that is being talked about. Gender pronouns specifically refer to people that you are talking about. Gender pronouns are derived from an individual's gender identity. Valor for Change recognizes an individual’s pronouns may not match with their assigned sex at birth or their gender expression. Valor for Change recognizes pronouns to be personal and only be determined by the individual. Valor for Change acknowledges the well-researched and documented importance of affirming an individual’s identity, by using their identified pronouns, and its direct impact on an individual's mental health.
Qualified: The dictionary defines qualified as officially recognized as being trained to perform a particular job; certified. Valor for Changes recognizes the importance of employing and utilizing individuals in roles in which they have documented training from an accredited body or institution.
Sex: The APA defines sex as referring to an individual’s biological status and is typically categorized as male, female, or intersex. The APA identifies biological sex identifiers as including sex chromosomes, gonads, internal reproductive organs, and external genitalia. Valor for Change endorses the APA’s stance that sex is typically assigned at birth (or before, during ultrasound) based on the appearance of external genitalia. Valor for Change recognizes the utilization of assigned sex at birth. Valor of Change endorses the APA’s view there is a distinction between gender and sex, wherein sex usually refers to the biological aspects of maleness, femaleness, or intersex. Valor for Change recognizes sex as a bi-modal spectrum that is inclusive of all identities and biological presentations. Valor for Change recognizes that an individual's sex assigned at birth may be different from their identified gender.
Sexual Orientation: The APA defines sexual orientation as a component of identity that includes an individual's sexual and emotional attraction to another individual and the behavior and/or social affiliation that may result from this attraction. An individual may be attracted to men, women, both, neither, or to people who are genderqueer, androgynous, or have other gender identities. Individuals may identify as lesbian, gay, heterosexual, bisexual, queer, pansexual, or asexual, among others. Valor for change recognizes sexual orientation to be separate and distinct from gender identity. Valor for change recognizes sexual orientation to be a personal identity that can only be determined by the individual.
Shame: Shame is defined as a feeling of embarrassment or humiliation that arises in relation to the perception of having done something dishonorable, immoral, or improper. Valor for Change recognizes shame is often invoked, both intentionally and consequently, as a result of addressing a perceived moral failing. Valor for Change condemns the use of shame in order to achieve compliance.
Slur: The dictionary defines slur as a derogatory or insulting term applied to a particular group of people. Valor for Change recognizes the short-term and long-term effects of the use of slurs against an individual or group. Valor for Change recognizes the use of slurs in any form to be an act of harassment.
Stakeholder: The dictionary defines a stakeholder as an individual with an interest or concern in something. Valor for Change has identified Valor stakeholders to include Valor staff and faculty, current students and parents, and alumni.