Students Show Support for Fired Gay Coach

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday July 19, 2021

A gay high school cheer coach who brought suit after abruptly being fired is finding support from students demanding his job be restored, Out Magazine reports.

"Michael Henderson had coached at Murrieta Valley High for three years, leading his squad to a 4th place finish at the 2021 National Cheerleading Championship in April," the article recounted. "It seemed all was well until an anonymous letter to the school district raised questions about his coaching style."

Though Henderson had received a "glowing" performance review, he soon found himself fired. But the coach didn't take his abrupt dismissal lying down — he filed suit alleging wrongful termination based on his being gay.

Meanwhile, his students — and plenty of parents as well — rallied on his behalf, and "staged a protest July 14 in hopes of pressing the district to rehire him.

"About 24 students dressed in school colors and carrying signs that read 'Bring Back Coach Mike' stood outside the school building showing their support," the article detailed.

As EDGE previously reported, the firing was explained to Henderson as a matter of the program "taking a different direction," according to a report by Patch.

But Henderson's dismissal — and that explanation — followed a claim to Henderson by the school's athletic director, Darin Mott, that "an anonymous complaint letter was lodged against him."

"I never saw the letter," Henderson recounted. "I wasn't even given a chance to respond. I was never interviewed about any of it."

One cheer team member's parent, Kim Altenhofel, who also serves as "president of the school's cheer booster club," recalled to Patch that "she was contacted twice by [principal Ryan] Tukua and once by Murrieta Valley Unified School District Trustee Paul Diffley as part of the investigation into Henderson," with the story adding that "the investigation seemed to center on allegations of verbal and mental abuse by Henderson."

Altenhofel expressed skepticism about those allegations. She told Patch that the students on the cheer team "loved him" and that they are "heartbroken."

Henderson's attorney, Terry Davis, said the letter in question "was sent to MVUSD by what is believed to be a couple of disgruntled cheer parents who were angry with their child's position or participation level in the team."

Patch also adds that Davis "alleges the investigation into the letter 'was spearheaded by devout Mormon MVUSD Board Member, Paul Diffley, who made calls to several unnamed sources impeding due process of the investigation.'"

Davis said, "One question related to his sexual orientation raised red flags leading many to believe that it was a substantial factor in the district's decision to terminate Mr. Henderson's employment."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.