Students, parents, and alumni of Kennedy Catholic High School, Burien, Washington, protested the reported forced resignations of two LGBTQ teachers by staging a walk-out from school and a rally outside the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Students at the Catholic high school walked out of class on Tuesday, February 8th, and staged a sit-in in the hallway. Students held signs with messages of support for the teachers and the wider LGBTQ community, including the command to “Love Your Neighbor” and the request to “Pray the Hate Away.” At the same time, nearly 100 parents and alumni protested the forced resignations outside the Archbishop of Seattle’s office before heading to Kennedy Catholic. Later in the afternoon on Tuesday, students walked out of school to join a rally of supporters.
The protests follow the news that two well-respected and beloved teachers—Health and Fitness teacher Michelle Beattie and English teacher Paul Danforth—resigned from the Catholic high school over their engagements to same-gender partners. While the school and Archdiocese maintain that the teachers voluntarily resigned, Danforth’s fiancé, Sean Nyberg, told supporters that Danforth “is no longer employed specifically because he and I got engaged.” Beattie was also recently engaged before resigning.
Both the student and parent rallies challenged the Archdiocese of Seattle and Kennedy Catholic to prioritize Jesus’ teachings over Church doctrine on LGBTQ sexuality. Senior Ann Atkinson acknowledged that there are complex Catholic doctrines at play in the decision to fire LGBTQ employees, but she called attention to the most foundational Christian teaching: “I think that the number one commandment in the Bible is to love.” At the rally outside the Archdiocese, parents wondered whether the forced resignations were in line with Jesus’ mission by chanting together: “What would Jesus do? Love, not hate.”
Several elected officials have also offered their support to the Kennedy Catholic community protestors and the teachers who resigned. Catholic-educated former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels and Kennedy High graduate State Senator Joe Nguyen condemned the forced resignations.
Kevin Schilling, a Burien city council member who is also a local Catholic parish’s youth minister, encouraged the community to keep up its protest, even as parents observed Kennedy Catholic’s enrollment contract allows for students to be dismissed if their parents openly disagree with the school’s administration. Schilling reminded the community of the Vatican II-affirmed rights of the laity to exercise its authority in disagreeing with church leadership. He recommended inundating the Archdiocese with the laity’s objection to the resignations and all discrimination against LGBTQ persons in the church:
“The Laity has the power. WE are the Church. WE are the Body of Christ.”
While Kennedy Catholic and the Archdiocese may rely on the ministerial exemption which allows them to fire employees defined as ministerial without threat of lawsuit, the forced resignations are having an effect that explicitly contradicts Christian principles and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the LGBTQ community “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard must be avoided.” LGBTQ students at Kennedy Catholic feel more marginalized, disrespected, and threatened because of the forced resignations. Senior Griffin Terry, who identifies at LGBTQ said the forced resignations make him question whether or not he can return to school:
“It makes me feel really dirty.”
Another gay student, Henry Lemus Vera, feels as though the school is depriving marginalized LGBTQ students the right to have mentors to look up to—further marginalizing them. He said:
“As a gay student, I feel like I’m very marginalized at the school. I feel like they push students like [me] specifically to the side. I think it’s important that we have mentors like [Beattie and Danforth] for kids that don’t feel represented.”
A student photographed at the sit-in held a disturbing sign questioning whether or not he would be expelled for being gay.
Jesus’ mission was one of love and embrace for those on the margins of society. Jesus never chose to further ostracize an already marginalized group. Imitating Jesus is essential and foundational to our identity as Catholics. To choose to disproportionally discriminate against LGBTQ employees in Catholic institutions is antithetical to the very fabric of our Christian identity.
Additionally, when students are entrusted to the care of a Catholic school, it is the expectation of both the students and their parents that they will be cared for, supported, and ministered to with the same love and embrace Jesus would show the students. By taking discriminatory action against LGBTQ employees, Kennedy Catholic and the Archdiocese of Seattle are telling LGBTQ students they do not belong in the school or in the Church. By further marginalizing an already vulnerable population of students, these forced resignations fail to show the respect, compassion, and sensitivity to LGBTQ students that is required by Catholic teaching and expected by the trust parents place in the school to care for their children.
The school should immediately reinstate Beattie and Danforth, apologize to the entire Kennedy Catholic community for the hurt it has caused, and take real action to ensure the LGBTQ students in the Archdiocese of Seattle feel safe, supported, and loved as children of God. Until that time, the Kennedy Catholic High School community should continue to exercise its Vatican II authority to hold the Church leadership accountable for its discriminatory actions.
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, February 20, 2020