When gay-rights activist Cleve Jones saw a video on his Facebook feed of Eastside Catholic students protesting the termination of former Vice Principal Mark Zmuda, he thought three male students looked familiar.

“They looked so much like the boys who used to beat me up,” Jones said. “I thought, ‘things have changed.’ ”

Friday night, Jones was in Seattle speaking on what was dubbed the “Z Day Panel,” organized by current and former Eastside Catholic student leaders in support of Zmuda, who was terminated from Eastside Catholic after school officials learned he had married his male partner. The panel discussion capped a day on which students across the country were encouraged to wear orange, Eastside’s color, in a show of support for Zmuda.

Zmuda’s dismissal from his job just before the Christmas break triggered a protest heard around the world. Students at Eastside staged a sit-in, and those from at least one other Catholic school followed suit. Support for Zmuda and calls on the school to reinstate him poured in from around the globe. Students, alumni and their supporters staged a series of demonstrations in front of the Seattle Archdiocese, calling on the church to stop firing gay teachers.

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Sister Mary Tracy, president of Eastside, who told students she was ultimately acting at the behest of the Archbishop, submitted her resignation two weeks ago.

At Friday night’s panel discussion, Zmuda announced a new foundation, Stand With Mr. Z, which will focus on ending workplace discrimination.

“I am not asking for everyone to agree with marriage equality,” Zmuda said. “I am asking for one thing: that everyone will be tolerant.”

Cleve Jones was at the forefront of the gay-rights movement alongside Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco city councilman who was murdered in 1978 along with that city’s mayor, George Moscone.

Jones is founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, which has become one of the largest pieces of community folk art. And in 1983, at the onset of the AIDS pandemic, he co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, now one of the largest, most influential advocacy organizations for people with AIDS in the United States.

“Miraculous,” is what he termed the worldwide reaction to Zmuda’s termination. “It’s pretty amazing; it really confirms to me that people with compassion can create change,” Jones said at the Friday-night event held in the social hall at Saint Joseph Parish on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.

Former Eastside student Mary Kopczynski said the purpose of the panel was to address the intersection of faith and human sexuality and what it would take to bring the Catholic Church “up to speed.”

“We want things to change,” Kopczynski said.

Holy Names Academy senior Zeena Rivera, 17, spoke on the panel about her experiences as a “queer, Catholic youth” and said the Catholic community and the LGBT community are both a significant part of her life.

“It wouldn’t be right that one could be split from the other, because that’s not how my life works,” Rivera said. “I will go to a pride parade on Sunday morning, then I’ll go to Mass at St. Joe’s at 5:30.”

Jones said that in the 1970s, the idea of students walking out of school because their vice principal was fired after marrying his male partner was not “even in the realm of possibility.” At the end of the panel discussion, he addressed the need for young people to demand change, and expressed his gratitude for the students.

“I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you,” Jones said.

Zmuda echoed Jones’ sentiment as he asked his former students and students from other schools to come up on stage.

“Our youth are not only the future leaders of tomorrow,” he said. “I think they are the current leaders of today.”

Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2517 or pcornwell@seattletimes.com