Update, Feb. 21, 5 p.m.
On Thursday, Shannon McMinimee, the attorney representing the teachers, Paul Danforth and Michelle Beattie, said the teachers resigned because “they were honest about being gay and being engaged to their respective same-sex partners.”
Through the school administration, the Archdiocese relayed that it would not be renewing their contracts next year, she said.
At the time of the protests, she said the teachers and the Archdiocese were bound by confidentiality agreements they signed at the time of their resignations last week. Those requirements have been lifted now so both parties can set the record straight about what happened, McMinimee said.
On Friday, Kennedy Catholic’s principal, Mike Prato, wrote in a statement the teachers “proactively” notified him in November of their intention to marry their partners:
“I hired these teachers and I care about them very much. I still do. I wanted to make sure they felt supported, and so we discussed several options including the possibility of finishing out the school year … We worked with them to arrive at a mutually agreeable transition plan and financial package to assure they would be supported in their transition.”
For a few hours Tuesday, rainbow-clad crowds of Catholic-school students, alumni and parents covered the entrances of the Seattle Archdiocese offices in First Hill and John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien.
They protested the abrupt departure of two teachers at Kennedy Catholic, who they say were forced to quit last week because of their same-sex relationships. A letter sent to parents from the school’s administration said the “highly capable” teachers “voluntarily resigned,” but did not mention why.
So far, no one with firsthand knowledge of the situation has confirmed either account.
The exact details of the teachers’ quick exit from the school are still hazy. The teachers did not respond to requests for interviews. On Tuesday, their attorney, Shannon McMinimee, said neither she nor the teachers were in a position to comment. When asked why, she declined to comment further.
Teachers who work at schools affiliated with the Archdiocese are required to sign a contract that the school can revoke “if the teacher’s life-style is incompatible with Catholic moral values or if his/her conduct is at variance with Catholic teaching.”
People gathered at both protests said in interviews that they demand both the reinstatement of the teachers and a change in the church’s stance on same-sex relationships. Many, including Catholic-school graduate Grace Armstrong, pointed to what she called a contradiction between Jesus’s message of acceptance and love and the church’s policies.
“When you send your kid to a Catholic school, you pay money and hope you get the message of Jesus in the school,” said Armstrong, who carried a sign reading, “Jesus would protect gay teachers and fire pedophile priests.”
Rumors about the teachers leaving started to spread last Thursday, and parents, students and alumni began mobilizing to protest. As of Tuesday afternoon, a GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $33,000 to help the teachers cover their expenses until they can find other jobs; a Facebook group dedicated to amassing support for the teachers had more than 5,000 members by noon Tuesday.
In the morning, protesters circled the block where Seattle’s Archdiocese office stands, pausing to chant (“Reinstate, not hate!” and “Separate, church and hate!”) and recite the Lord’s Prayer while holding hands.
Shortly after 10 a.m., Kennedy Catholic students made signs and staged a sit-in that clogged some of the school’s hallways. At 1 p.m., they walked out, meeting a crowd of several hundred people waiting at the bottom of the school’s front steps. They spilled out onto the lawn and spoke into a microphone in front of a banner that read, “Who would Jesus fire? #LoveisLove.” Kids and adults peered out through the school’s open windows.
Spokespeople for the Archdiocese and Kennedy Catholic didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. The Times asked if it could join a Tuesday morning meeting that a few protesters planned to attend at the Archdiocese’s office, but an Archdiocese employee declined.
The school’s website states Kennedy Catholic’s belief in the Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching, a set of ideas that includes references to marriage and family. Just under 850 students enrolled in Kennedy Catholic in the 2017-2018 school year.
In an email to parents, administrators said students could feel free to participate “without fear of reprisal.”
Many said they were surprised by what they’d read on Facebook about the nature of the teachers’ departures, which they said doesn’t reflect the broader community of parents who send their kids to the school.
“This is not the Kennedy I recognize,” said Shelly Lounsbury Griffin, who graduated from the school in 1984 and came out as gay when she was in college.
But Henry Lemus Vera, an openly gay Kennedy Catholic student, said he has seen homophobia and other forms of marginalization on the campus.
“I love seeing all this support for the teachers,” said Lemus Vera, a senior. “But I also see students out here that have called me” slurs. Several protesters mentioned the school needs to work on improving inclusion in general, especially for students of color.
Two people close to one of the teachers, Paul Danforth — his mother, Mary Danforth, and his fiance, Sean Nyberg — said his departure was related to news that he was planning to marry another man. They said they couldn’t comment about whether the teachers were fired, quit voluntarily or were asked to resign.
Several students said they already knew that Danforth and the other teacher were both in relationships with same-sex partners.
Kennedy Catholic mother Erika DuBois, who helped plan the walkout, said the news of the teachers’ departures shocked her. She knew that Catholic school teachers had to sign a contract that includes a morality clause about adhering to church values, she said, but didn’t expect the school to act on it.
“Would it have been applied if a teacher were divorced and remarried? Or had children out of wedlock?” she asked. “I’m sad about the message this sends to LGBTQ students: ‘We love and accept you but we can’t employ you.'”
Attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people have stirred controversy at other local religious schools. Last fall, at least five teachers left King’s High School in Shoreline, an interdenominational Christian school, in protest of an administrative mandate they perceived as requiring them to disavow same-sex relationships. In 2013, students protested when the gay vice-principal of Eastside Catholic School — a Sammamish school affiliated with the Seattle Archdiocese — was dismissed after marrying his partner.
Staff writers Hannah Furfaro and Neal Morton contributed reporting.
Editor’s note: Because discussion was not adhering to our Code of Conduct, the comment thread has been removed.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the Seattle Archdiocese office was in Capitol Hill. The office is in the adjacent First Hill neighborhood.