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Friday, December 20, 2013

Student Protest Over Gay Vice Principal’s Forced Resignation Spreads

A student protest at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Wash., over the forced resignation of a vice principal because of his marriage to another man spread Friday as students from other Roman Catholic and public schools joined in.

After learning on Thursday that Mark Zmuda, the vice principal and the school’s swim coach, was stepping down because his same-sex marriage last August violated his contract with the school in suburban Seattle, more than 400 students at Eastside walked out of classes. They sat in the cafeteria and then the gym before returning to classes later in the afternoon.

Word of their sit-in spread on Facebook and Twitter, with the hashtag #saveMrZ2013, and students at other schools staged protests later on Thursday and Friday, including a protest outside the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Seattle.

“The Catholic teaching is to unconditionally love and support all members of a global community, people from all backgrounds, as Christ did in the Gospels,” Bradley Strode, 17, Eastside Catholic’s senior class president, said in an interview. “If Jesus were here, he would have been sitting in with us at Eastside Catholic because we are sticking up for what we believe in and not just abiding by institutional laws.”

Mr. Strode said that Sister Mary Tracy, the school’s principal, addressed the students’ questions on Thursday at the sit-in and in her office. Mr. Zmuda also met with the students, telling them that he is gay and married and grateful for their support, as KIRO-TV reported with raw video of the speech. “The fact that you guys are all here for me means the world to me,” he said.

Mr. Zmuda and Sister Mary Tracy could not be reached for comment. But Michael Patterson, a lawyer for Eastside and the archdiocese, said that Mr. Zmuda, whom he described as an “exemplary administrator,” resigned voluntarily earlier this week.

Mr. Patterson said in an interview that another school employee had overhead Mr. Zmuda discussing his marriage and told administrators. Then, he said, Sister Mary Tracy consulted with officials from the archdiocese before meeting with Mr. Zmuda. During the meeting, Mr. Patterson said, Mr. Zmuda resigned because he acknowledged that his marriage was in conflict with his school contract, requiring adherence to the church’s teachings.

“He is a man of high integrity and he recognized that he signed a contract that clearly stated that he would follow the magisterium, the religious doctrine and principles of the Catholic Church,” Mr. Patterson said of Mr. Zmuda. “They are the dogmatic issues and policies that the Catholic Church has pronounced and expects you to live by, if you are going to be Catholic.”

Mr. Strode and other students at Eastside Catholic and other schools have started a petition on Change.org asking for the reinstatement of Mr. Zmuda and for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to lead a change in church policy on same-sex marriage. By late Friday, the petition had more than 15,000 signatures.

Teachers expressed their support for the students. Mr. Patterson said that the school leadership valued freedom of expression and students were not penalized for expressing their views at the protest on Thursday. Classes were canceled Friday because of snow.

On Friday, students at the public school in Sammamish held a protest, and then students from both public and Catholic schools protested outside the archdiocese headquarters.

Students also showed support for their former swim coach at an Eastside Catholic swim meet.