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Catholic Students Protest After Gay Teachers Are Ousted

Paul Danforth and Michelle Beattie

Students and parents of a Seattle-area Catholic school planned a Tuesday protest — a sit-in and a walkout — following allegations that two teachers had been ousted for being in same-sex relationships.

Paul Danforth — an English teacher of five years — and soccer coach Michelle Beattie left employment at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, Wash., after recently becoming engaged to their same-sex partners. In a statement released on Valentine's Day, the school claimed the pair had "voluntarily resigned."

Neither Danforth nor Beattie have commented publicly on the matter. However, Sean Nyberg, Danforth's fiancé, said that the story is more complicated. In an Instagram post, he said Danforth was "no longer employed specifically because he and I got engaged. … This is not only personally painful, it also harms former students who looked up to them."

Many of these students spoke out in support of the ousted teachers. A junior at Kennedy Catholic High School, Stephanie, released an open letter to the Archdiocese of Seattle, which oversees the school.

"Why do you not believe in your own values?" Stephanie asked. In the YouTube video, the student criticized the church's teachings on love as hypocritical in the face of the alleged forced resignations. She also urged the school to revise its policies on the employment of LGBTQ teachers. "Change does not hurt anyone. Oppression will," she said.

At present, the archdiocese's policy mandates that employees to "live a lifestyle compatible with Catholic teaching." The Catholic Church does not recognize same-sex marriage and — despite more progressive preachings from Pope Francis — still views homosexuality as sinful.

A Change.org petition urging the archdiocese to amend its policy and rehire the teachers has accrued almost 15,000 signatures by the time of this article's posting.

Organizers of Burien Pride also released a statement condemning the departures. “What happened at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien is an unfortunate but stark reminder that people around the country, including our very own state of Washington, can be fired for who they love."

They added that the incident is "a sad reminder of the work that still needs to be done to ensure everyone has the right to live their lives fully — and bring their entire selves to work each and every day.”

Parents and students have planned a sit-in at the archdiocese on Tuesday, followed by a walkout of the school in the afternoon. 

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