BURIEN, Wash. — Only KIRO 7′s camera was there as two former Kennedy Catholic High School teachers packed up their classrooms after years there as educators.
The Archdiocese of Seattle says the teachers resigned last week “voluntarily.”
But their supporters say they were forced out because both recently got engaged to their same-sex partners.
A gay pride flag was hoisted outside the school overnight in support of the teachers. It is a reflection of how this issue is deeply affecting this religious community.
It was the first glimpse their students have gotten of the former Kennedy Catholic High School teachers: girls soccer coach and health teacher Michelle Beattie and English teacher Paul Danforth.
Both Beattie and Danforth resigned on Thursday. On Sunday, they loaded up their vehicles after cleaning out their desks. They declined to talk with KIRO 7, but one man rushed over to quietly offer his support.
The resignations have hit their devoted students hard, especially since they believe the teachers were forced out because of their same-sex relationships.
“Your sexuality has nothing to do with your work,” said Melanie Phelps, a junior. “They kept their personal lives personal. They came in and they did their jobs. And they did their jobs well.”
Senior Ann Atkinson was asked about the church’s prohibition against people who are gay.
“I think that it is a very complicated issue,” said Atkinson. “And I think that the number one commandment in the Bible is to love.”
Danforth has spent nearly a lifetime at Kennedy Catholic; his father taught here for 39 years and he himself was a student here. He recently taught at the school for the last five years.
Last November, Danforth accepted his partner’s proposal of marriage. Supporters say Beattie recently said yes to marrying her same-sex partner, too.
In protest, someone hoisted a gay pride flag at the school overnight Saturday, but it since has been taken down.
Michelle Milkowski, an alumna and practicing Catholic, says the church is being hypocritical.
“If they really want to hold to a conservative doctrine,” said the 1998 Kennedy Catholic graduate, “then they should be asking anyone who doesn’t conform in any way to resign, such as using birth control, such as being divorced.”
The teachers’ departure, they say, is leaving many LGBTQ students in the lurch.
“As a gay student, I feel like I’m very marginalized at this school,” said Henry Lemus Vera, a senior. “I feel like they push students like these specifically to the side. I think it’s important that we have mentors like these for kids that don’t feel represented.”
The Archdiocese of Seattle declined to comment.
The students say they will stage a protest Tuesday morning inside the school. Their parents and other supporters are planning to join them for a protest in the afternoon.
Read statement from Paul Danforth’s fiancé, Sean Nyberg:
I have a few things to say regarding the recent news about my fiancé Paul Danforth.
‘Paul has asked me to keep any information that I have learned about this situation confidential, but I can’t stay silent.
Two days ago he resigned from his teaching job at John F Kennedy Catholic High School, along with his coworker. While Paul and the school have no comment on the situation, I sure do.
After teaching there for over five years, with a stellar record, he is no longer employed specifically because he and I got engaged.
We entered into an agreement to take our relationship to the next level and enjoy the emotional, spiritual, and legal benefits that marriage provides.
Both religious institutions and democratic governments have placed a value on marriage for much of our history. Touting the community and societal benefits that these relationships provide.
However, in our case, Paul no longer is employed because I had asked him to marry me and he said yes.
Local and national news media have started reaching out and while I am aware that some will praise the decision to keep same-sex engaged and married couples out of Catholic High Schools, the majority of our community will be outraged.
While the parties directly involved will not comment, I have no obligation or desire to stay silent.
This is not only personally painful, it also harms their former students who looked up to them, families that don’t know how to explain this to their children, young LGBT students who will feel even more shame and guilt, and will weaken a community that seeks love and acceptance.
I’ve had the joy of watching Paul go to work day after day to a job he loved. It should come as no surprise to any of his students to hear that he loved every single one of them.
I want to end with this: Mr Danforth and Ms Beattie will be fine, they will find a wonderful school and continue to do what they were born to do.
But for those kids out there that might question their own identity or feel they don’t fit in, for any reason, do not let this news bring you down or make you feel less willing to be yourself.
Some of the loudest voices might scare you, but there is a wonderful and loving community that will hold you in their arms and tell you that you are perfect just the way you are.
One final note to the kids, you are the future of this community and from what I am seeing, the future looks bright. ‘
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