Update: Eastside Catholic has reportedly denied Stephanie Merrow is a contracted employee with the school, but the choreographer sent KIRO Radio a welcome email from the school dated October 21, 2013. (Read more)
Stephanie Merrow is a theater and dance teacher who runs workshops with local companies like Cornish College of the Arts and Village Theater. She is currently choreographing her second musical for Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish.
As she told The Ron and Don Show on Monday, Merrow is also gay, and planning a wedding with her partner of five years.
"I will be showing up for work tomorrow (Tuesday) with a big rock on my hand that I got from my fiancÚ, Jenny," she announced during a call-in segment on KIRO Radio.
The decision to come forward was not easy for Merrow, whose students are currently rehearsing a production of Guys and Dolls.
Students walked out of Eastside Catholic and several Seattle-area Catholic schools following the firing of Vice Principal Mark Zmuda in December. Zmuda was forced out after marrying his male partner, an act the administration claimed violated church teachings. Supporters of "Mr. Z" held rallies outside the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, and students are in the planning stages of a nation-wide "Z-Day" on Jan. 31 to show solidarity with the fired administrator.
Musical theater choreographer Stephanie Merrow said she is glad the issue presented itself over the holiday break, so she could have time to think about how she would react.
"I've been battling this," Merrow admitted. "When this happened with Mark, somebody who works at the school called me and said 'I would understand if you want to quit.'"
But Merrow said that isn't an option.
"I love those kids and I don't want to quit. If they want to fire me, they can. But I'm not going to quit on those kids. I adore them. We've already started the work. I wouldn't do that to those kids."
This is the first time Merrow has gone public about her sexuality. She told Ron and Don that her recent engagement brought her to a crossroads.
"When the girls ask me (about the ring)... What would I say? I'm not going to lie. That goes against the beliefs that I value. I'm shaking right now thinking about it, in anger and fear and things like that."
Merrow explained that she respected what the Eastside Catholic students did for Zmuda and she thinks she owes them an honest answer when they ask about her fiancÚ.
"I'm going to say, 'her name is Jenny.'" She believes the contract she signed is shorter than the paperwork of the full-time teachers like Mark Zmuda. "What I signed just said that I would kind of go with the Catholic teachings, which, from what I understand, are love and following the work of Jesus Christ," said Merrow.
"I'm not Catholic, I told them I wasn't Catholic. But it didn't say anything about being gay."
Merrow doesn't know if Eastside Catholic will decide to fire her because of her upcoming marriage to Jenny Frazier, who is the Facilities Director at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.
"It would be a blow. It would hurt."
She became emotional when talking about the Eastside Catholic students who chose to take a stand.
"I'm completely choked up. Those kids are just so wonderful. This generation just absolutely warms my heart...The fact that they're making a huge statement and trying to make history just makes me so proud," she explained.
"This is exactly why I didn't (quit)."
While acknowledging some of her students do not agree with gay marriage, Merrow said she supports their right to disagree.
"I still love them. I couldn't be more proud of those kids."
Eastside Catholic could not be reached for comment Monday evening.
Tuesday will be Merrow's first day working at the school following the Zmuda protests and her own announcement.
"I need to be proud with them and stand up and say that I am getting married to a woman."