Eastside Catholic High School Students and alumni are vowing to keep up their protests over the departure of a popular vice principal forced out because of his gay marriage. And a long-time Seattle gay rights activist predicts their effort will ultimately lead the Catholic Church to change its stand.
“The youth is that spark that can change this because they are literally the future membership of the Church,” says Shaun Knittel, the founder of Social Outreach Seattle.
Hundreds of students staged a sit-in and walkout last Thursday after learning Mark Zmuda, 38, was leaving the school because administrators had learned he had married his long-time partner the previous summer in violation of Church doctrine. The protest spread to other area schools and became an international cause on social media.
The school has repeatedly said in a statement Zmuda resigned. But he says in a video released this week he was fired.
While the school and Archdiocese of Seattle have remained mostly silent, Knittel says gay rights groups are working with students on a series of protests and other activities in the new year they hope will spread nationwide.
“They need to be contacting the other Catholic high schools in other states and get the information out there and say this is what they are doing and if you agree let’s start some rallies there.”
Knittel says the Eastside Catholic effort is so resonant, and has the best chance of making a lasting impact, because of the way students have embraced it as an issue of fundamental fairness.
“They keep citing the Bible and the Pope. He said ‘who am I to judge,’ And that’s what propelled them to do that. There’s no other way to interpret that. That is something the youth really identify with.”
Knittel also says the protests have gained worldwide attention because so many of the students are not gay and don’t see how opposing a loving marriage has anything to do with teachings of God.
“Among them I see these boys who identify as heterosexual, who are athletes, who are in student body government, popular, out there, with signs supporting gay rights and it just floors you,” Knittel says of the recent protests.
Knittel is a long-time activist who has championed gay rights for years. He says along with the dedication and passion, he’s also extremely impressed with the discipline and sophistication the students have shown in staging their demonstrations and spreading the word.
“These kids, they’re not playing around. There’s no violence, no vandalism, no disrespecting,” he says. “The reason why this is working is because these students have had the piece of mind to not create issues that have nothing to do with the argument. They simply go out there, they give their message, they smile and then they go home.”
And he predicts that while Zmuda likely won’t get his job back, the effort started by his ouster will one day be looked back on as a landmark time for the Church.