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Kennedy Catholic High School students protest resignation of gay teachers

A sea of rainbow gay pride flags and “love is love” signs filled the front steps of Burien’s John F. Kennedy Catholic High School Tuesday afternoon, as hundreds of students walked out of class to protest the resignation of two gay teachers.

They joined hundreds more parents, Kennedy alumni, and Catholic community members in front of the school, gathering to show their support for teachers Paul Danforth and Michelle Beattie.

According to the Archdiocese of Seattle, the teachers resigned last week of their own accord.

However, students and parents said the teachers were bullied into resigning because they are both gay, noting that both teachers recently got engaged to their partners. The Roman Catholic Church regards same-sex relationships as sinful.

What can religious institutions like King’s High School demand of staff?

“People who do nothing but love each other and do nothing wrong should not be fired or be punished or outcast from a religion that is supposed to stand for love and acceptance of everybody,” senior Audrey Bettis said.

The crowd chanted sayings like, “Erase the hate,” “Re-hire, re-hire,” and, “We want change.” Student speakers at the rally called Danforth and Beattie “the best teachers in the world,” describing how the educators had encouraged and supported them in their academic endeavors.

One sophomore who is a member of the LGBTQ community said that Beattie was there to comfort her after she was called homophobic slurs by other students.

“Ms. Beattie has always helped me through a lot of the stuff that I’ve gone through … I see her as an inspiration to me to feel comfortable in my skin in a Catholic school,” she said.

Kennedy students were adamant that neither Danforth nor Beattie had ever brought up the subjects of their own sexuality or gay rights during class. Rally leaders questioned why an instructor’s personal life should have anything to do with their ability to teach.

While the protesters took issue with the Archdiocese as an organization, many other members of the crowd embraced Catholic teaching. Handmade signs made references to quotes from the Bible and Pope Francis about loving one another and treating everyone with respect.

“Jesus chose his disciples to show that he accepts everyone,” Kennedy High School junior Alexis said. “We should follow that example.”

She and her friends said that they believe their faith and acceptance of gay marriage can coincide — and they feel it’s time for the Catholic Church to change its official stance on this issue.

Community member Pat Callahan, who, along with his wife, Julie, advocated for the marriage equality law in Washington in 2012, pointed out that plenty of other aspects of Catholic catechism are routinely broken by modern Catholics, such as using birth control and living with a romantic partner out of wedlock. Why, Pat and Julie asked, is gay marriage singled out and shamed?

“So much of the rules and regulations in the Catholic Church around sex and marriage and birth control and the role of women [are] out of whack with current values,” Pat said. “It’s just unfortunate that in this case, two teachers who wanted to make a love commitment to a partner … are being punished. To me, that is the real ideal of the church — to bond with one person.”

Rally speakers also did not shy away from bringing up the church’s sex abuse scandals, questioning why two teachers doing their jobs were given far more public degradation than priests found guilty of molestation.

“It’s unacceptable to cover up issues that relate to putting children at harm. That’s not at all what Jesus would have stood for,” Bettis said. “And the fact that people are being punished for doing nothing other than loving each other and living their best lives is despicable.”

The protesters hope that their message will inspire Kennedy High School to re-hire Danforth and Beattie.

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