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Archdiocese of Seattle faces protests after two LGBTQ teachers were forced to resign

Students from Catholic schools in the Seattle area, including Kennedy Catholic, Bishop Blanchet and O'Dea, protested outside the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Ashley Gross
Students from Catholic schools in the Seattle area, including Kennedy Catholic, Bishop Blanchet and O'Dea, protested outside the Archdiocese of Seattle.

The Archdiocese of Seattle continues to face protests after two popular teachers at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien resigned under pressure. Their departure in the middle of the school year came after they told school administrators that they are engaged to same-sex partners.

Paul Danforth and Michelle Beattie — a language arts teacher and health and fitness teacher, respectively — had both worked at Kennedy Catholic for six years, their attorney Shannon McMinimee said.

The back and forth between the teachers and school administrators has been going on since November after Danforth got engaged, McMinimee said. His fiancé, Sean Nyberg, proposed at Disneyland and posted the video on social media.

Instead of having a student or family discover the video and bring it to the school’s attention, Danforth decided to be honest with school officials and tell them about the engagement. He's friends with Michelle Beattie, and she also decided to be upfront about her plans to marry her partner, McMinimee said.

In the end, after conferring with the Archdiocese of Seattle, school administrators told Danforth and Beattie they couldn't continue to teach at the school, McMinimee said.

“What was made eminently clear to them is that right now is the time period where contracts are renewed for next year, and that there was no circumstance under which their employment at Kennedy was going to continue beyond this year and they would not be renewed,” she said.

So given that, the teachers worked out an agreement to leave now, McMinimee said.

In a statement, Archbishop Paul Etienne said Jesus teaches that we should love everyone from all walks of life. “Within the family of God, all are welcome, and all are loved,” he said.

But Etienne said teachers face additional requirements.

“The church teaches the fullness of the Gospel. Those who teach in our schools are required to uphold our teaching in the classroom and to model it in their personal lives,” he said. “We recognize and support the right of each individual to make choices. We also understand that some choices have particular consequences for those who represent the church in an official capacity.”

In a statement, Kennedy Catholic High School President Michael Prato described the two teachers as beloved and said he can’t comment fully on personnel issues. But he said teachers are asked every year to renew their “covenant agreements,” which asks teachers “to agree to live and model the Catholic faith in accord with Church teaching.”

He said the teachers “voluntarily resigned” after discussing their marriage plans in light of the covenant agreement, and that they had the option to finish out the school year but chose to resign now.

The teachers’ departure has led to an outcry from students, families and even international media attention. Students said it goes against the broader cultural changes in the United States around gay rights and the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Students from Catholic schools, including Kennedy, Bishop Blanchet and O’Dea protested outside the Archdiocese office on Friday, chanting “Love is love!” and “We want change!”

Credit Ashley Gross / KNKX
Lyn and Victoria Shaffer protested together outside the Archdiocese office. Lyn is a Kennedy Catholic student and identifies at LGBTQ.

Lyn Shaffer, a 16-year-old sophomore at Kennedy, identifies as LGBTQ and is non-binary and asexual. Shaffer had Beattie as a health teacher and said her departure came as a real shock. It’s made Shaffer question whether to stay at the school.

“I don’t feel like I’m welcome there anymore,” Shaffer said. “It’s like they’re telling us, 'yeah, we love you, but you’re not accepted here.'”

But Shaffer said it’s not all that rare to be LGBTQ at a Catholic school and that there's a group of students, especially in the Thespian community, who also identify as queer.

For Nicolas Velasquez, a 17-year-old senior from O’Dea High School, this has become a moment of activism. Velasquez also identifies as LGBTQ.

“It feels like I’m being part of change and I’m pushing for something that’s right,” Velasquez said.

The students said they want the Archdiocese to apologize to the teachers and offer them their jobs back. They said they want this to be the last time teachers are forced out because of who they love.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.