Students at John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in the Seattle, Washington area staged a protest after two openly gay teachers were allegedly forced out of their jobs.
English teacher Paul Danforth and soccer coach Michelle Beattie both “voluntarily resigned” last week — shortly after getting engaged to their same-sex partners. Danforth’s fiancé Sean Nyberg told CBS News that his partner is “no longer employed specifically because he and I got engaged.”
The apparent ousting shocked students, alumni, and parents in the Kennedy community. Protesters are asking the school to reinstate both teachers and change its policy on same-sex relationships.
Students staged both a sit-in and a walkout on Tuesday. They spilled onto the street chanting “We want change!” as hundreds of people waited in front of the school to join them, The Seattle Times reports. A large banner read, “Who would Jesus fire? #LoveisLove.”
Students and supporters also protested outside of the Seattle Archdiocese offices. Circling the block, they chanted: “Reinstate, not hate!” and “Separate, church and hate!”
The protests were especially personal for LGBTQ+ students. “It just doesn’t make me feel like I can walk back in that school and then receive my diploma from them,” 17-year-old senior Griffin Terry told CBS News. “It makes me feel really dirty.”
Many parents, too, were on board with the protests. One mother, Erika DuBois, even helped plan the walkout. She told the Times that the teachers’ departures surprised her, adding, “I’m sad about the message this sends to LGBTQ students: ‘We love and accept you but we can’t employ you.’”
Nyberg spoke at the protest to a “thunderous ovation,” according to KIRO 7. He said, “I can’t say a lot but I can share this. Miss Beattie and Mister Danforth love you and they miss you.” When asked if he regrets proposing to Danforth, Nyberg replied, “I have no regrets. But I will say, though, it does cross my mind sometimes if I hadn’t asked him to marry me, none of this would have happened.”
A GoFundMe campaign has raised over $30,000 for Danforth and Beattie’s unemployment expenses.
Counterprotesters say that the school is exercising its religious freedom. Schools affiliated with the Archdiocese can revoke teachers’ contracts if their lifestyle violates “Catholic moral values.”