Eastside Catholic vice principal ousted for marrying same-sex partner

At the conclusion of Friday
At the conclusion of Friday's demonstration at the Archdiocese of Seattle, students sang along to Seattle rapper Macklemore's hit song 'Same Love,' about gay marriage, in support of Mark Zmuda.
— image credit: Linda Ball/Issaquah & Sammamish Reporter

What started out with five students "got big very, very fast" said Eastside Catholic School senior Kyle Bastian, 18.

The forced resignation of popular vice-principal and swim coach Mark Zmuda for marrying his same-sex partner, Dana Jergens, last summer, had Eastside Catholic students upset and expressing solidarity for Zmuda. Sister Mary Tracy, president and CEO of the school, said Zmuda was in violation of the teachings of the Catholic Church, not something at Eastside Catholic.

"It's a firm decision," Tracy said. "If the teachings of the church change, I'd hire him back in a minute. He's a wonderful educator."

Zmuda received a Bachelor of Science in mathematics education from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Virginia, and holds a Master of Arts in educational leadership and policy studies from the University of Texas, with principal certification. Tracy said they hope to hire an excellent replacement, and in the interim they do have an excellent assistant swim coach.

Zmuda's last day at the school was Dec. 20. Although the school was closed, he would coach his last swim meet that day.

While Zmuda was preparing for the swim meet, over 100 people gathered in front of the Archdiocese of Seattle to demonstrate in his support, calling for changes to the church. Young and old, Catholic and non-Catholic, they were there.

"I believe everyone has the right to be married if they love someone, and God loves everyone," said Eastside Catholic student Nicole Costello. "That's what they preach in my school."

Costello said she was one of the first students at a sit-in Thursday morning, Dec. 19, at the school. Bastian said the sit-in was originally planned for Dec. 20, but things "just exploded." Since television media were not allowed on the campus, the students marched out to 228th Avenue Southeast before returning to the school's gymnasium where they had a sit-in from about 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., according to student organizer Maddie Racine.

Maddie's father, Mike Racine, came to the school to stand with her to support Zmuda. A product of Catholic school himself, Mike Racine called the situation "morally bankrupt."

At Friday's demonstration, Charles Fuchs said he hasn't been a member of the Catholic Church in 40 years, but he too had attended Catholic schools. He said he was encouraged to see the young people peacefully calling for change in the church.

"I'm here in support of this person who got fired and I think it's duplicitous of the church to be doing this," Fuchs said.

John Dunn of Seattle is an active member of the church, and was visiting with Fuchs. He said Jesus came to challenge the religious and political leaders of his time.

"He broke a whole lot of rules to teach inclusiveness," Dunn said. "Locally we've moved a long way on this, but the church has not."

A myriad of signs were displayed by demonstrators such as "God is with thee, Mr. Z," "Catholics for marriage equality," "WWJD?" "Educators now — nurses next?" and "21st Century Catholics for a 21st Century Church."

Chants - loud enough for those inside the Archdiocese offices to hear, included "Change the church," "Love always wins," "No more hate" and "God is love, stop the hate." If church administrators didn't get the message before, they surely did as students took turns on the bullhorn speaking in support of Zmuda.

Maddie Racine took to the bullhorn.

"We're here to pray for Mr. Z….… and we need to change the church," she said. "We're all here to support that and win."

Even Seattle Mayor-elect Ed Murray came to the demonstration. Murray, who is openly gay, married his partner last summer. Murray was pleased to see all the young people there "changing the world." He said he was not there as mayor-elect, but rather in support of Zmuda.

"The Catholic Church, which I am a member of, teaches social justice and family," he said. "We must treat people fairly. Catholic families are looking at this right now saying this is my brother, this is my sister."

Murray said he has not talked to the Archdiocese about the issue.

Alex Kovar, an 18-year-old senior at Eastside Catholic said that 30 to 40 students protested in front of Sammamish City Hall the morning of Dec. 20 as well. The protest was organized by students from Eastlake High School. Kovar said Seattle Preparatory School also had a sit-in Dec. 19.

"Our goal is equal rights and to change the churches' long-standing doctrine that homosexuality is a sin," Kovar said. "We're all children of God and should be treated equally. Pope Francis said 'who am I to judge' (when asked about homosexuality). Mr. Zmuda is a very good man and he didn't deserve this. It doesn't make sense that one minor detail cost him his job."

At the Archdiocese demonstration Kovar said to the crowd that he'd never been more proud to be a crusader on a day that could go down in history.

"I think we've made a huge impact," said Maddie Racine.

Racine said a mass text — origin unknown — went out the night of Dec. 18 that Zmuda was being let go, kicking off the entire series of events. During the sit-in, students, Zmuda, principal Polly Skinner and Sister Tracy had a discussion.

"They said it's the Archdiocese of Seattle who made the decision," she said. "There's nothing they can do. It's sad to see a teacher punished for his beliefs that are in no way affiliated with what he does or his job."

A 2013 Eastside Catholic graduate, Rachel Nelson, said they hoped to talk to the Archdiocese after the holidays. Students from other Catholic schools in the Seattle area also showed their support. A student displayed a photo that was emailed to him from a friend at Holy Names Academy in Seattle of a large group holding up a sign that said, "We support EC."

The demonstration at the Archdiocese ended with students singing along to Seattle rapper Macklemore's "Same Love," a song about being homosexual not being a choice. They sang, they hugged, smiled and danced, all for Mr. Z.

Students chant "love is love," "change the church," "love always wins," "no more hate" and "God is love, stop the hate," at Friday's demonstration for Mark Zmuda outside of the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Ernie Lou, corporate relations manager for Seattle University, a Jesuit school, holds a sign in support of Mark Zmuda at a large rally in front of the Archdiocese of Seattle, Friday Dec. 20.

A student holds up one of many signs at Friday's demonstration in support of Mark Zmuda at the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Seattle mayor-elect Ed Murray, a married, gay Catholic, came out to show his support as a citizen, not mayor-elect he said, for Eastside Catholic teacher Mark Zmuda, at the Friday Dec. 20 demonstration in front of the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Students from area schools show their support for Mark Zmuda at the peaceful demonstration in front of the Archdiocese of Seattle, Friday, Dec. 20.

Shaun Knittel with Social Outreach Seattle, and associate editor for the Seattle Gay News, addresses the crowd at the demonstration at the Archdiocese of Seattle Friday, Dec. 20. Ernie Lou holds sign to his left.

A student holds up a sign in support of Mark Zmuda at the Friday, Dec. 20 demonstration in front of the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Eastside Catholic School students protest the firing of vice-principal and swim coach Mark Zmuda Thursday morning, Dec. 19. Zmuda was terminated when it was revealed that he married his same-sex partner last summer, which violated his contract to follow the teachings of the church.




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