“We Needed to Be the Ones Who Fought for Him”: Eastside Students Explain Their Protest

Holy Names students protest in solidarity with Eastside Catholic
Students at Seattle’s Holy Names Academy protest the forced resignation of Eastside Catholic Vice Principal Mike Zmuda.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Frey

Last Thursday, more than 300 students at Eastside Catholic High School near Seattle staged a school-wide sit-in to protest the forced resignation of Vice Principal Mike Zmuda. According to the Archdiocese of Seattle-run school, Zmuda was fired not for being gay but, rather, for marrying his partner this summer. The students also launched a petition to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, lobbying the group not only to reinstate Zmuda but also, rather ambitiously, to reverse its stance on same-sex marriage. In less than a week, the petition has garnered more than 26,000 signatures.

Over the weekend, Slate spoke to several students involved with the protest, which students plan to continue until Zmuda is reinstated.

Rosemary Young, a senior at Eastside

Wednesday night [after the news broke] a few students had an idea of having a sit-in Friday morning at 7:50 a.m., when school starts. They tweeted about it, suggesting the idea and everyone began spreading it around. It was set for Friday. However, once everyone got to school the anger and other emotions took over, and we immediately began a sit-in Thursday morning. We decided it couldn’t wait another day. We tweeted, posted on Facebook, and texted everyone that the sit in was happening now and everyone needed to get down to the commons. At least half of the school came down, many simply got up and walked out of class, others never even went to class. The sit in continued as people one by one stood up and voiced their personal opinion about the firing, expressing anger and disgust. We had two lesbian students protesting with us as well.

At first the goal of the protest was to show the school and the church how angry we were about what they had done. However because of social media and the publicity we have gotten it has turned into an effort to raise awareness about this subject of gay rights and hopefully schools will think twice before doing something like this again. The constant in this protesting is that we just want to show Mr. Zmuda that we love and support him. He is an amazing administrator and individual and this discrimination is not acceptable. The school simply rolled over and did what the church told it to do without a fight. So we decided we needed to be the ones who fought for him. 

Stephanie Frey, a senior at Holy Names, where students joined the Eastside protest

I am a confirmed Catholic. I am proud of my religion but I also know that there are times throughout history when the Church has changed its stance on issues they believed firmly in—think of Galileo, for example. I am not trying to force my opinions of gay rights on anyone. That’s just not right to try and make someone believe what you believe. I am asking for a sort of tolerance from the church for those who are gay and married. Gay marriage is seen as wrong in the church, but so is getting divorced and remarried, or premarital sex, or having children out of wedlock. The church has tolerated teachers who have done some of the things I listed, so I would like to see them tolerate this as well, and let people like Mr. Z work. I’m not asking them to change their belief system because everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. I’m just asking for a tolerance like the religious tolerance the church teaches. 

There is a mixed bag of parents being supportive or unsupportive, but I think there are very few parents that are forcibly stopping their kids. I think the overarching feeling from parents is that they are proud of their kids for standing up for what they believe in, no matter what side they are on. 

My view on gay rights is simple. I believe everyone deserves to love and be loved and ultimately be happy. If that’s between a man and a man or a man and a woman or two woman, like Pope Francis said, “who am I to judge?”