Paul Danforth, a former Western student, was reportedly forced to resign from his job at Kennedy Catholic High School because of his same-sex relationship.
On Feb. 14, Kennedy Catholic High School sent a memo informing students that Danforth and Michelle Beattie, another teacher at the school, had “voluntarily resigned” from their positions.
This account was immediately disputed. In a Facebook post, King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove wrote, “Kennedy High School in Burien today fired (forced the resignation of) two of their teachers solely because they are gay. This is a reminder of the blatant discrimination that continues to exist in our community against members of the LGBT community.”
Shannon McMinimee, an attorney representing Danforth and Beattie, said the two teachers were forced to resign after telling the administration that they intended to marry their respective same-sex partners.
Their resignation sparked backlash from students and parents. A Facebook page titled “KCHS Community & Alumni That Support Paul Danforth & Michelle Beattie,” currently has over 6,000 members. On Feb. 18, hundreds of students walked out of class, joining a group of parents, alumni and others in the Catholic community to rally in support of Danforth and Beattie.
“It was very beautiful and very loving,” said Anton Ziska, a Western fifth-year who graduated from Kennedy Catholic High School in 2015. Danforth was Ziska’s senior-year English teacher and one of the main reasons Ziska chose to apply to Western.
A number of smaller rallies have taken place since then. More rallies will take place in the future, according to the group’s Facebook page.
Danforth is a former athlete on Western’s track team. He graduated in 2006 with a degree in English literature, according to Western’s Registrar's Office.
Before his resignation, Danforth taught English at Kennedy Catholic High School. According to Ziska, Danforth’s father taught at Kennedy Catholic High School for over 30 years.
Both Danforth and Beattie are currently applying for positions at local school districts, according to McMinimee.
“The Seattle Archdiocese is apparently considering making changes moving forward, but those are going to come too late for Paul and Michelle,” McMinimee said in an email. The Archdiocese of Seattle is an appointed representative of the catholic church that oversees Catholic institutions in the Seattle area.
Lane Mcintyre, a second-year at Western who graduated from Kennedy Catholic High School in 2018, said both Danforth and Beattie were well-liked among students. She said the acceptance of LGBTQ+ students was mixed during her time at Kennedy Catholic High School.
“From the people I knew, they didn’t feel like they had to hide [their sexuality], but it wasn’t like they could do all the same things,” Micintyre said.
In addition to their normal curriculum, students at Kennedy Catholic High School are required to take several theology classes. Ziska said during one of these classes, a teacher came into the room with two nuts and two bolts in her hands. She then demonstrated how a bolt and a nut fit together perfectly, while two bolts or two nuts did not.
Ziska said the teacher told students that God made everything, including reproductive organs, with purpose, and to use something against its purpose is disorder.
“Obviously most of us, but not all of us, were bothered by this,” Ziska said. “I remember a couple people walked out of class, which I guess is pretty radical when you’re a 2013 high school sophomore.”
Shortly after Danforth and Beattie’s resignation, the Archdiocese of Seattle released a statement that said, “Those who teach in our schools are required to uphold our teachings in the classroom and to model it in their personal lives. 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.”
Teachers employed by schools that are associated with the archdiocese are required to sign a contract that can be revoked if “the teacher’s lifestyle is incompatible with Catholic moral values or if his/her conduct is at variance with Catholic teaching.”
Ziska said the school is being hypocritical, because teachers haven’t been disiplined for other moral clause violations like pre-marital sex, divorce or abortion.
One week after the teachers resigned, Kennedy Catholic High School President Mike Prato was asked by Seattle Archbishop Paul D. Etienne to take a leave of absence.
Homosexuality continues to be a hotly debated issue within the Catholic community, said Ziska. The Catholic Church’s official catechism refers to “homosexual tendencies” as “intrinsically disordered.” But for a number of Catholics, attitudes are changing. According to data from the Pew Research Center, the number of American Catholics who support same-sex marriage has increased from 40% in 2001 to 61% in 2018.
“I’ve gotten criticism for sure for going to the protests in Seattle,” Ziska said. “For going to protest the archdiocese and for saying ‘I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history,’ I don’t think that this is a good church teaching and there should be some reform. It’s extremely hard to change the church.”
Nate Sanford is the editor-in-chief of The Western Front and a fourth year news/editorial journalism major. His reporting focuses on the environment, local politics, culture and anything else that matters. His writing has appeared in Crosscut, The Planet magazine, Whatcom Watch and at least one desk in Haggard Hall. You can find him on Twitter @sanford_nate and at firstname.lastname@example.org.