by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Last week, the students at Eastside Catholic High School staged a successful sit-in to educate, spread awareness, and take a stand on the Catholic Church's same-sex marriage policy. The protest garnered the support of nearly all of the other Catholic schools in the Seattle area as students at those schools held similar protests.
According to one of the Eastside Catholic High School student leaders, Bradley Strode, the protest would not be a one-day event. In fact, Strode says the students will come up with a plan to present their complaints as a Catholic community to the Catholic Church.
'The beauty of being a Catholic is that we are allowed to disagree and engage in discussion with our Church,' he said. 'This is our right. We are taking it.'
What started out as a simple petition on Change.org, has turned into a spark that is poised to transport the fight to every single Catholic high school in America. As of Thursday, December 26, at 4:30 p.m., the students are roughly two thousand signatures short of their 30,000 goal.
The 'kids' aren't really kids at all; they personify what it means to act as an adult. I say this because I have witnessed their maturity first hand. Some adult activists in our com-munity might learn a thing or two from these folks. Because they refuse to badmouth anyone or vandalize property and are working to build a bridge instead of divide the Church, their cause has reached millions; being picked up by hundreds of media stations and newspapers including the New York Times, the Associated Press, and ABC News.
What Strode and company have successfully done is take this out of the realm of ideology and wishful thinking, and disassociated the movement from being mere media frenzy. Currently the students are enjoying winter break from school. However, Strode says that a contingent of student leadership is working to find ways to advance the same-sex mar-riage and the Catholic Church cause for after the Christmas season. In order to do that, the young man told supporters that they must keep the momentum of the petition rolling. Basically, Strode is fully aware that when you take on the Catholic Church you will need a little help from your friends.
Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea), the social justice nonprofit that I founded in 2012 and currently serve as President, is one of those friends. Last week I planned the second ac-tion for the youth activists alongside Zeena Rivera, Founder, Editor-in-Chief at the online LGBTQ youth-led 'Be! Magazine.' Rivera and I thought that the office of the Archdio-cese of Seattle, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, would be a good place to hold a demonstration. After all, it was Sartain who allegedly ordered the firing of Eastside Catholic High School Vice-Principal Mark Zmuda.
Students at Sammamish's Eastside Catholic High School disagreed with Sartain's decision - so much so that they walked out of class after the Seattle Archdiocese dismissed the popular Vice Principal and swim team coach for marrying his same-sex partner over the summer. School officials say that Zmuda broke an employment contract guaranteeing that he would abide by the principles of the Catholic Church. Students say that the contract shouldn't include anything about being discriminated against for being LGBT or marrying the one you love - regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Pretty simple, right?
Well, apparently Archbishop Sartain doesn't get it. Or maybe he just couldn't hear the youth all the way from Sammamish.
So we decided that the kids would come to him. And we brought the noise. SOSea provided the sound system, organized the event, and I proudly led the rally, which was a huge success. More than 200 students showed up and were joined by nearly every media outlet in the city as well as Eastside Catholic High School alumni and supportive community members who agree with the students request that the Church change its views on same-sex marriage. The bottom line is, if Sartain didn't hear about the youth and their dissatis-faction about Mr. Z's firing on Thursday, he certainly heard them on Friday. The chanting from the lively crowd could be heard for blocks around Seattle's First Hill neighbor-hood.
Seattle Mayor-elect Ed Murray, who is a practicing Catholic, made a brief appearance to show his support for the students.
'I just want to be in solidarity with the students because the students are the ones who will make a difference,' said Murray, who married his same-sex partner, Michael Shiosaki in August. 'We are seeing a generational change being led by young people you see here.'
Still, Sartain's lips are sealed on the matter. He has not released a statement or rebuttal to what the youth are asking. Likewise, Mr. Zmuda has also remained silent on the issue.
It is important to note that really, in all reality, this movement will have little to do with Mr. Z from here on out and as one of the adults actively mentoring these kids throughout this important beginning of a national movement, I can tell you that there are two important things to remember for everyone involved, and for anyone looking to get involved in this call for social justice and policy change.
The first distinction is that Mr. Z is not going to get his job back. So why continue to talk about him or chant 'Keep Mr. Z! Keep Mr. Z!' Because the goal of the activists, and SOSea shares this as well, is that we don't want to see this happen to anyone else. Mr. Z did not get married in the Catholic Church, or on the grounds at the school he works at, so how can the Church justify firing him when he's not broken any laws at all. Still, Friday was Mr. Z's last day at Eastside.
The school said the issue is not that Zmuda is Gay, but that the Catholic doctrine does not allow Gay marriage. The students say the doctrine is outdated and change is inevitable. And we believe that at Social Outreach Seattle as well. This movement could very well be a game changer.
The other important distinction to be aware of is that the students at Eastside Catholic High School will continue to lead their piece of this fight and others will step in to lead the rest. Mr. Z was the spark; changing the Catholic Church and their doctrines is the fire. This will not happen overnight and it cannot be done by the youth alone.
On Sunday, Social Outreach Seattle joined the youth activists and Eastside alumni once again; this time the setting was Century Link field, one-hour before game time. Again, media was present and, again, a lively group of students, led by Eastside Catholic High School Senior Alex Kovar, were on hand to chant and raise awareness over the issue. One by one, Seattle Seahawk-clad fans walked over to give the youth words of encouragement, take photos and video of the protest, and every now and then give a fist-bump or high five. The event, like the original sit in and first rally at Sartain's office, was a total success.
The 'total success' piece of this is important. It lets you know when you are on the right track. It also is a strong sign that you are working with the right people on the right mes-sage.
The potential to mess this all up, however, is huge. I can tell you that I will be diligent in my role as advisor and organizer to not allow this to happen. You see, for the students, the long haul might not be possible. Some of the parents are none too happy with the actions of their kids; school administrators are worried about losing their jobs over a budget crisis (apparently certain alumni are refusing to donate because the students are pro-same-sex marriage), and more will seek to divide the youth and make them fight amongst themselves and disband or seek out other loyalties. I warned them at the Century Link rally to remain mindful of that fact. Some of youth are uncomfortable with being referred to as an activist, and for some odd reason (panic, I would think) a few of the students have said that the movement is not a Gay rights movement or anti-Catholic Church movement.
Those last two alarm me. So I spoke with some of the youth about their views and reminded them that their movement is directly tied to the greater Gay Equality movement be-cause, aside from the fact that they are not the first to ask the Catholic Church to change their views on the Gay community, this has everything to do with us. Who else gets same-sex married but LGBTQ people? And please, don't misunderstand the tone; I'm not poking fun or anything. I am just stating that, yes, the second those students refused to go to class last week, is the second they started their movement for the Church to change. It will take a village to change things for all people in every state when it comes to same-sex marriage.
But we, as community and a culture, have great endurance and these youth are championing our cause. It is worth every second to mentor them and help get this thing going in every state.
For young activist Bradley Strode, this is a fight he is willing to see through to the end. 'As a community, we have united to stand in solidarity with Mark Zmuda and Eastside Catholic students.' he told SGN. 'His termination stemming from his marriage to a man was ordered by the Archdiocese of Seattle because of the Church's official doctrine oppos-ing Gay marriage. This is a great injustice. Mr. Zmuda was fired based off of action he took to consecrate his love for another man in the eyes of God. It in no way affected his ability to support and lead students at Eastside Catholic.'
'The Catholic and non-Catholic youth of the Greater Seattle community are trying to effect change in the Church's policy towards Gay marriage,' he continued. 'As a confirmed Catholic, I firmly believe that if Jesus Christ was here in human form, he would have sat-in with all of us in protest of this ruling. The Catholic Church's ultimate mission is to spread the unconditional love that Christ acted with and preached on throughout the Gospels. This means loving each human on earth regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or race. In order for the Catholic Church to fulfill this mission, it must support Gay marriage.'
'Now is the time to make a difference,' said Strode. 'Our message has already been projected throughout the country and the world, and it will only amplify from here.'
Strode refers to Pope Francis, who said, 'If a person is Gay and seeks the Lord and is of good will, who am I to judge him,' by saying, 'It is apparent that now the Catholic Church is ready for change. We will continue to stand in solidarity with Mr. Zmuda and the rest of our family to collaborate with the Archdiocese of Seattle, the United States Con-ference of Catholic Bishops, and, ultimately, the Vatican to change this rule.'
'In the next couple of weeks, we will further develop this plan for reform,' he concluded. 'Be patient. Be vocal. Be positive. Take your energy and work in actions of love. I know we will do this.'
Zeena Rivera and 'Be! Magazine' are leading an action that anyone could do, or should do, for the cost of a stamp: Write the Pope a letter. Starting today and continuing through the end of this month, hand write a letter to Pope Francis, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Sartain and make a difference.
'You don't have to argue for a sudden change in Church doctrine towards same-sex marriage, but please do emphasize that the Archdiocese's action went against the teachings of the Church on love for homosexuals and was blatantly hypocritical,' Rivera told SGN. 'So, write a letter (or 3), buy some stamps, and let the leadership of the Church know that their actions are not merciful, are not just, and are not the love of God.'
You can mail your letter(s) to:
His Holiness, Pope Francis
00120 Vatican City
Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 Fourth Street NE
Washington, DC 20017
Archbishop Peter Sartain
710 9th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104
To find out more about this and other social justice topics of interest to the LGBTQ and Allied communities, go to the Social Outreach Seattle website at www.socialoutreachseattle.com.
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