A glimmer of hope for tolerance in Catholic schools

A lesbian teacher stays on in a school where a gay administrator was let go

Topics: LGBT, Gay Marriage, Marriage equality, Stephanie Merrow, Mark Zmuda, Catholicism, Catholic education, catholic schools,

A glimmer of hope for tolerance in Catholic schoolsStephanie Merrow (Credit: King5.com)

That Stephanie Merrow’s employer says that she’s welcome to go on doing her job, that her work status is not even an issue for discussion, made national news this week. Because Stephanie Merrow is a gay woman. And she’s a freelance drama coach at a Catholic school. One that just a few weeks ago parted ways with its vice principal – a gay man.

Mark Zmuda — who was not just an administrator but a teacher and coach at Washington state’s Eastside Catholic High School — left his position on Dec. 20, when the archdiocese learned he’d married his partner last summer. Zmuda unreservedly says he was let go, though school attorney Mike Patterson says instead Zmuda resigned. Patterson does, however, concede that school president Sister Mary Tracy “asked in a hypothetical fashion out of frustration” whether Zmuda would consider divorcing his husband. In an interview with Catrina Crittenden, a 14-year-old school freshman, Zmuda said, “Apparently, the fact that I have a same-sex partner, they’re against that. But I also thought a teaching they were against was divorce.”

Zmuda is far from the only openly gay educator to find himself unemployed in the Catholic school system. Michael Griffin at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Pennsylvania says he was fired in December after 12 years of service when he said he and his partner were applying for a marriage license. Last year Ohio teacher Carla Hale was fired from her school when she included her partner’s name in her mother’s obituary. And in California, St. Lucy’s Priory High School canned Ken Bencomo when his wedding made the local newspaper. And what’s especially galling about these petty, punitive acts is that in many cases, the teachers say the schools knew full well that they were gay. It was when they acknowledged it, when they exercised their right to marriage, that they were punished. The hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed.



The unflattering public spotlight on Eastside Catholic High School, and its clearly confused views on what constitutes a violation of its ethical standards (Marriage? Yes. Divorce? Maybe not so much) has clearly had a disruptive effect. On Monday, its board chair Gene Colin abruptly announced he was stepping down, saying he needed to “take a break.”And parents and students were warned last week that any campus protests to the departure of Zmuda would result in students being sent home.

But on Saturday, about 80 unintimidated students and supporters took their feelings about recent events elsewhere – and held a rally in front of the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, where they chanted that “God is love.” And on Tuesday, in a surprising display of loophole deploying, the school made it clear it would not take any action against Stephanie Merrow, who as an independent contractor may not be subject to the same standards for her personal life as Zmuda was.

Merrow, who’s currently choreographing “Guys and Dolls” for the school, became engaged to her girlfriend of five years over the holiday break. She says that she brought her concerns to the staff this week, and told them she supported Zmuda. Her motivation? “It was the kids,” she says. “I was extremely proud of and supportive of the kids and the way they handled this. I’m doing this to support the kids, and what the kids are trying to do is get to the pope and change the church.” And as she told KING5 News, when she showed up this week, she “walked right in, did my job, business as usual.” The school says Merrow is “welcome” to stay on.

In the few weeks since Zmuda left Eastside, what started as yet another absurd incident of a Catholic institution imposing its backward policies has become an opportunity for a school community to articulate what its priorities are – and how it defines its own moral code. Students have shown their loyalty and love – next up, they’re calling for a nationwide “Mr. Z” day on Jan. 31. And in a statement to her students that she permitted them to share with the media, even Sister Mary Tracy has made it clear she’s ready for the church to open its heart too. “I look forward to the day,” she says, “where no individual loses their job because they married a person of the same sex.” Here’s a tip — it starts by remembering that nobody has to, and then acting accordingly.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...