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Originally published January 5, 2014 at 8:42 PM | Page modified January 5, 2014 at 10:29 PM

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Gay educator says he was told he could save job if he divorced

In a video interview with a former student of his, the Eastside Catholic High vice principal terminated from his job because he had married his male partner, said the school’s president offered him the option of a divorce as a way to keep his job.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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The former vice principal of Eastside Catholic school, who was terminated last month after school officials found out he had married his male partner, said in a newly released video that he was told he could keep his job if he got a divorce.

Mark Zmuda, 38, a well-liked swim coach who was vice principal of Eastside’s middle and high schools until Dec. 20, said the school’s president told him he could keep his job if he divorced his husband of five months and had a commitment ceremony.

Zmuda’s termination from the school of 935 students drew global attention and triggered a sit-in by Eastside Catholic high-school students and at other area Catholic schools as well as ongoing rallies and protests.

In emails to faculty members and parents, Eastside Catholic’s president, Sister Mary Tracy, said students who don’t report to class Monday, when classes resume after the holidays, would be considered unexcused and their parents notified.

During the 16-minute interview with one of his former students, Catrina Crittenden, Zmuda said, “Apparently the fact that I have a same-sex partner and (am) having a same-sex marriage ... they are against that.

“But I also thought another teaching they were against was also divorce. I’m a little shocked that was even on the table to have me keep my job. They also offered for me to have a commitment ceremony if I were willing to get a divorce.”

On the video, which was posted on YouTube Saturday, Zmuda also said he didn’t resign but was terminated — contradicting a persistent claim by the school’s attorney, Mike Patterson.

Tracy referred calls to Patterson, who said Zmuda’s statement about the divorce was untrue.

Patterson acknowledged he was not present for that particular conversation but said Tracy raised the idea of divorce with Zmuda only as a hypothetical question, along the lines of “would you consider a divorce ... I don’t even know if that would work.”

Tracy did so, Patterson said, without legal counsel and Zmuda said it was not something he would consider.

And Zmuda, he added, never brought up the issue during a conversation he had with the attorney.

Patterson dismissed any further questions on Zmuda’s claims, including about the commitment ceremony, and hung up.

Zmuda and his husband, Dana Jergens, who were married in July, have not spoken publicly since Zmuda lost his job Dec. 20. He reached out to Crittenden, one of his former students at Eastside, because of the wide support he’s received from students.

On social media, Eastside students, alumni and a widening pool of supporters have continued to rally for him.

On Saturday, they held a rally outside the offices of the Seattle Archdiocese and are planning other events, including something they are calling nationwide “Z” day, asking students and others across the country to wear orange, one of the school colors, on Jan. 31 in solidarity with Zmuda.

“We will continue to write letters, lobby Church officials, and use any other means at our disposal to respectfully work toward our ultimate goal of changing the discriminatory attitudes regarding homosexuality in the Church,” local students said in a statement.

In her emails to faculty and parents, Tracy said Eastside Principal Polly Skinner will meet with students this week to begin planning a workshop to bring about change at the school, where about 60 percent of the 654 high school and 281 middle school students are Catholic.

Eastside is also prepared to contract with professionals to work with students “to effect progress in a meaningful, positive and impactful way,” she wrote.

Tracy hosted a meeting Sunday evening with staff and faculty members to talk about “the plan we will use moving forward” and invited parents to meet with her to address questions they might have.

Meanwhile, as Zmuda’s replacement, she said the school has brought in Tom Lord, recipient of the 2013 Archbishop’s Award for outstanding contributions to Catholic schools, who has served in leadership positions at several area Catholic schools, including Eastside. For a time he was interim Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese.

On the video, Zmuda, who is Catholic, said he’s heard from well-wishers from across the globe.

Before moving to Washington last year, he and Jergens lived in Florida’s Broward County, where Zmuda worked at a private Catholic high school and the two were registered as domestic partners.

They said they wanted to wait until they lived in a state where same-sex marriage was legal before getting married.

Staff reporter John Higgins contributed to this report.Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.



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