If Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, WA, thought it was going to quietly put its dismissal of vice-principal Mark Zmuda behind it, it’s been sorely mistaken. Now, in his first national TV interview, Zmuda is speaking out about his experience, including the opportunity to keep his job if he divorced his husband.
“I don’t feel like I’ve done anything wrong. I married the love of my life,” Mark Zmuda told Al Jazeera TV. “It’s legal in the state of Washington. And it’s very important. I want to be married. And I want to still have my faith and still believe in God.”
As a gay man in a Catholic school, Zmuda says he knew he had to tread carefully. That included fulfilling the school’s request to keep his spouse invisible.
“They asked me not to bring my partner, Dana Jergens, at the time, to any of our school events, not to bring up issues or questions,” Zmuda says. “So he was not invited to anything. So we kept our private life private.”
But that wasn’t enough. When Zmuda mentioned his own wedding during a discussion about wedding flowers with other teachers, another teacher overheard. Then, in an exhibition of betrayal that would do Judas Iscariot proud, a group of teachers took the issue to his supervisor. Eventually, the school president, Sister Mary Tracy, stepped in to confront Zmuda, who told her he was “married to the love of my life.”
“It’s unfortunate,” Tracy responded, in perhaps the worst wedding wishes ever. Tracy then floated the idea that Zmuda get a divorce to keep his job.
Zmuda says he was appropriately shocked. “This was just kind of brazen,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe anybody would just ask me to do that. I love my husband. I love being married.”
Unfortunately for Eastside Catholic, the students love Zmuda. They continue to protest his firing, presenting a petition with 20,000 signatures to the the Archdiocese of Seattle, which affirmed its right to fire Zmuda for not living up to the lofty standards of the same institution that protected pedophile priests for decades. (Tracy has since resigned her position.)
As for Zmuda, he says that he’s “touched” by the outpouring of support from the students. “I could not be more proud of just their efforts for all the different things,” he says. “I mean, they stood up for me in what they thought was right.”