Lesbian Teacher Fired After 18 Years With Minn. Catholic School for Coming Out to Colleagues

After 18 years as a religion and English teacher at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, Minn., Kristen Ostendorf uttered eight words that ended her career.
By: Sunnivie Brydum
September 11 2013 5:21 PM

An English and religion teacher who had taught the students at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, Minn., was forced out after she revealed to fellow faculty that she's in a committed relationship with another woman. 

Kristen Ostendorf told the MinnPost she didn't plan to come out, since she knew it would violate the Catholic school's stated policy on "Justice In Employment," which forbids faculty from acting or speaking against the Church or its teachings. But on August 21, Ostendorf was in a conference with 120 fellow teachers when she uttered eight words that ended her 18 years of service at the parochial school just outside Minneapolis: "I'm gay, I'm in a relationship with a woman, and I'm happy." 

The next day, school administrators asked Ostendorf to resign. When she refused, the school fired her. She's now looking for work elsewhere, but sat down with MinnPost on Monday to give her first in-depth interview since the termination. 

Ostendorf pointed out that she's the second educator to be forced from Totino-Grace in recent months after revealing an LGBT identity. The school's president, Bill Hudson, resigned in July after an anonymous source outed him. Hudson acknowledged that he was, in fact, in a committed relationship with another man, and resigned, according to MinnPost. 

Ostendorf told MinnPost that Hudson's ouster had a profound impact on the closeted LGBT faculty at Totino-Grace, as did the school's annual theme — "Make Your Mark." Each year, staff work together to create a theme for the school year based on biblical teachings, including past themes like "A Place at the Table" and "One Human Family." While discussing these supposedly inclusive themes with her colleagues, Ostendorf told MinnPost she suddenly found herself "unable to string sentences together." 

"I was struck by the dissonance between the meaning of our themes and the events that had recently taken place," Ostendorf, herself a lifelong Catholic, told MinnPost in an extensive interview. "I found myself trying to buy time while I tried to figure out how I could encourage others to 'make their mark' if I was willing to be part of a community where I was required to hide and compromise and deny who I am. How could I ask others to give themselves entirely to the work God calls them to when I couldn’t do this myself?"

Immediately after Ostendorf uttered her confessional, the room fell silent. Later that day, the veteran teacher said she received several emails from people telling her they were proud of her, and expressing sadness that they themselves didn't have the courage to stand up and applaud or shout "Amen!"

The next day, administrators summoned Ostendorf and asked her to resign. Citing her principled resolve and dedication to speaking her truth after nearly two decades of forced silence, Ostendorf told the administration that she would not resign, and refused to apologize for saying what she did. The group discussed the implications a firing would have on Ostendorf's future employment, but her resolve was resolute. 

"I want to be very clear about this," Ostendorf recalled telling administrators. "I'm not  embarrassed about what I said. I will not dance around it. I will tell every future employer precisely why I left. And if that's a problem, I don't want to work there. I can't do it anymore." 

Read the full interview to hear Ostendorf's side of the story at MinnPost

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