For the second time in three months, a Catholic High School in Minnesota has forced out one of its respected, veteran educators for being gay.
In July, it was the president of Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb. This time, the school fired a popular English teacher and campus minister the day after she unexpectedly told a faculty gathering that she was a lesbian living in a happy same-sex relationship — a fact she says her colleagues knew anyway.
Kristen Ostendorf, who at 43 remains a lifelong Catholic, said that though she loves the school, she had mixed feelings about starting this school year after the school’s president, William Hudson, was pressured into resigning after revealing that he has lived in a committed relationship with a male partner for 18 years, with two children.
Ostendorf (pictured), who this week gave her first public interviews since she was fired, said that her emotions got the better of her at a faculty workshop on Aug. 21. The workshop was devoted to the school’s theme for the upcoming term, “Make Your Mark.”
The teacher told MinnPost that she was disturbed by the circumstances of Hudson’s departure. The former school president was anonymously outed to the private institution’s corporate board before acknowledging that he was gay.
She said she was considering the “make your mark” theme when she suddenly and to her own surprise blurted out, “I’m gay, I’m in a relationship with a woman, and I’m happy.”
She says she offered the revelation as “a prayer.” But the next day, she was summoned by school administrators who told her she must resign immediately or face termination of her contract. She refused to quit her job. The school fired her.
Though not directly admitting that Ostendorf was fired for being gay, the school did not pretend there was any other reason.
“Kristen is like all the faculty and staff members at Totino-Grace — they are caring, loving individuals who care deeply about their students,” Kelly Refsnider, a school spokesperson, told the Pioneer Press.
Ostendorf now says other gay faculty members are in fear of being outed and, she says, some quietly quit during the summer after Hudson was forced out. She says the policy at the school is effectively “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
She says most of her colleagues knew she was gay and that after her spontaneous announcement, she received e-mails from some, saying, “I’m proud of you,” and “My only sadness is that I didn’t stand up and applaud or yell, ‘Amen.’”
Minnesota legalized gay marriage on Aug. 1, after voters earlier turned down a state constitutional amendment that would have banned it.
SOURCES: MinnPost, Pioneer Press, CBS 4 Minnesota, Time Magazine