Kristen Ostendorf had good reason to keep her mouth closed during a faculty/staff workshop about this year’s theme at Totino-Grace High School, a Catholic school just north of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The school’s president, Bill Hudson, was forced to resign earlier this year after revealing he’d been in a same-sex relationship for 18 years. But Ostendorf couldn’t reconcile this year’s theme — “Make Your Mark” — with her own silence, and she uttered eight words that would change her life: “I’m gay, in a relationship with a woman.”
Ostendorf had been teaching at Totino-Grace for 18 years, but her employment was terminated the next day. She tells the MinnPost that she has no regrets, but she hopes that her students learn something from her decision:
OSTENDORF: Growing up, I never knew anyone who was gay. I was at Totino-Grace for 18 years. I don’t think it would be easy for anyone to paint me as a criminal. So I think that maybe, just maybe, kids, adults, and whoever can say, “OK, there’s a real human being who really means to be herself and live her life and does it with integrity. She’s gay.” That’s a big deal. Instead of, “That person’s a criminal.”
I’m not a big fan of silence. I’m not a fan of leaving the unnamed elephant in the room. I think silence is a huge problem. There’s been criticism of Bill for having “kept a secret.” And I think, really? He was doing a job he was called to do. But let’s say he was keeping a secret, and I chose to not keep a secret. We’re both gone. And the sad story is, I’d like to be the last person to be fired for who I loved, or for the gender of the person I love. But I won’t be, probably, and the silence around it terrifies me.
When Hudson left Totino-Grace earlier this year, the school justified his departure by explaining that “living in a committed same-sex relationship is not consistent with the teachings of the Catholic church.”
Ostendorf and Hudson are only the most recent examples of the Catholic Church discriminating against educators for being gay. A California school fired one teacher after a picture of him marrying his partner appeared in a newspaper. An Ohio school fired a teacher after it was revealed in her mother’s obituary that she was in a same-sex relationship. Likewise, the Catholic Church in Britain has threatened to fire any gay teacher who marries.