At Totino-Grace, fired for being gay

The must-read story of the day comes from MinnPost where Jim Walsh sat down yesterday with Kristen Ostendorf, a religion/English teacher who was fired as the school year started at Totino-Grace High School after she acknowledged she’s gay.

And I was at once terrified and really glad and proud. I didn’t just say, “I’m gay, I’m in a relationship with a woman, and I’m happy,” and sit down. That really wasn’t the point of what I was saying.

It was, “This is my prayer for all of us: That we mean what we do.” Then I sat down and I thought, “I wonder what’s going to happen next?” I hadn’t considered [the repercussions], but I didn’t know I was going to say what I said.

There was silence in the room. I wasn’t surprised. Nobody stands up in a room of 120 people in a Catholic school and says, “I’m in a relationship with a woman,” when you’re a woman.

Afterwards I got emails from people who said, “I’m proud of you,” and “My only sadness is that I didn’t stand up and applaud or yell, ‘Amen.’ ”

Ostendorf is the second official at the Catholic school to resign or be fired after acknowledging being gay. School president William Hudson resigned in June.

Ostendorf told MinnPost:

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.

The school declined to comment on Ostendorf’s ouster. But when Hudson left, the school said, “leading a Catholic school while living in a committed same-sex relationship is not consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

  • Kassie

    I’m curious as to what enrollment in Catholic Schools looks like. I assume it is down, but how much is down over the last 10, 20, 30 years? And what kind of reputation does Totino-Grace have as an academic institution? Is it considered an elite school? Is it considered a good school to teach at?

    • Average ACT score is 24. It has a very good academic reputation. I went to Marquette University – a Catholic school that does hire professors of all sexual orientations. The President has always been a Jesuit Priest, and there have been controversies about candidates for Dean who are in same-sex relationships, but I’m not sure why T-G takes a different approach.

  • Libby Snelson

    How can anyone who recognizes women and gay people as humans work for the Catholic Church? The Church is clear about what the males who own it call matters of faith. I think they are horribly, corruptly wrong, just like the Taliban. But it should be no surprise that its leaders attack and oust women and out gay people. Quit supporting it. Quit tolerating its intolerance.

    • Fred Garvin

      Sorry, but you lost the argument after writing…”just like the Taliban.”
      Your hate is so ugly.

  • Fred Garvin

    Why is it a “must read” story?
    Is it shocking that a private school refuses to employ leaders who say and do things that violate the school’s mission?
    Lutheran school fires vocal atheist.
    Bull in Mankato attacks amorous bull.
    Sun comes up in the east this morning.
    Pres. Clinton harasses female intern.
    Electric company spokesman says electricty is dangerous.
    Wow…must reads I’m sure.
    Or is the selection of this “must read” article indicative of bias?

    • A “must read” story is the kind that provide opportunities for introspection. In this case, the beauty of the story — that no one else had — was the opportunity to share in someone reconciling her faith with her job. Many people have to do this on a daily basis and it provides an opportunity to think “what would I do in that situation?” The answer is irrelevant to the value of considering the role of faith — or lack of it as the case may be — in how we lead our lives. Both the school and the teacher reconciled that.

  • Fred Garvin

    The choice by Mr. Collins and MPR to run this “News Cut” column is despicable.
    Predictably, MPR has provided another forum for the bigoted and intolerant to spew their hate for all things Catholic and for all those who hold differing views on homosexual behaviors.
    “safe harbor for homophobes”
    “leaders attack and oust women and gay people”
    “The Church is clear about what the males who own it”

    One cannot make up this hate, and MPR surely knew that it would provoke such anger and bigotry when Mr. Collins called it a “must read.” This is journalistic malpractice.
    No wonder Minnesota loses more people to other states than move to MN.

    • Dave

      Why is it despicable? Because this news portrays the church and Totino-Grace in a negative light?

      I think it’s fascinating how the anti-gays have attempted to redefine the words “bigot” and “intolerance” to turn the conversation on its head. Dan Hall (MN Senate) did this during the debate last spring. He was also using the #TeamRomney hashtag this spring. I thought that was amusing.

    • Chris Hatch

      I found it to be a very interesting ‘must read’ both for the ideas quoted here and for the talk around reconciling her faith and her sexual orientation as well as her drive to teach at Totino-Grace.

      To me it sounded like a teacher who really cared for her students was let go for a stupid reason and that’s too bad.

      *edit* also perhaps you could come to the discussion with good faith rather than anger and vitriol as well.

  • Kassie

    This is absolutely news. Gay marriage just became legal. It is illegal to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation UNLESS you are religious institution. It is because she is gay that she was fired.

    Some of the Catholic bashing on here is terrible. Especially what Libby Snelson wrote, but the Catholic church is getting away with something that 99% of all employers in the State are not allowed to do because of a loophole. It is gross and outdated.

  • Amy

    Sad! I would think twice before sending my child to a school that perpetuates any kind of discrimination. I, also feel sorry for the children who are gay that attend this school.

    • fidelis

      It sounds like you enjoy having a choice but you and Kassie want to take away others choice! I feel sorry for the Christian kids that go to public school where their faith and morals are under assault on a daily basis. At least the TG parents are voluntarily paying for the tuition and aren’t forcing others to support their beliefs.

      Can we only have “choice” if it conforms with your definition?

      • Amy

        I’m sorry, fidelis, but your last statement, “Can we only have “choice” if it conforms with your definition?”, is quite contradictory. Do others’ only have a choice when it conforms with your definition? Seems like that’s the meaning you intended.

  • Just to step in here later that I should have. We don’t do fake email addresses when submitting comments here on NewsCut. You should use your real name. First name only is fine. No further comments with fake emails and phony names will be approved. We’re not going to allow the opportunity for intelligent debate and/or disagreement to disappear in an orgy of insults. Stick to the issue. We’re adults here.

    and please don’t feed the trolls.

    • fidelis

      I’m sorry, Bob. Did I attack anyone or name-call, or are you just afraid of honest debate? Why delete my posts and not others’ unless you are just pro-censorship. I’m pretty sure Kassie, sickandtired and starquest are not real names either. Why not delete them? Oh yeah, the Thought Police at Public Radio approve of their messages. We must pretend all others don’t exist…

      I give a fake email because I don’t like getting spammed by MPR.

      • You’ve answered your own question in your second paragraph.

        None of the email addresses are used by MPR.

        Move on.

      • Kassie

        Kassie is totally my real name, by the way. And I used my real email address. And would use my last name if Bob requested I do so. Because I’m a rule follower. And think rules should apply to everyone, even anti-discrimination rules and even to churches.

  • Amie

    Dr. Hudson was just hired as Director of Institutional Advancement by Mounds Park Academy, a school that has adhered to a non-discrimination employment policy for all of its 30+ years — and is also welcoming/inclusive of students.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    This is not a “must-read.” This is a typical “I don’t agree with the Catholic Church on sex issues, so I’m going to make a fuss about it and justify my behavior that doesn’t go along with Church teaching with my own reasons.” This happens, not on a daily or even hourly basis, but on a “secondly” basis. It is, as one commenter already said, equivalent to “Sun comes up in the east this morning.”

    • Long dismissed as people who love the Catholic church v. people who hate the Catholic church, the issue has further emerged as Catholic v. Catholic. That was probably accelerated when the Pope said “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” which changed the tone of the … discussion. Obviously he did not change church policy.

      Maybe the church will change its policy; maybe it won’t. I don’t know. But, yes, I find the discussion fascinating.

      • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

        You might find the discussion fascinating, but it is in no way new or “further emerged as Catholic v. Catholic.” The rank divisions in the Church over sexual issues of all kinds have been going on (and noted and promoted by the media) at least since Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical letter Humane Vitae (which continued the Church’s teaching against artificial contraception) — in 1968. This includes the discussion over homosexuality, which is why there are opposing groups like Courage (which supports the Church’s teaching on homosexuality) vs. Dignity (which doesn’t). That you as a news person seem to have missed this is in itself “fascinating.”

        • I didn’t say they JUST emerged. I said FURTHER emerged. I can’t say the pope didn’t open the door to an expanded discussion with his change in tone. And so did the report of the “gay lobby” inside the Vatican, neither confirmed nor denied by the Vatican.

          The fact that I find how people reconcile their faith with the conflicts they face in the world doesn’t at all require you to.

          I respect your point of view very much.

          • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

            Nor did I say “they JUST emerged,” if you read my first sentence correctly. Are they further emerged? I suppose one could make the argument that as we advance in time and people speak out in such wise, there is a further emergence. But I wonder how newsworthy or “must-read” that is. If it’s still going on, then that seems to me to diminish its news value.

  • MrE85

    On the other foot: I doubt if any organization could fire a dedicated and competent employee for being Catholic, even if they first assured everyone that they “loved and respected all people” and “did not discriminate.”

    • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

      You’re right, MrE85, because that would be called religious discrimination, something prohibited by the first clause of the First Amendment. But for the life of me I can’t find anything in the Constitution that says that religious institutions must keep employees who don’t follow that institution’s teachings. And neither did the Supreme Court in their 9-0 Hosanna-Tabor decision.

      • MrE85

        I’m not implying that the school’s actions were unconstitutional. I’m saying that I find them unconscionable.

  • Thomas Swift

    This woman was working under false pretenses. She knew full and well that her choice of living arrangement ran afoul of one of the key concepts of Catholic belief. The central and sacred role of family ( a man and wife) is not up for debate; the church will never, ever accept homosexuality as an acceptable substitute for normal, biologically and morally correct male/female relationships.

    If you had any understanding of Catholicism you’d know this.