- September 21, 2015
Post submitted by Jane Coaston, former HRC Writer
Kristen was a campus minister and English teacher at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, Minnesota for 18 years, in charge of service programs, planning liturgies, and a host of other tasks.
When Kristen first started at Totino-Grace, she was married to a man. In the process of her divorce, Kristen began to understand that she is gay. Having been at Totino Grace for ten years at the time, Kristen felt comfortable enough to share her sexual orientation with some of her coworkers.
"I always knew I was not in a safe place," said Kristen. "I always knew I needed to hide my real self at work and in public or face being fired. I always knew that if I advocate for myself and LGBT rights, I would be fired.”
Kristen said that she knew that the Archbishop had been clear on his stance on LGBT employees - even going so far as to revoke an award to a religious education director when it was revealed that she had a same-sex partner - and the Archdiocese’s support for a state constitutional amendment opposing marriage equality.
"That duality - the safety of friends and my very local community and the looming larger threat - it was a little crazy-making,” she said.
In July of 2013, the president of Totino-Grace High School was forced to resign after someone revealed to the Archdiocese that he was in a same-sex relationship. Kristen said that that’s when a long struggle ensued for many at the school as "it became crystal clear that working for the Church was not safe." Kristen and other gay employees of the school began looking for new jobs, preparing for firings that could come at any time simply because of who they were. Kristen said that that time was incredibly difficult, as she was "doing work I love at the price of my own integrity - (it) kept me up at night and tortured me during the day." That’s when Kristen was moved by the Holy Spirit and her faith to come out to her fellow teachers.
"It felt liberating, freeing, fantastic," even as she knew that it was likely the end of her teaching career.
That night, she received a phone call telling her not to come to work the next day and to meet the administration instead. She was told that whether she resigned or not, she would never return to Totino-Grace.
"As easy as that - on the phone, no clear explanation given when I asked. 18 years of service gladly given ended in 3 seconds. That hurt," she said.
Kristen said that being fired by her Church was "an injury beyond words," adding that losing her job felt like being excommunicated from her religious community, one upon which she had come to rely for nearly two decades. "It is the most difficult struggle I have ever had," she said. "It creeps up and unexpected times and takes me by the throat." Kristen said that it would be impossible for her to stop being gay and stop loving her partner - and for her to do so, even to save her job and her relationship with her church, would be a lie.
"I am Catholic and I always will be," Kristen said. “ It is in my bones. No one can take that from me because the Church does not belong to a few people; it lives in me and in all of the people of God. I am not willing to believe that the people of God want to send me away because I am wrong or bad or a dangerous influence on children. But that is what firing me says."
In anticipation of the historic visit of Pope Francis to the U.S., HRC is highlighting the stories of teachers and staff fired from Catholic institutions because of whom they love, and asking the pontiff to embrace the LGBT faithful. The Human Rights Campaign will welcome Pope Francis with a plea to bridge the gap between acceptance in the pews and rejection by bishops. New HRC polling shows overwhelming support among U.S. Catholics for LGBT equality, yet repudiation of the faithful persists in churches, schools and institutions. Learn more about LGBT Catholics at www.hrc.org/Catholic