As an athletic trainer at Lutheran High School in Indianapolis for five years, Krystal Brazel advocated and raised money for an athletic training room, raised $3,000 for an ice machine and coached the softball team to a state title last year.
“When I started at Lutheran, they didn’t have an athletic training room,” Brazel said. . “They didn’t even have tables, they hardly had tape and they hardly had ice.”
The Franklin College alumna and her then-girlfriend even proposed to each other in the Lutheran softball batter’s box last year.
But in February, Brazel was brought into a meeting after softball practice with the head of the school, Michael Brandt, and the athletic director, Tom Finchrum.
The administrators spread three handbooks on a table, and Brandt read the text of one policy verbatim while the other two followed along. Brazel, confused, realized what the issue was when Brandt arrived at a line condemning homosexuality.
The sentence in the student handbook reads: “We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God (Matt. 15:18-20; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).”
Brazel was shocked. Brandt asked if she could sign the handbook, to which she replied, “You know I can’t. And you know that I couldn’t have signed this any other year either.”
Brazel said she felt Lutheran was a welcoming environment leading up to her meeting with Brandt and Finchrum. She had never seen the handbook before, and deduced with her colleagues that it had to be a recent change to the school’s policies to have employees sign it.
Brazel also knew, due to the school’s connection to the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, that this meant the end of her coaching at Lutheran. But Brazel hoped that being a Franciscan Health employee that was placed at Lutheran as an athletic trainer — rather than being on Lutheran High School’s payroll — meant that she could continue her work with athletes.
“After they told me in a conversation in February that I could no longer coach, I continued to raise money at boys basketball games for me to be the full time athletic trainer the next year,” Brazel said. While Franciscan Health had not been charging Lutheran for her work as athletic trainer, Brazel said her employers knew that would soon begin.Brazel wanted to ensure that the school did not lose money for necessities to fund her position. She had raised almost $1,000.
But Brazel was notified after the school had switched to online classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic that she would not be permitted to return to her role as athletic trainer.
Following that decision, Brazel made a Facebook post that garnered mass attention. This post led to a relationship with Shelly’s Voice, an organization started by former Roncalli High School guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was given the ultimatum in 2018 that she must end her same-sex relationship or lose her job at the private, Catholic school.
With the help of Shelly’s Voice, Brazel sent the Lutheran High School administration a packet “asking to have a conversation.” The packet contained a letter from Brazel, a letter from Shelly’s Voice, a letter from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, and a letter from the lawyer that represents Shelly’s Voice.
In response, the head of the school said that the school board will have a meeting in August after school starts. But Brazel said she wasn’t notified of when the board meeting would be, and if it was held, she and her team weren’t invited to attend.
“Lutheran High School of Indianapolis is founded on the doctrine of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and expects employees who shepherd its students to respect and live consistently by these principles,” Brandt said in a statement when responding to questions from The Franklin. “The school’s mission is to prepare young adults for a Christian life in a Christ-centered environment. Lutheran High School of Indianapolis needs leaders of its students committed to these values.”
Kimberly Kuehr, a rising senior at Franklin College and an alumna of Lutheran, worked with Brazel as a football manager, basketball and softball player. She said she was angry upon hearing of Brazel’s termination.
“The fact of why she was fired was frustrating, but to me what was most frustrating is that if I had a child that was playing a high school sport with a risk of injury, I would want the most qualified person out there to take care of my child,” Kuehr said. “I would want to feel safe.”
Kuehr came into contact with Brazel often as an athletic trainer and as assistant softball coach. Brazel’s influence encouraged her to attend Franklin College and start studying exercise science to pursue a similar career in athletic training. Brazel also served as a role model for her faith.
“She is the Christian leader we all need,” Kuehr said. “She is an example of someone who sins but knows her savior and knows she needs forgiveness but everyday works hard to be a better Christian and leads students and athletes to the cross.”
Moving forward, Brazel is working with Shelly’s Voice to encourage a change to the handbook policy.
“Our goal is for the school to be inclusive of the LGBTQ community and that starts with changing the handbook verbiage saying that -- homosexuality, bestiality, bisexual conduct -- we want them to take that out,” Brazel said.
Brazel has been asked by many media publications if she would go back to Lutheran, if given the opportunity. Her response is that she does not have the opportunity, but her hope is the school will learn to be inclusive for others like her.
“I would like the opportunity for me, or anybody else like me -- student, coach, teacher, athletic trainer, volunteer cook, whoever it is -- I want them to have the opportunity to make that decision for themselves,” Brazel said.
Next, Brazel will be working at Augusta Public Academy as an athletic trainer while maintaining her part-time work at Franciscan Health and OrthoIndy. Brazel graduated from Franklin College in 2012 and worked at the college as an assistant athletic trainer in 2014.