In August 1998, I was working as a therapist and residential counselor for Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children (KBHC) in Louisville. I could never have foreseen that by the end of the month I would be riding an emotional roller-coaster that would end with my being fired on Oct. 23.
I had been recruited five months earlier to work for a special unit for behavior-disordered adolescent boys. During the interview process I told the clinical director, my future supervisor, that I was a lesbian. The director told his supervisor and he was told the special unit was his creation and responsibility, and that he should hire the best person for the job. He hired me, and said there was no official policy against hiring gay people, but that I should be discreet. Being discreet goes with being a therapist, so I didn't think this was unreasonable. He also warned that should people higher up than his supervisor find out, there could be problems.
Although my partner, Nance Goodman, and I had reservations about my working for a Baptist organization, I decided I wanted to for several reasons. First, my boss was a well-known clinician and I wanted to be under his tutelage. The Spring Meadows campus, at that time, was one of the few long-term residential homes left untouched by the state's drive to cut costs through managed care. Also, I wanted to work with the adolescent population, and KBHC paid its clinicians well.
On Aug. 22, 1998, Nance and I returned home from vacation. It was the opening weekend of the Kentucky State Fair. To our surprise, an 11-by-14-inch photograph of the two of us that had been taken a year earlier was being displayed in the amateur photo contest. When I returned to work on Monday, co-workers began telling me about the picture. One of my co-workers, who knew I was gay, told me that I was standing in front of Nance and wearing a tank top with a map of the Aegean Sea that read "Isle of Lesbos," which is a real island off the cost of Turkey. In that moment I knew I had lost my job.
I immediately called Nance and she sent a friend to investigate. The next day, Nance went down to the fairgrounds and had the photo taken down. The people in charge of the photo contest didn't seem to understand that we did not find the photo lewd or vulgar in any way, but that merely showing it could cause me to lose my job. After some difficulty they took down the photo, but by then thousands of people had seen it.
It was a week before I heard the first rumblings. One of the eight counselors I supervised complained to the manager of the unit. A week after that, I was asked to resign by KBHC's cabinet, which consisted of the president and five vice presidents. My supervisor was stunned. He honestly did not believe I would be fired. The cabinet told him to ask for my resignation. Through his tears, he did. I refused to resign because I felt I had done nothing wrong. I had been honest from the beginning and I had been discreet, as I had been asked.
Some people have said I was not discreet because I wore a "queer" shirt in public. My response is that I will not live my life worrying about infinite negative possibilities. That photo was taken at the local 1997 AIDS Walk, a year before I came to work for KBHC.
So, that Friday, I refused to resign and fully expected to be asked to pack up my office and leave on the next working day. This was not the case; there was a great deal of ambiguity for another week. Every day I went to work and there would be no word. After a week of tense anticipation, I decided to ask my supervisor what was happening. He said that Human Resources wanted me to pick a date that was to be my last day. I refused to do that because that would appear as if I were resigning. At that point my supervisor, under protest, chose the date of Oct. 2 as my last day. I spent those three weeks trying to find another job while working full time, asking the president of KBHC for an official letter of termination, and telling the eight teen-age boys in my care what was happening.
Up to this point, they hadn't known anything was going on. In those three weeks I had to tell them I was gay, something I would never have done otherwise. I had to tell them I was being fired and help them deal with their anger and emotions as well prepare them for goodbyes.
During those three weeks, the boys were angry and very supportive of me. Fellow clinicians and social workers were outraged and stood by me. To my knowledge, seven people have resigned from Kentucky Baptist Homes in protest. Most of the other workers at Spring Meadows did not know what was happening until a few days before my last day. When they were told, the majority of them were angry. Several people made a point of coming to me and telling me they were sorry about what had happened, and that they didn't agree with the decision.
The counselors in my unit knew what was going on almost from the beginning. Therefore, I endured passive-aggressive behavior, ignorant comments, avoidance, etc. One of the counselors told the boys that my "sin" was as bad as being a murderer. Another told a boy he would be "bad" if he chose to follow through on his bisexual feelings. At the end of the three weeks, I had been refused an official letter of termination from President Dr. Bill Smithwick twice. I was eager to leave. It had been very stressful.
On Oct. 3, after my goodbye session with the boys, I went to sign my papers of termination. I was surprised when the vice president of Human Relations and another executive did not want me to sign the papers. They asked if I had found another job. I had not. They wanted to know why this day was picked to be my last. They said that they would find another job for me to do until I found another job. They offered a job placement agency. I was stunned, but I didn't want to give them one more iota of my time and energy. All I wanted was to leave, so that I could look for another job and put this behind me.
To describe what happened in the next three weeks would be too tedious, so I will summarize. Kentucky Baptist Homes wanted to transfer me to a clinical job in the central office. The transfer would have been against their own policy and procedures because transfers were not allowed until a person had worked with the agency for nine months, and I had only been there for six. If I had taken that transfer, I would have been working at same office with the people who voted to fire me. The pay would have remained the same, but the job was a demotion. I used every rule and procedure I could find to decline the position without being insubordinate. I did not want to give KBHC a reason to fire me.
In the end, they must have tired of my volleying. On Oct. 23, I was called in to the central office, where I was suspiciously ushered into the president's office. He then told me that the whole situation had caused uproar in the agency and that he wanted me to know that it was not personal. I wanted to scream, but I just signed my papers and left. I was relieved to leave, even though I was unemployed and unsure of my future. My employer instituted an official policy against hiring gay people on the very day I signed those papers.
The good news is that the publicity surrounding my departure helped: the city of Louisville passed a part of the "Fairness Ordinance" three months later. This part of the ordinance forbids city employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Ironically, it would not have covered my case because KBHC is in the county, not the city, and it is a considered a religious organization even though it gets 80 to 90 percent of its money from state and federal grants. The Fairness Campaign and I will continue our struggle to have discrimination in public housing and public accommodations prohibited also.