More than 20 years ago, Alicia Pedreira was fired from her job after her superiors learned she is a lesbian.
Pedreira was working as a family specialist at a group home operated by Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, now Sunrise Children’s Services. But, that ended when a photo publicly emerged of her and her partner at the time.
Pedreira’s firing jumpstarted a legal saga and a lawsuit that was just settled last week, ending with a promise from the state government that they would stop the religious proselytization of children living in tax-payer funded, residential child care homes.
Sunrise Children’s Services, which operates those types of homes, has appealed the settlement, which would prevent them from providing children with religious materials without the child’s permission.
Today, much has changed for Pedreira. She is 58, working for Habitat for Humanity and not in a relationship with the woman who she started this journey with — partially because of the stress of the lawsuit.
For years, Pedreira said she has felt disconnected from the legal back and forth that until recently bore her name as a plaintiff. And, a lawsuit she personally filed against Sunrise Children’s Services — to stop them from refusing to hire other openly gay employees — was dismissed years ago. But, she said that the recent legal victory was a more important battle to be won.
“If an adult wants to live in the closet and have internalized homophobia and not deal with it in the 21st century, it’s like OK, well then do that,” she said. “But, you’re an adult. These kids are the ones that need protection.”
LEO spoke to Pedreira for her thoughts on the recent settlement that started with the loss of a fulfilling job. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
I want to ask you about your job at Kentucky Baptist Homes. How did you feel about that job while you were there?
I had just graduated with a master’s degree in art therapy. I would have been working at the La Grange mental hospital, but I wasn’t an art therapist there. I’d gotten a job as a chemical dependency counselor, and I was doing that. I had interviewed at Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children prior to graduating, and I couldn’t get the job then, because I wasn’t licensed. Dr.[Jack] Cox, well he wasn’t doctor then, but Dr. Cox kept my resume, because he really liked me. I really liked him. And after I graduated, he called me and offered me another interview, and pretty much was giving me the position if I wanted it, because it could be under the umbrella of another therapist. So that’s how I wound up going over there. And, I liked it because I had a lot more freedom and to do art therapy if necessary. I ran groups; I had individual therapy. So, I was learning a lot in one spot with behavior, just like boys in particular. Dr. Jack Cox, who was amazing — such a nice man, is such a good teacher — and that’s why I left the job at La Grange, because I felt like I could really learn a lot under him. And my co-workers were great. Everyone knew I was gay, because I had told them in the second interview when I thought, hey, you know, maybe I’m gonna get this job, and I don’t want to be fired. And I, you probably read this before, but I said, and it was prophetic words, ‘I don’t want to be hired and then be fired six months from now, you know, because I’m gay.’ And I didn’t really deal with the administration. That building was separate. So I didn’t see anybody, any administration portion of it really until everything hit the fan.
So, your firing, how did that feel to you especially since, you know, even before you were hired you said you didn’t want that to happen?
I was angry. I was sad. I was angry, upset. I don’t think I was embarrassed. Because, I think had I been embarrassed that I lied and or had been silent, you know, lied by omission, I would have put my tail between my legs, and said, ‘You know what, I lied; they found out; I’ll just be quiet and find another job.’ But, because I was honest, I felt like, this is not fair. And I’m going to talk about it. I’m going to fight back.
Why did you decide to get involved in the lawsuit?
[A] couple of things, probably, you know, that perfect storm. My girlfriend when [she] was in the picture. At that time, her name then — she’s changed her first name since then — but her name then was Nance Goodman, and Nance was the fairness volunteer coordinator for the Fairness Campaign. I might add, she was brilliant, is brilliant. And she was indignant. I mean this was, you know, she had a child. He was, what? Seven, I think, at the time. You know, we had a house together. So, something that she wanted people to know, and I’m gonna repeat, because she was right, is that this just didn’t happen to me. It happened to her. It happened to her son. You know, it affected more than just me.
So Nance said, if you want to fight back, let’s write a letter and send it. This is the time of just, you know, AOL. There really wasn’t much else — no, certainly not social media as it is today. So she wrote a letter, and it was a beautiful letter, and she sent it to every pro-LGBTQ plus institution, organization, religious or otherwise, and we just sent it. She sent it to them and said, ‘Send this on. Keep passing this letter.’ And in that letter it said, ‘Write to Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children. Tell them how you feel about this, and that it’s wrong, and just inundate them.’ And that letter went around the world, because we had people from Australia that would write us, since she put our email on there. [We had people] from Australia, from England, from, well, just all over the place, Asia. Just people saying, ‘This is terrible. We support you. We’ve written to KBHC.’ And something I found out later, was they had to hire a person to handle all the emails that were coming in about this. And the reason I know that is because somebody told me about him, and I called him. Because they told me that he was quitting because he couldn’t handle reading all those emails and working for them. He just didn’t want to work for them. So, I called him, and I thanked him. I said, ‘You know, I know it’s really hard to read all that. Especially if you agree with what they’re saying. So, I appreciate you and appreciate what you did, and I appreciate you leaving in protest.’ Because he made it known that that’s why he was leaving.
How much of a presence in your life has this lawsuit been for the last 20 or so years?
With the law, you know the saying: the wheels of justice glide slowly. No kidding. It’ll be on a docket; We’ll be waiting for a year, and then it’ll be waiting for three months, and then Kentucky Baptist Homes will say, ‘Oh, we need to extend that.’ So, they’d extend it for 60 days, and then they’d say, ‘Oh we have to have this,’ and then extend it 60 more. And before you know it, it’d be two years before anything happened again. And then suddenly, I would get emails or phone calls from attorneys from the ACLU or [Americans United for Separation of Church and State] or Arnold & Porter, you know saying, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening, and da da da da da.’ And then they’d send me the writs or whatever, so I could read and sign off on it or whatever. So, sometimes it was fast and furious, and then it was nothing, and I mean nothing for months or years. So, sometimes I really was involved, and other times, I just didn’t, I mean, you know, five years later I didn’t care. I would be like, ‘What? Why are you bothering me now?’ Because, quickly, I gave my name to this, and so did the other plaintiffs, and quickly within a year, or I’d say a year and a half, it no longer belongs to me. It is now in another universe called, you know, the lawyer universe.
The settlement does not — it’s not going to protect LGBTQ+ workers at Sunrise Children’s Services from being fired like you were. But I spoke to Chris Hartman with the Fairness Campaign; he feels as if it might protect LGBTQ+ children by protecting them from proselytization. What are your thoughts on that?
I think that’s the most important part to me, because, the kids, they have no choice, and they’re detained. They are detained and under constant care, and, you know, they can’t do things freely there. They have to ask permission; they have to, ect. ect., So, to force somebody to do something, it’s not right. And those are the most vulnerable. As adults, if you want to work there and be gay and be in the closet, I don’t get that. I live my life out loud. And a lot happened because of this lawsuit mostly. I made up my mind that I would not be silent anymore. Even though I didn’t really live in the closet. Everybody knew I was gay, but it wasn’t something I really like, put a banner out. But afterwards, I was like, you know what, I’m gonna put up a banner, and I’m going to get a tattoo. I mean, I just decided I would live out loud. So if an adult wants to live in the closet and have internalized homophobia and not deal with it in the 21st century, it’s like OK, well then do that. But, you’re an adult. These kids are the ones that need protection.
Do you have any hope that eventually something will happen to where Sunrise Children’s Services can’t discriminate against their employees, or that maybe the state doesn’t rely on that organization in the future?
I don’t think that the religious organization will ever change their mind about that. And that’s their right. I guess that’s what the law said, that they’re free to do that. OK. But I do think that the state, I would love for the state to not rely on religious organizations to do their job, because, you know, they contract out that, and that’s part of the problem. Like, even with all these nice words that if they are done, if they are followed, would protect the children, my concern is that they’re not followed, which is why we want monitoring to come, you know, to continue. Under this agreement, this is supposed to start again. Without that enforcement, it’s just worse. You know, so to me that’s the most important thing, sure I’d like the state not to depend on them. If a social worker has kids that come to them — and they do all the time — who are, you know, who are in need of placement, and they only have four, five places to place them and only two have beds, and one of them is Sunrise Children’s Service —if it’s down to two, and Sunrise says, ‘Oh, I have a bed.’ I mean, it’s ridiculous to say that the social worker is going to be like, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to send them there.’ Well, you know, that’s crazy. That’ll make their job that much harder, and the kid’s in limbo. We already have a lot of that, even with Sunrise Children’s Services; we still have lots of children who are waiting for beds. So that’s wrong. We should have a state that invests in the health of their children.
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