Politics & Government

State-supported children's home votes against hiring gay workers

FRANKFORT — A Baptist-affiliated agency for abused children that relies heavily on state funding has decided to continue its practice of not hiring gays and lesbians.

Joyce Smith, chairwoman of Sunrise Children's Services in Mt. Washington, said in a news release Friday that its board had voted to continue keeping its employment closed to gays and lesbians.

Changing the agency's practice would have been a major shift. It has defended the practice in a court battle that has lasted more than 12 years.

The Courier-Journal of Louisville recently reported that Sunrise president Bill Smithwick recommended the hiring change, which needed the board's approval. He reportedly had said the board needed to answer to taxpayers and other donors as well as its Baptist supporters. Sunrise gets about $26 million of its $27 million in annual funding from the state.

The Kentucky Baptist Convention, which contributes about $1 million a year, opposed the possible hiring change. The board members are approved by the KBC.

"Let us be clear about this vote," Smith said in the news release. "With this decision, we are not protecting anything other than the physical, spiritual and mental welfare of our children. We remain focused on our mission of providing love and support to the victimized children that Sunrise serves, and our decision today will not affect the everyday care Sunrise provides to families and children."

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said the board's decision was "unfortunate" for the children served by the agency.

"I imagine it will be a greater benefit to children in need of support to receive care from institutions with more inclusive and accepting policies, ones that support all people and families," he said.

Smithwick said in the news release that the board "understands and respects the decision of those who will not like this decision."

He added: "For those who do not agree with our practice, we understand. We would love for you to join us in putting the kids first and supporting our mission of helping the least among us: victimized children who need a safe haven and a chance to see love and hope."

Sunrise has served abused and neglected children since 1869. There are more than 7,000 Kentucky children in out-of-home care. Sunrise cares daily for about 400 of them. It serves 200 more with community-based services.

Calls to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Service for comment were not returned Friday.