LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) — The leader of one of Kentucky’s oldest child services providers wants to set the record straight when it comes to the children they serve. Dale Suttles, president of Sunrise Children’s Services, says the agency never turns away a child because of their race, sex, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
“We get children, and we've currently got children, that classify themselves as gay, that are considering their gender identity, and so on,” Suttles said. “We treat their traumas because these kids have faced traumas you and I could never imagine. And that's what we're all about.”
Sunrise is currently facing the possibility of not being able to renew its contract with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services because of language that they say would cause them to violate their religious convictions. The language deals with hiring practices and foster parent applicants related to people who identify as LGBTQ+.
“We know that folks have the right to foster and that folks have the right to adopt through the law,” said Suttles. “Anyone who is LGBTQ+ that comes to us that is eligible to foster or eligible to adopt, clearly eligible, we have always referred them back to the commonwealth. And we have followed up with those individuals, whether it's an individual or a couple, to make sure that contact has been made. And (we) have tried to be as helpful as possible to do that because they have the right to that journey.”
Sunrise is an agency of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. The group’s history dates to 1869 when ladies at Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville began caring for children who were orphaned as a result of the Civil War. The agency has been contracted by the state for more than 40 years and has received an addendum to its annual contract for the past 10 years.
“It seems like the commonwealth that demands tolerance on one side of the issue should exercise tolerance on the other side of the issue as well,” said Todd Gray, KBC executive director-treasurer. He believes the state should ”recognize there's a place for an organization like Sunrise that has deeply-held religious convictions and a track record of 150 years of service to children.”
Suttles says it is their religious affiliation that has made them a valuable partner. “Sunrise has a built-in partnership with over 2,000 Baptist churches and other churches from other denominations, and because of that, we've been able to bring something different to the table with the commonwealth.”
He said it is the people in the pews who “when activated can help in the area of child welfare because of our deeply-held religious beliefs.”
Suttles said children's trauma is their focus, not their sexuality. “We're not doing any conversion therapies or anything like that. And we've never turned away a child that we felt we could work with based upon our treatment modalities,” Suttles said.
“We work with children who have been sexually abused, children that have been neglected, and these children have all kinds of personalities and come from all walks of life,” he added.
When asked about allegations that Sunrise turns away children who identify as LGBTQ+, Suttles says, “Those are falsehoods. As a matter of fact, I would say those are lies.”
Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration has given Sunrise until June 30 to sign the state's contract for the upcoming fiscal year.