New Orleans, LA
Kristi: I grew up in a very small town in Tennessee. It was very racist, very homophobic. I didn't even know what a gay person was, but I knew there was something better for me somewhere else.
When I was fifteen I took off in an old Firebird, and I ended up in New Orleans. I got a job at Godfather’s Pizza the day I got here. That's where I met my best friend Donna; we're still best friends today. Her parents were Jehovah's Witnesses, and she wasn't really feeling that, so we got an apartment together. The rest is history.
I ended up going to college way later on. I went to school in Alabama, then wound up going back to TN, and that’s where I live today.
BW: What did you find when you moved [to New Orleans] that was different than where you were from?
Kristi: Complete and total acceptance for any kind of weirdness that may come out of me at any given time. I didn’t have to conform. Where I’m from, if you're a female, you're gonna marry Bubba and have 2.5 kids. Here, I can be whatever I want, and it's okay.
BW: Were you a different person when you went back because of your time in New Orleans?
Kristi: Oh, I'm a completely different person. I’m my true, authentic self now.
A lot of people have preconceived notions and stereotypes because you believe what you're told when you're growing up. So, to get to know me and see-- she's a good person; she's a good friend, and then they find out that I am a lesbian. If all of a sudden their opinion changes, then there's an issue within themselves. They're like, "Well, wait a minute, you don't fit the profile of everything I've been taught so I have to reexamine how I see things," and it changes a lot of people.
I’m just my true, authentic self, and if you don't like it, well, you're missing out.
Kristi: I'm an occupational therapist by trade, but I work with a lot of rescues and special needs dogs--dogs that are paralyzed. I make wheelchairs for people who can't afford them. Otherwise, they'd have to have their animal put to sleep.
I've been a therapist for twenty-two years. I reported my company [Signature Healthcare] for Medicare fraud.
They milked taxpayers and Medicare out of $245,000,000, and they had to pay that back.
I lost my job; I lost my home; it drug out over six years. It pretty much ruins your career to do it. That's why a lot of therapists don't report, even though many know it's going on.
But if I didn’t say something, then they would have continued. The most vulnerable members of our society are the elderly, so someone needs to speak up for them. I can get another house, but what you can't buy back is your integrity. Once it's gone, it's gone. I'm solid on that.