Transgender rights and the YMCA


Katie FentonOnline Reporter

On Dec. 15, Mel Korum Family YMCA in Puyallup announced on Facebook its commitment to non-discrimination.

According to the organization’s website, “Our Association has formally stated that we will not discriminate against any individual, based on ability, age, background, ethnicity/race, faith, gender, gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation, and this applies to all YMCA practices and procedures.”

The new policy allows individuals to choose which bathroom or locker room to use based on the gender they identify as, not their biological sex.

Many YMCA members were disgruntled by the news, stating on Facebook that the policy made them feel uncomfortable.

“We will be canceling (our) membership this week,” one Facebook user said. “We cannot be members of an organization that has so little concern for my or my family’s safety.”

Others praised the organization’s new policy as being welcoming and fair.

I would like to commend you YMCA,” another Facebook user said. “There has been absolutely ZERO cases of people abusing gender neutral policies across the nation and the world. Fear based policies do not progress our society or make us safer. Thank you for changing with the times in a safe equal way.”

According to the YMCA, individuals must use the bathroom they prefer as indicated by the gender they used on their membership application. This means that an individual would not be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room of the opposite sex unless their membership application lists the gender they identify as.

But people who are concerned about their safety do have a valid point. YMCA staff won’t be able to determine an individual’s preferred gender based on their appearance, making it incredibly easy for members to abuse the new policy.

For example, on Jan. 25, Pierce College Puyallup student Kaitlyn Thorley entered the downstairs women’s bathroom in the Arts and Allied Health Building. She said she saw two male students using the restrooms with the doors opened. When she asked them what they were doing in the restroom, the students told her they were allowed to use the bathroom under the new gender equality law. Thorley later stated she’s fine with the law, but felt uncomfortable in the bathroom because the two students “looked normal” and that there weren’t any signs saying individuals could use whichever bathroom they wanted to.

“If they were just in the bathrooms with the doors closed, whatever,” Thorley said. “But there should be respect on all sides.”

This is just one of the many potential issues that could arise with a non-discrimination policy similar to the YMCA’s; but people who actually identify as the opposite gender wouldn’t cause any problems. They want freedom and equality just like anyone else, and they certainly wouldn’t sacrifice their membership status at the YMCA just to make others uncomfortable. It may occur at other public properties such as the incident at Pierce, but it’d be difficult and unfair to prevent people from using a certain bathroom simply based on their appearance.

Imagine a young woman using the men’s locker room because she was born as a male and is forced to use the men’s facilities. This would be completely unfair to her. If she were allowed to use the women’s locker room, she’d feel much more comfortable and the chances of someone discovering she was born as a male are extremely slim.

This new policy is aimed at making everyone feel included, regardless of their gender or gender identity.

People who abuse the system would be reported and most likely restricted from using the YMCA’s facilities or even have their membership revoked. Yes, there might be a 14-year-old boy who enters the women’s locker room because he thinks it’s funny; but if the incident is reported and his file indicates he identifies as a male, he probably wouldn’t be returning to the YMCA for a while.

One solution would be to build a third bathroom that’s gender-neutral. Any individual could use the bathroom regardless of their biological or preferred gender; but this could result in discrimination as it’d be easier to target individuals using a gender-neutral bathroom.

Another solution would be to install card readers at the entrance of the bathrooms and locker rooms. YMCA members would be issued a programmed ID card with their name, photo and preferred gender, which would unlock the bathroom or locker room they requested access to. This would prevent individuals from entering the bathrooms or locker rooms to harass or harm others.

Obviously this solution would be extremely costly, but it’d make some YMCA members feel safer knowing only pre-approved individuals could gain access to the bathrooms and locker rooms.

For now, people will just have to trust the judgement of others. It’s not the ideal situation, but neither is denying someone the right to use a bathroom or locker room because they look different.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost

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Transgender rights and the YMCA

by Katie Fenton time to read: 3 min
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