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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 18, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 51
New Pierce-Kitsap YMCA policy change for Transgender members goes into effect Dec. 21
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New Pierce-Kitsap YMCA policy change for Transgender members goes into effect Dec. 21

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

The YMCA in Tacoma on Tuesday announced plans to spend $1 million to improve privacy in its locker rooms and showers, and a change in policy that will allow Transgender people to use those facilities without discrimination.

The $1 million investment will 'enhance privacy' in locker rooms, showers and changing facilities, as well as add private locker rooms.

The renovations are scheduled to begin early next year, the YMCA said.

YMCA officials have spent the last several months talking to 'leaders of LGBTQ advocacy groups, representatives of the faith community, those opposed to accommodating Transgender people, representatives from public agencies, elected officials, donors, members, and others,' YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties officials said in a statement to media.

'I want all our members, donors and members of the public to be assured: We will serve all - regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity - and we want anyone who comes to us to feel welcomed and included,' YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties President Bob Ecklund wrote in a release announcing the new plan. 'Harassment and discrimination of our members, staff, donors, and volunteers will not be tolerated.'

The YMCA bore criticism from people who confuse the issue of public safety with nondiscrimination policies that are inclusive of the Transgender community.

In April, the YMCA attempted to set a policy for the use of bathrooms, locker rooms and showers for Transgender people. That policy, say YMCA officials, allowed members to use the facility of the gender they identified with. But when news of the policy spread a backlash of the new rules began and a second policy was put in place with more complex rules resulting in the Transgender community rejecting it by saying the new policy tied the revision to fears of child abuse.

Under the revised policy at family Y facilities, Transgender members in transition must use private locker rooms for dressing and showering, and use standalone restrooms that align with their gender identification at those facilities. At adult facilities, Transgender members and those in transition can use locker rooms and restrooms that align with their gender identification.

Some Transgender Y members said the policy was made out of unfounded fears and prejudice.

'To tell people that they have to be separated because of who they are is discrimination,' said Seth Kirby, a Transgender man and a Y member.

Kirby, who is the director of Oasis Youth Center, a Tacoma drop-in facility for LGBTQ youth said, 'Confusing child abuse prevention response with Transgender people is really uninformed at best and discriminatory.'

Y member Aaron Stevens, whose son is Transgender, told media the policy rewrite was 'something that should have been looked at and vetted by community leaders, people like Oasis Center and Rainbow Center.'

The policy does not recognize the complexity of transitioning, Kirby pointed out. 'Transitioning is a medical, social, legal, and spiritual process,' he said.

Kirby and other leaders of the LGBTQ community said they were willing to work with the Y to reformulate its policies. And that is exactly what they began to do over the last few weeks leading up to the announcement of the current policy and $1 million remodel on Tuesday.

In short, the new policy allows people to use locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

'So what we're saying is that we're not discriminating against anyone and that includes gender identity,' said YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties spokesperson Michelle LaRue.

Of course, it is important to note that the announcement has already been met with opposition.

This week Autumn Bennett plans to cancel her family's YMCA membership. She told Q13 FOX News that she can't 'give my money to an organization that prides itself on honesty and integrity and say they want to protect children, that's going to do something like this.'

Bennett is referring to the new policy allowing people to use locker rooms consistent with their gender identity and doesn't realize that she is confusing the issue entirely, alleging that because Transgender people are being treated with dignity and fairness that will somehow lead to her children being harmed. In fact, she believes that her comments aren't hurtful and misguided in the least.

'This for me has nothing to do with discrimination against any other sort of groups, it has everything to do with the safety of children,' said Bennett. 'Any pedophile, potential pedophile, rapist can pose and say 'Hey, I identify as this particular sex, and I can go in there and take pictures or assault someone.'

Unfortunately for Bennett and those who misunderstand the issue like she does, there hasn't been a single reported incident of anything like that happening at the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties. Alleging that something could happen is not the same as it is having actually happened. Not to mention that her fears still have nothing to do with Transgender people and has everything to do with people who are pedophiles - the two are not one in the same.

LaRue admits that some people have already cancelled memberships. However, leaders stress there's no reason for anyone to fear.

'We do have some procedures in place that staff are equipped and empowered,' LaRue said. 'Our heart goes out to anyone who feels they can't continue their membership at the Y, but I believe the Y is one of the safest places to be, and I don't think this changes that.'

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