New Pierce, Kitsap YMCA policy change for transgender members raises concern

PUYALLUP, Wash. -- The YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties announced this week that it’s putting together new rules for its transgender members.

The YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties has endured criticism from all sides this year as it attempted to set a policy for the use of bathrooms, locker rooms and showers for transgendered people.

A new policy was set in place in April that allowed members to use the facility of the gender they identified with. But after news of the policy spread months later, many members became upset.

A second policy was put in place with more complex rules. This time, however, members of the transgendered community became upset because the new policy tied the revision to fears of child abuse.

Tuesday’s latest revision appears to be far simpler.

“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,” 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 leadership says the purpose of the new policy changes is to be more inclusive in the community, but there has been backlash, with some fearful this will open the door to a lot more than those who are transgender.

This week, Autumn Bennett plans to cancel her family's YMCA membership due to the policy change.

“I can't in good faith 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,” said Bennett.

Bennett believes the policy opens the door to crime.

“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.'”

Danni Askini, the Executive Director of the Gender Justice League, fears this is a slippery slope argument that puts criminals and transgenders in the same breath. Askini said thousands of transgender people access locker rooms without incident.

"Singling out and isolating transgender people from everyone else does not increase safety, it simply makes transgender vulnerable targets," said Askini in a statement. "Transgender people are far more likely to be victims of violence than the general public according to all research and government statistics on the subject. Our presence in public does not make others unsafe."

"We are saddened to hear that our neighbors

However, former YMCA employee Kaeley Triller said she expressed the same concerns as Bennett while leaders drafted the new policy earlier this year.

“I let my concerns be known,” Triller said. “I'm a survivor of sexual assault and trauma, so for me, the danger posed by this policy was like immediately obvious.”

She claims speaking out even caused her to lose her job.

“They weren't really having any of that, so they needed a communications director who would be willing to sell what they were trying to do,” Triller said.

The YMCA won’t comment on personnel issues. However, since announcing the policy change, the organization admits some have 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.”

The policy goes into effect December 21. The YMCA is also spending a million dollars to upgrade privacy in locker rooms, showers and changing facilities as well as add private locker rooms.

Approximately 20 agencies supporting the transgender community is applauding the YMCA's efforts. They released a statement saying, "through this process, we have been reminded that true equality is not yet a reality for many in our community. Though we might not always realize it, transgender people are part of our families, workplaces, our neighborhoods, and our places of worship- and they need to be able to use the restroom and locker room, just like everyone else."

Supporters of the LGBT community believe the YMCA is an institutional leader and a now a model for transgender including. "By adopting inclusive policies, places of public accommodation can ensure all people are welcomed, included, and supported," the statement said.