YMCA backtracks on policy about transgender locker room use

TACOMA, Wash. -- Pressure from a vocal group of members has prompted the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties to back-track on a new policy intended to be more sensitive to the needs of the transgender community.

YMCA leaders decided to no longer allow transgender members in transition to use locker rooms and showers of their choice at the Y's seven family-oriented locations.

"We are asking that our transgender members use our private changing room at our family facilities," said YMCA spokesperson Michelle LaRue.

The change comes after a flood of complaints about a new policy issued in April that allowed those in transition to use the locker room with which they most closely identified.

YMCA managers say they are responding to a flood of phone calls, emails and social media postings by members who were concerned about or opposed to allowing transgender people in transition to use public locker rooms.

"The concern was that a non-transgender individual might pose as a transgender to gain access to our locker rooms and expose themselves to children and cause harm to children," explained LaRue.

Leaders of the Tacoma area's LBGT community have condemned the change in policy that restricts where some members can dress and shower.

"I just think policies like this are really divisive and they pit people against each other," said Michelle Douglas, executive director of Rainbow Center. The organization serves as a leading center of education, advocacy and celebration for the LBGT community.

Douglas strongly opposes the YMCA's more restrictive policy.

"It's the wrong move," she said. "We really are in support of policies that let people choose the restroom and locker room of the gender that they identify with. Period."

Douglas is particularly concerned that the reason cited for the change might falsely imply transgender people, or those in transition, are more likely to prey upon children.

"They're not linked, but it does link that in people's minds and it's incredibly offensive," she said.

But LaRue says the policy is in no way meant to make that implication.

"I have to be incredibly clear with our community. That we have no correlation. These are two separate issues," she said, acknowledging YMCA managers were responding to member complaints and concerns. "It is fear-based. We've not had any complaints filed about inappropriate use of our locker rooms from transgender members."

LaRue says the YMCA realizes issues concerning LGBT community members are emerging and evolving, and the Y intends to be sensitive as it navigates through those issues.

"We know the LGBT community is present and growing and we want to reflect that," she said, adding the Y has sought input from members of the LGBT community on various policies and will continue to do that.

But Douglas says she and other leaders of the LGBT community will try to pressure the YMCA to rescind the new rule limiting locker room access.

"It's puts others in charge of being the gender police," Douglas said.

She says barring transgender people in transition from the public locker rooms is insensitive to the often difficult journey they must make.

"Transition means something different to everyone who goes down that path, so there's no way to say, like, here's the finish line, you're done. Now you're ready to go into the Y restroom. You're ready to go into the Y locker room. It just doesn't work that way."

YMCA managers say they welcome comments from all members on the topic and will continue to work with local leaders representing diverse areas of the community.

The Y also believes its current policy is in compliance with all state laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, including gender identify.

Transgender members are permitted to use locker rooms and public restrooms they most identify with at the Y's two adult facilities. They can also use standalone restrooms that most closely align with their gender identification.

The following resources are available in the Tacoma area for members of the LGBT community:

Rainbow Center
2215 Pacific Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98402
(253) 383-2318
Ex. Director: Michelle Douglas

Oasis Youth Center
2215 Pacific Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98402
(253) 671-2838
Ex. Director: Seth Kirby
Seth Kirby