It’s unlikely I will ever meet Tacoma resident Erykah Sutton-Hernandez, but we have something important in common: We care deeply about the people – all people – in our community.
Erykah’s comments in a letter to the editor Dec. 7 were quite moving, as were viewpoints we heard from hundreds of others over the past several months regarding the YMCA’s public accommodation policies.
“I am a part of a community that is discriminating against a class of people,” Erykah wrote. “The YMCA’s new locker room policy moves us as a community backward and not forward. … I believe that we can achieve locker room safety without discriminating against a population of people.”
The “class of people” Erykah refers to is transgender. Our organization’s policies have been out of compliance with a Washington state law that takes effect later this month.
Our association has affirmed our commitment to not discriminate against any individual, based on race, gender, religious affiliation, ability or disability, sexual orientation, or gender expression or gender identity. Beginning Monday, our members may use the locker room that aligns with their gender identity.
At the Y, our job remains the same – helping everyone enjoy and benefit from our facilities as we focus on our core programs: developing our youth, building healthy communities and fostering social responsibility.
We want all our members, donors and community to be assured: We will serve all our two counties’ residents, and we want anyone who comes to us to feel welcomed. Harassment and discrimination of our members, staff, donors and volunteers will not be tolerated. Members will be provided guidance and guidelines to help ensure their use of the YMCA meets their needs.
All members will be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Regarding privacy, our board also previously approved a $1 million budget to enhance privacy in existing changing facilities, locker rooms and showers, as well as to add private locker rooms to accommodate individuals, couples or families. Renovations at our facilities will begin early 2016.
This has been one of the most significant issues our YMCA has grappled with in several years.
Over the past few months, YMCA staff and board members have met and corresponded with numerous individuals, including 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. To all of those individuals, we appreciate your willingness to express your views on this important issue.
We apologize for our missteps earlier this year, including a lack of process and communication, and for mistakenly associating our transgender members with anyone who might want to harm other members or guests, including children.
We made mistakes, and we are sorry.
We have since modeled a process of listening and respect, and we understand this is how we must work through social change. The YMCA has been in this community for more than 130 years. We have a long history and an uncompromising commitment to helping the residents of Pierce and Kitsap counties.
Today marks a defining moment in our cause: strengthening the foundation of community.
We ask you to recommit yourselves to walk alongside us as we make it right. We ask you to support us in our cause and in what the YMCA stands for.
For those who may have forgotten, we stand to nurture the potential of every child and teen, we stand to improve our community’s health and well-being, and we stand to give back and provide support to our neighbors.
Bob Ecklund is the president and CEO of the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties.