Y shouldn’t be faulted for observing state law

From the editorial board

Bob Ecklund is president and CEO of YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties.
Bob Ecklund is president and CEO of YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties. YMCA/Courtesy

The YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap counties has been catching heat in recent weeks, but for the wrong reason.

Some YMCA members are upset about the organization’s decision to go back on an earlier policy requiring transgender persons to use separate (but presumably equal) bathrooms and locker rooms. The Y’s policy now is to allow transgender members to use the facilities of their self-defined gender identity.

What upset members need to realize is that the YMCA is observing state public accommodations law that forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. New rules from the Human Rights Commission, which go into effect this month, interpret the law to mean that individuals should be allowed to use gender-segregated facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, “that are consistent with that individual’s gender identity.”

To some YMCA members, especially parents, that has raised the possibility of non-transitioned transgender people being naked in front of children. There’s even been suggestions that sex offenders might exploit the policy to gain access to women’s facilities.

That’s highly unlikely; the Y screens new members for sex offenses and follows up every three months.

Anyway, that sort of thing wasn’t a problem in past years, when the YMCA had no formal policy regarding its small number of transgender members. It only became a point of contention after publicity over the organization formalizing a self-identification policy in April. That angered some members, and it angered others when the Y backtracked in October with a segregated-facilities policy. This month it announced a return to the self-identification policy.

Under that policy, transgender members will be asked to use a locker room consistent with their gender identity. Staff members are empowered to have conversations with members if they perceive a potential problem. Open communication is a key ingredient to successfully implementing the policy.

The fact is, people who are in transition are often self-conscious about their bodies and have a heightened desire for privacy. Some may choose on their own to use single-occupancy facilities available at the Y.

Transgender people aren’t the only one who value privacy. Toward that end, the YMCA is investing about $1 million to create more private spaces in changing rooms. All members should applaud that.

The YMCA might be faulted for confusing its members as it lurched from one policy to another and then back again. President and CEO Bob Ecklund apologized for missteps, “including a lack of process and communication,” in a Dec. 20 Viewpoint. But the organization shouldn’t be faulted for making efforts to follow state law, to be inclusive and to respect the rights of transgender people.