A YMCA in Des Moines, Iowa has expanded their definition of a family to include those who they consider to “function as a family,” after a five-year dispute with a lesbian couple was ruled on by the city’s Human Rights Commission.
In 2002 Sandra Patton-Iman and her partner had their family membership revoked when a YMCA employee decided that they did not to conform to the organisation’s definition.
The YMCA offered them a ‘member plus’ form of membership instead, at the same cost as a family membership.
The couple then appealed to Des Moines Human Rights Commission, claiming discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
The commission agreed that the YMCA’s policy of excluding gay families violated a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations.
The organisation was threatened with the withdrawl of a $102,000 (£51,000) federal grant if they did not comply with the ruling.
“The YMCA’s lawyer wrote the conciliatory agreement, did not include any of our requests or demands, but included their requests and a demand for confidentiality. Obviously, we’re not honouring that,” Ms Patton-Imani told Radio Iowa.
“It isn’t even so much the issue of getting the membership, but the fact that we’re the people being discriminated against here and we felt out needs were really not met and were really not considered.”
The couple refused to sign the agreement, saying it did not fulfil their all of their requests and objecting to the confidentiality clause.
The change in membership policy at the Des Moines YMCA is scheduled to be implemented in the next few weeks.
“We don’t believe we’ve ever discriminated against anyone,” the organisation’s President and CEO Vernon Delpesce told KCCI.com.
As well as the confidentiality clause, the couple refused to sign the agreement as it did not set up a legal fund for similar incidents or give them a free lifetime membership.
There are 2,617 YMCAs in the USA and they are the largest not-for-profit community service organisation in America, with 20.2 million members.
However, each YMCA is separate and autonomous and makes its own decisions based on local community needs, so the decision of the Des Moines YMCA’s policy does not apply nationally.