August 31, 2018
Sharon Greenberger, President & Chief Executive Officer
Mel Tse, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer
YMCA of Greater New York Association Office
5 West 63rd Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10023
Dear Ms. Greenberger and Mr. Tse,
Yesterday, Buzzfeed reporter Branson LB spoke out on their experience being kicked out of the Prospect Park YMCA locker rooms on two separate occasions, simply for being transgender. In the first incident, during a visit several weeks ago, Branson was removed from the women’s locker room and told to use the family one. Branson spoke with Prospect Park YMCA’s Executive Director, Erika Rautenstrauch, who apologized and told Branson she would speak to her staff. Despite this promise, when Branson returned to the YMCA the following week and attempted to use the family locker room as previously instructed, staff prohibited them from doing so. Considering they were previously removed from the women’s locker room, that was not a safe option, and Branson didn’t feel safe using the men’s locker room either. This left them with no options to use the gym they pay in full to belong to, and have every right to be a full member of. As Branson wrote, “asking trans people to avoid using restrooms and locker rooms for the sake of others’ comfort is not only cruel and inhumane — it also bars us entry from participation in public life.”
For this to happen anywhere in the world is unacceptable. For it to happen in New York City, where it is a violation of the New York City Human Rights Law to prohibit “a transgender or gender non-conforming person from using the single-sex program or facility consistent with their gender identity or expression,” and where the highest number of LGBTQ residents in the U.S. reside; and at a YMCA Mayor Bill de Blasio himself attends, where a sign outside welcomes all people and celebrates diversity, and with a Code of Conduct aiming to “create a safe, caring environment,” is unconscionable.
All people – including trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people – deserve to feel safe in public bathrooms and locker rooms. They deserve access to the bathrooms or locker rooms where they feel most comfortable, which could include private and/or gender-neutral spaces. And, they deserve to be supported with accessible policies, and to know that all staff have been trained on these policies and are committed to respecting their comfort and safety just as they would any other member.
New York City’s YMCA’s have the opportunity to set an example for the rest of the country on how trans people deserve to be treated. This starts with the immediate adoption of a Diversity and Inclusion policy like the one implemented by Chicago YMCA’s, stipulating that every member should be able to to use the locker room and restroom they select based on their gender identity, or private facilities — as available — if that is their preference. In order to be effective, this policy can’t exist in a vacuum and must directly inform practice. It needs to be publicly and easily accessible, and executed in tandem with mandatory staff training on LGBTQ inclusivity as reflected in the policy.
As the leadership of New York City YMCA, you have the power to ensure that all members truly are welcome, exactly as they are. The New York City YMCA mission, as reflected in your strategic plan, is “to be here for all New Yorkers.” We’re calling on you to do exactly that.