UPDATE: The Carilion Clinic has changed its membership policies and will now allow same-sex couples and their families to join two of its athletic clubs.
They paid their membership. But when Will Trinkle and Juan Granados tried taking their two-year-old son Oliver to the local swim club, they received some surprising news. They were told that because the Dads are gay, the family wouldn’t be allowed to swim at the Roanoke Athletic Club in Roanoke, Virginia, because same-sex families aren’t considered “real” families.
“It was like someone punched us in the stomach,” Trinkle told reporters during a press conference. “It’s from a place we couldn’t imagine that there would be this kind of discrimination and this kind of attack. We have come a long way but this shows we have a long way to go.”
Anyone who remembers Jim Crow and the “separate but equal” laws that permeated the South in the 1950s and 60s might easily draw a connection between not allowing people to swim in a pool who aren’t white – or in this case – aren’t straight. And the idea that it’s happening in 2012 is nothing short than appalling.
That’s why more than 35,000 supporters have already joined a campaign calling for the club to allow children and their gay parents to swim at the pool and to stop the discrimination against these families. Outraged, Mark Lynn Ferguson, a Roanoke native, created the petition when he saw the story on the local news.
“Folks in Roanoke are good-hearted and fair-minded, so I was just horrified when I heard how Carilion [the clinic that owns and manages the facility] treated this family,” he says. “I kept thinking, ‘Who on Earth would kick a two-year-old and two caring parents out of a pool?’”
The club stands by its decision, saying that they only allow children access to the pool if they have two heterosexual parents. And even though Trinkle and Granados were originally allowed to sign up for the family plan (the pool happily accepted their membership fees) they were never told that they would not be allowed to access the facility – or to swim!
But the club says it defines “family” as a “husband, wife and their children – ages 21 and younger – living at home.” But Carilion, one of the region’s largest medical providers, actually has a non-discrimination policy that protects against this type of discrimination based on sexual orientation at its hospitals and healthcare facilities. And the state of Virginia doesn’t have a legal definition of family.
The club would also be missing out on a lot of memberships if the definition of family is so rigid. According to the census bureau, there were more than eight million unmarried couples living together in 2010.
Our question for the club: If “family” memberships only allow families with mothers and fathers and kids, does this mean single Moms and Dads are banned from the club, too? That might explain the frustration being voiced from heterosexual allies in the small Southern community.
“This policy places Carilion on the wrong side of an important civil rights issue in our community,” writes Brooks King-Casas on the petition. “As a member of the faculty of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, I am embarrassed and disappointed that Carilion stands against gay families. I strongly urge the leadership of Carilion to reconsider this policy.”