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“Y” discriminate?

By Michael . . . As a senior citizen recently qualifying for Medicare, I was excited to learn that my new Medicare Advantage plan allowed me free access to the YMCA. Since our local “Y” has a great pool, I was really looking forward to getting the exercise I need with a low impact work out.

I took my paperwork down to the “Y” and told them I wanted to join; I was heartily ushered into the inner sanctum and to an enroller who gave me an enrollment package to fill out.

I filled out the information sheet, page one and signed the bottom, page 2, item 1: Physicians approval, no problem, I’m still alive and kicking, item 2 “Membership Policy,” “Any person supporting the purposes and mission of the YMCA may become a member…”

From the YMCA National Website: Our Commitment to Inclusion: The Y is made up of people of all ages and every walk of life… We work to ensure that everyone, regardless of ability, age, cultural background, ethnicity, faith, gender identity, ideology, income, national origin, race or sexual orientation has the opportunity to reach their full potential with dignity.”

Despite their stated policy of inclusion and lack of discrimination and their claim of bringing people together and presenting real solutions to the real issues in today’s world, their policy and desire to address real issues with real, inclusive solutions seems to end with those convicted of a sexual offense.

Sex offenses can range anywhere from urinating in public, to indecent exposure –streaking for example — to more serious crimes. However, the policy of the “Y” fails to address the most credible research that most sexual victimizations are committed by someone the children or adult already knows, and that 95% of all new sexual offenses are committed by someone who has not been previously convicted of a sexual offense. Average national reoffense rates are somewhere near 5%.

The “Y”’s policy does not evaluate individuals or individual history, the gravity of the offense, nor the time that has elapsed since the conviction. And even if it did, those who have committed a sexual offense are the ONLY group singled out for “blanket” denial.

Reading on in “Item 2” of the applications, one finds, “Any person convicted of a sex offense as defined by [state] law shall be subject to immediate termination of membership., or if seeking membership, shall be denied the same.”

To claim inclusion and then single out one group of people to deny membership is certainly discriminatory and non-inclusive. The statements of inclusion are not true, and they serve only to perpetuate current social myths and misunderstanding. They do nothing to keep children or families safe because they propose an answer of ostracism rather than one of education, inclusion, and dignity.

Moreover, when creating such discriminatory policies, organizations such as the “Y” fail to recognize the negative impact they have on families, including children and grandchildren of registrants. At the average family size of 4 people, that means that each law and policy that negatively impacts one registrant affects 3 other people or nearly 4 million Americans.

With nearly 1 million Americans required to register as sexual offenders, it is time for organizations like the “Y” to be leaders in fostering community understanding and creating policies that allow for persons convicted of sexual offenses who have completed their sentences to reintegrate into the community. This would promote the “dignity” they claim to support.

YMCA, “Y” not change your policy and really be a leader in non-discriminatory, inclusive practices that change the minds and hearts not only of those who have committed such offenses but also those who judge them years and decades after the fact.

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Michael is the director/ chair of Indiana Voices, a NARSOL advocate, and regional coordinator for NARSOL's Region 3.