Virginia Swim Club Backs Down After Gay Couple Sues

Does the more LGBT-friendly "household membership" option at a Virginia swim club mean a discrimination lawsuit will be dropped? Or is it just "separate but equal"?

After a gay couple filed a discrimination lawsuit, a swim club in Virginia has changed its policy to allow same-sex couples to join as "household members" instead of "family members."


Is the Roanoke Athletic Club (RAC)'s change enough? As of this morning, the lawsuit had not yet been dropped.

The lawsuit garnered national attention last week. It was filed by Will Trinkle and his partner, Juan Granados, when the club refused to give them and their 2-year-old son a family membership.

RAC posted the new extended policy on its Facebook page: "A household consists of a primary member and up to one additional household member that permanently lives in the household, and any of their dependent children under the age of 22 who also reside in the household on a permanent basis."

The couple stated in news reports and their lawsuit that they were encouraged by an employee to apply for membership in May for their family. They said that a few weeks later, they were told that Carilion observes Virginia law, which does not recognize marriage equality or civil unions, so they were not considered "a family." Trinkle also told the press that a RAC employee said the club was "tightening policies so no families like us would ever get as far as we had."

Under the discrimination lawsuit, which didn't specify a monetary amount, the couple alleged breach of contract in violation of Virginia's Consumer Protection Act.

Trinkle and Granados' lawyer, John P. Fishwick Jr., told ABC News, "It took a lot of courage to bring this lawsuit. Its primary purpose was for Will and his family to have a family membership. It looks like we've achieved that. It's a victory for his family and other families."

Virginia Not a Gay-Friendly State

Virginia has some of the toughest anti-marriage-equality laws in the country. This is the state that criminalized sodomy, a decision that was invalidated by the Supreme Court in 2003. In 2006, Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. Virginia law also does not include sexual orientation in its antidiscrimination statutes. For more on this type of legislation, read LGBT Facts & Figures.

Last week, a lesbian couple, Chanda Ingram and Nikki Hyler, also alleged that another Carilion-owned club, the Botecourt Athletic Club, turned them away because of their orientation.

Carilion did not return requests for comments from DiversityInc, but the company told a local television station its policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

Carilion is a nonprofit healthcare organization in Virginia, headquartered in Roanoke with approximately 11,000 employees, all in Virginia. The organization has never participated in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity survey (more than 20 hospitals participated this year and the number increases each year). A review of the Carilion website shows no diversity section, but it does have a non-discrimination policy that includes orientation. An affirmative-action section states that Carilion complies with state and federal laws. The board of directors and senior staff members appear to have significant gender diversity (which is typical of the industry), but there are few pictures, so it is impossible to assess racial/ethnic diversity.

More Inclusive Organizations

A look at the organizations in The DiversityInc Top 5 Hospital Systems shows an emphasis on clear communications from the CEO on the website about the importance of diversity and growing reliance on established diversity-management initiatives such as resource groups and cross-cultural mentoring to drive human-capital results. These organizations have inclusive cultures, where staff members—especially those dealing with the public—have extensive cultural-competence training.

For more on LGBT issues, read How Can Corporations Support Same-Sex Marriage?

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