American Family Denies Family Membership To Lesbian Couple
While trying to renew their family membership last week, Karen Hardison and her partner Amy found American Family Fitness had a strict definition of what they considered a family.
For the couple, life had gotten busy. Between trying to have a child and the day-to-day, they let their gym membership slide.
Fast forward to last week and now with a daughter, the couple looked to renew. They wanted a gym with a pool so their almost five-year-old could begin taking swimming lessons. Amy returned to American Family Fitness’s Northside location on Brook Road to discuss membership.
Karen contacted GayRVA last week to share the couple’s experience.
Her partner Amy was greeted with warmth and hospitality at the fitness center. When she made her request to renew the family membership, she said the salesperson’s face dropped.
“He seemed embarrassed to tell her that we could not join Am Fam as a family,” Karen says. “The best he could offer was for her to join as a single parent with our child and me to join separately.”
GayRVA contacted American Family Fitness to find out their policy on family memberships.
“We just base the memberships and guidelines on what Virginia state law calls a family – a woman and a man, a husband and a wife,” James, a membership director at the location, says. “At this present time, we don’t have that because it’s not in the writing of what a family is.”
Karen told GayRVA her and her partner didn’t have a problem renewing their family membership in the past and believes this new stricter policy is discriminatory.
James said some memberships may have slid in the past, but the club tries to prevent abuse of the system from people listing members that are not family.
Northside General Manager DeAnn Estes-Gray says the policy has been enforced for several years. In fact, this has happened before (to another Karen).
“As a general manager, when I am asked about this, I can only refer to the membership agreement,” Estes-Gray says. “It just simply is a married couple as recognized by Virginia state law.
When a gay or lesbian couple is not eligible for the family membership, she says the club offers individual memberships.
Estes-Gray notes that the club has plenty of gay and lesbian members and couples that utilize the individual membership. She ensures that they are never discriminated against using the facilities.
She says in the last year, she knows of two e-mails where perspective members have expressed their dissatisfaction because they are not legally married.
As of publication, club owner Brian Evans did not return calls from GayRVA.
The club, operated by Richmond Fitness, Inc., serves over 110,000 members within its eight locations throughout Fredericksburg and Central Virginia.
“Families Run On A Spectrum”
After being denied the family membership they had hoped for, Amy followed her visit with one to the Weinstein Jewish Community Center. According to the couple, the experience couldn’t have been more different.
“It is self evident and crystal clear to the folks at JCC that we are indeed a family,” Karen said.
Randi Amar, Membership Director at the JCC, says the center understands that families come in all different shapes and sizes.
“There are many ways that families come together. If there is a couple in the same household and they have children, we consider that a family,” Amar says. “Whether it’s gay and lesbian, a grandparent that takes guardianship of the child, or a grandparent that looks over the child. Families run on a spectrum. There’s not just one definition.”
She says the JCC’s stance is not uncommon and is a policy held by most fitness centers – if two people live together and run a household, then they are a family.
Amar says from personal experience of registering members, the JCC welcomes a nicely-sized gay and lesbian population.
“Personally, in the membership office, we love seeing different families,” she says. “We’re a community center, so the more diverse we are, the more beautiful it is.”
While the JCC is not open 24 hours and is slightly more expensive, Karen says the benefits are worthwhile.
“It is a small price to pay for spending our time and money at a place that honors our family.”
Open For Business
When Richmond Balance opened, they didn’t expect to have a family membership. In 2008, the club decided to open up a partnership membership to include everyone. Married, straight, or gay.
As a boutique gym in Shockoe Bottom, club manager Brandyn Webster says they don’t have corporate rules and policies to affect their membership.
“This area, especially downtown and over at VCU – there’s a lot of different ethnicities, people, orientation, and overall diversity,” she says. “From a business standpoint it makes sense – why wouldn’t we make it easy for couples to signup together regardless of who it is?”
At the Richmond Athletic Club, new owner Yedda Stancil doesn’t put a cap on the relationship the family holds.
“The number one reason we decided to do that is because health and wellness is our top priority,” Stancil says. “Your family is not just flesh and blood. It can be people that you care about. Your family gives you support. It’s common sense to me.”
Stancil operated thirteen clubs in DC before moving to Richmond to practice integrated medicine. In May, she moved her practice to RAC and is working towards creating a comprehensive wellness center.
As for Karen and her partner, since speaking out, she has heard from several straight families that plan to drop their membership, write, and protest American Family Fitness’s policy.
While the fitness club can choose their own membership policy, the couple has made it very clear that they have exercised their own power of choice.
Gyms With Gay & Lesbian Inclusive Family Memberships
Gold’s Gym (The Fan, Mechanicsville, Willow Lawn) Two adults living at the same address. Membership policies vary by franchise. Contact gym for specific membership savings. Willow Lawn: (804) 285-4653
Richmond Balance Two adults living at the same address. For an annual members, family membership can save $10-$20 per month based on type of contract. (804) 343-1234
Richmond Athletic Center All families welcome – open to immediate and extended family. Family membership saves $20 to $47 based on length of contract. (804) 355-4311
Weinstein Jewish Community Center Family Membership includes access to the center’s amenities including art gallery, theater, education programs, and fitness classes. Additional fee per person for access to cardio and strength-training equipment. Family membership saves cost at registration. (804)545-8635
YMCA of Greater Richmond A Family Membership includes any two adults living at the same address and their dependents. Family memberships can save $30 – $40 per month. Downtown location (804) 644-9622.
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Kevin Clay is the editor and publisher of GAYRVA.COM. He is a Richmond native, loves the city and knows it's on the edge of greatness. Don't hold back RVA. You can follow Kevin on GAYRVA's Twitter or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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