American (Heterosexual) Family Fitness Unwilling to Change Stance
Editor’s Note: This Op/Ed piece comes from a gay member of American Family Fitness in response to our original post here. Roberts exchanged e-mails with gym management after reading the article.
Isn’t it hard enough to motivate yourself to go to the gym, when the pool is calling in the summer, or the wind is too frosty in the winter? Well trying to get my partner to come and exercise with me was even harder. I finally convinced him to get fit, only to discover that like Karen Hardison and her partner Amy, we could not be recognized as a couple at American Family Fitness. There are plenty of gyms that can join us as a couple, but the catch is that I cannot exit my current membership with AmFam, even if I’m willing to pay a fee.
But in all reality, I don’t want to change gyms. I have gotten to know the trainers at American Family Fitness, Short Pump. I take classes there that are not offered at other gyms, and friends that I enjoy working out with also go there. So why do American Family Fitness hold to a policy that excludes Richmonders like me, and so many others?
James, a membership director told GayRVA that the health club just “base the memberships and guidelines on what Virginia state law calls a family”. But are private businesses mandated to do so? While the answer is no, they choose to anyway.
James, and other membership directors maintain that the policy is only in place to prevent ‘abuse’ of membership. Jill from the Short Pump facility says that “American Family does not discriminate,” and yet affirms that they “require couples, homosexual or not, to be legally married in the state of Virginia to join on the same membership.” So the question is, how can homosexual families have an equal opportunity to qualify for a “couple” or “family” membership while same sex marriages are neither created nor recognized in the State of Virginia?
In 2006, Virginia’s Attorney General saw that amending section 15A of the constitution to define marriage was necessary to ensure that no marriages other than between one man and one woman would be legally recognised. But in 1975, the General Assembly had already enacted a statute that states “A marriage between persons of the same sex is prohibited.” (Code of Virginia § 20- 45.2). This is the definition of family, that American Family Fitness hold to in order to run their private business, while serving and employing many GLBT people.
What might be in it for this rapidly expanding fitness club? A lot of money. A single membership at the gym would cost an individual $49.99, while a couple’s membership costs two married people $69.99. The club can make an extra $360 between two single memberships just by not allowing same-sex couples to join together. Or perhaps there is some kind of underlying statement being made by this business, as we have seen recently with the Target, and Best Buy scandals.
So, while it is true that as a private business, American Family Fitness may choose to design policies that exclude homosexual couples from a significant discount in access of their services. Could they do the same to exclude a particular race in a similar way? No way. Why? Because Article 1:Section 1 of the Bill of Rights of Virginia clearly states that “all men are created equal.” Even more, it states that “when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property.” So if I am entitled to acquire property anywhere I like, why can I not they purchase a gym membership at my gym of choice at the same rate as everyone else?
In providing a service, is it then unconstitutional for American Family Fitness to deny homosexuals equal opportunity to fulfill criteria? As a free person, each should have the right to purchase a service. Suppose a restaurant owner presumed to hang a sign that said “white people only.” (and sadly, this was a reality, not so long ago). Under the constitution, all must be permitted to come into the restaurant, sit in the front window, if they so please, and pay for the food they have ordered. We have said that it is inhumane to segregate people based on their differences. We made that an amendment. How can we then say that all created equal, having the same rights does not apply in this case?
If GLBT people could marry under Virginian Law, perhaps we would not have an issue. I could chose to marry my partner, and we could then sign up for a discounted rate, just like the many de facto or long term dating straight couples that do currently have that choice and that luxury (in this case).
Perhaps just like American Family Fitness, you have a choice to make too. You could go elsewhere and support businesses that support “liberty, freedom and justice for all,” or if you are gay in a long-term relationship, you can pay the money that straight married couples do not have to pay.
Should you cancel your membership? Firstly, you can’t unless you move 25 miles away or provide evidence from a practitioner that you are unable to work out. Secondly, should you have to? American Family Fitness may suit you in every other way, and maybe they offer a lot more of the things you want for your work out and your lifestyle than their competitors. So this is really your sacrifice. You get to ‘sit at the back of the bus’ like a second-class citizen. You will have to sacrifice what makes you happy in your fitness regimen so that you can work out with your significant other in a venue that supports equality.
Phil Roberts is an educator living in Richmond, VA with his partner. His passions are for musical theater, literature, civil rights, health and fitness.
Two bills that would allow businesses to discriminate against Virginia’s LGBTQ community were joined into one Senate bill Monday afternoon in Senate General Laws and Technology subcommittee. While a House version of the bill, HB 773, was heard today, the subcommittee joined it with SB 41 by a 8-7 vote across party lines. SB 41, introduced [...]February 22, 2016
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