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Policies change at the gym

The YMCA of Charlotte has quietly revised its membership policies, ushering in changes that, intended or not, allow same-sex households to join at what had before been rates reserved for husbands and wives.

Many gays and lesbians have applauded the changes, announced in May. "It does say we recognize your family as valid," said Laura Witkowski, executive director of the Lesbian & Gay Community Center. "There are some folks I know who have boycotted it, and I'm sure that will be a big influence on them."

But a YMCA official last week said the new membership rate plan wasn't designed with gays in mind. "Occasionally, that's been brought up in the past, but that was not a factor in our decision making," said Melanie Pittman, senior vice president of the YMCA. Pittman said the changes were based primarily on other family patterns, including single parents, elderly parents living with children and 20-somethings who've returned to the nest. With the Y's new rate plan, up to five adults living under one roof may join at discounted rates.

Tom Landry, who complained to the YMCA of Charlotte, elected officials and gay-rights groups after his family wasn't allowed to join the organization at the family rate, said neither he nor his partner intend to stop trekking out of their way to the gym at the Jewish Community Center.

"That experience just put a bad taste in my mouth," Landry said.

Pittman said no corporations or universities had lobbied for the changes. The Durham YMCA in 2004 changed its policy to accommodate gay and lesbian couples after pressure from Duke University.

Charlotte's YMCA, however, had been featured earlier this month on Logo, a gay cable channel that isn't available to local Time Warner Cable subscribers. The network profiled Mary Law and Karen Kitchens-Law and their unsuccessful efforts to join the Y as a family. (The couple was married in Massachusetts, but North Carolina law doesn't recognize the union.)

Kitchens-Law said her partner is currently looking for a gym. "She'll consider the Y," Kitchens-Law said.

Martin Doss, a YMCA member who serves on its volunteer committee, said many gays and lesbians had gone elsewhere for gym memberships. He believes financial concerns may have spurred the changes. "It's kind of like a 'don't ask, don't tell' situation to me," Doss said.

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