Originally published on Advocate.com April 03 2004 1:00 AM ET
Duke University is joining an effort to persuade the YMCA to give family membership rates to same-sex couples and has threatened to end its relationship with the agency if it doesn't change its policy. Duke officials said in a letter dated Tuesday that if the organization does not extend family membership benefits to same-sex couples, they will end their relationship with the YMCA of the Triangle. Duke human resources official Mindy Kornberg said the university, Durham, N.C.'s largest employer, has an agreement with the YMCA through September 30. That agreement gives Duke employees and their dependents discounted memberships in exchange for Duke's promotion of the health and fitness agency. More than 200 Duke employees and family members, including gay families, have enrolled under this agreement, the letter said.
Before entering the agreement, Duke officials spoke with Nicole Methling, the YMCA's director of community connections, and were told that "Duke's same-sex spousal equivalents would be accepted as dependents for the purpose of membership rates and benefits," the letter said. The letter is addressed to Judy Bright, executive vice president of the YMCA, and it gives the agency until April 9 to respond. If the YMCA refuses to treat same-sex couples as they do heterosexual married couples, Duke officials will
consider the agreement broken and will stop promoting the agency, the letter said. "We had an agreement," said John Burness, Duke's senior vice president for public affairs and government relations. "If they don't meet the agreement, then we don't have a relationship."
Durham city officials have already asked the YMCA to offer same-sex couples the same membership rates that married couples receive. The city gives the YMCA $70,000 a year to provide youth and senior citizen services. City councilwoman Diane Catotti has suggested that the city cut its ties with the agency if leaders refuse to change the policy. YMCA spokeswoman Dorothy Brown did not return a call or respond to e-mail Thursday evening. Last week YMCA leaders told a Durham city council committee that they plan to maintain their policy. YMCA of the Triangle CEO Doug McMillan said the agency relies on the state's criteria of a family as including a married couple. The national YMCA includes several more flexible definitions in its guidelines for local chapters. At the meeting YMCA officials told city leaders that gays and lesbians are welcome but subject to a different pricing structure. Currently the YMCA's $89-per-month family membership rate is available only to married couples, with or without children. The rate for single adults is $62 per month.