May 29, 2015, 16:17 PM by

LGBTQ At The YMCA! OMG! And Other Business.

Before I get down to business on this month’s topic, let me clear out a few housekeeping items.

  • Summer starts on Friday, and we will have campers in the buildings next week. If you see anything unsafe or questionable, report it to a staff member right away. And I am sorry about the noise and chaos, but seriously, it’s the Y! And it’s kind of fun to watch.

  • The Mapleton shutdown starts at the end of the month, and a lot will be going on. The most visible item — I’m sure this will make a lot of you very happy — will be the new and improved parking lot. There will be lots of cleaning, painting and refreshing going on as well.

  • Swim safe and be a water watcher this season. Every summer in Colorado, kids drown in pools, lakes and rivers, but it is 100 percent preventable. We will continue to bring awareness about water safety to our members and the community all summer long.

OK, down to brass tacks. As some of you are aware, we hosted several teen events at our Y facilities these past couple of months. One of those events was an alternative dance for teens sponsored by Out Boulder. It was basically a dance for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning) teens who might not have felt comfortable at their high school proms or who just wanted to dance one more time before school was done for the year. This is the first time we hosted this dance, and apparently the numbers doubled from the previous year’s event. That’s because the Y provided a safe place for these teens to hang out and feel comfortable. Let’s think about that… Life is hard enough for teens, but then LGBTQ high schoolers must also navigate sexual orientation and gender identity complexities. Hells bells, in high school, I struggled over trying to figure out if I should try to hold Kathy Wyandt’s hand at the movies. How many of us say, “Gee, I sure would love to relive my teenage angst years!”?

But I digress… So after the Out Boulder event, one of our Y members wrote this note:

“You closed the YMCA- the Young Men’s Christian Association- gym for a LGBT party? I would appreciate having my dues refunded for the day- and an apology. At least give heads up that it would take place- members know what is going on.”

Here is my response as CEO of the YMCA of Boulder Valley: There will be no apology, and if you are offended by our support of Out Boulder and the LGBTQ teens of our community, then maybe our organization is not a fit for you.

Why would I say this? Is it because I am a fanatical left-winger? Nope, I am actually kind of conservative on some issues and pretty open on others. But here’s the deal, I work for an organization that includes the phrase “for all” as the last two words of its mission statement. This means that the Y welcomes people of all lifestyles and all communities: people of all races and religions, skinny people and curvy people, bald people and hairy people, jocks and nerds, red-heads, farmers … You get the point. We welcome pretty much anyone you can think of. We even accept haters at the Y, but they have to keep that jive to themselves.

Our founding fathers were smart enough not to define the “C” in the YMCA. The member mentioned above seemed to think that his or her version of Christianity somehow trumped our behavior. Because of that, he or she thought they were owed an apology and we were in some sort of YMCA code violation. Fortunately, when the founding fathers of the Y met in 1855 in Paris, they gave us the “for all” statement to trump anyone's perceived “code violations” and that has held now for more than 160 years.

You may not know this, but “for all” is one of the bedrock ideas behind the YMCA. Our programs and facilities are here for everyone, and as long as you respect everyone’s right to be different and you do not disturb your fellow members, then you are welcome here. One of the lesser-known histories of the YMCA is its role in the civil rights movement. YMCAs were neutral places, in which leaders could meet to plan protests, marches and rallies. The Jerusalem International YMCA is the only building ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize because of its peace work in the Middle East. Seriously, a NOBEL Prize!

Sure, hosting a dance won’t win us the Nobel Prize. But it is one of the many things we do in this community to make it a more united, respectful and accessible place to call home. For us, this little dance is much bigger than a little dance. It’s a part of a massive tradition of acceptance and support.

Just this last month, Ireland voted to legalize same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the world to do so. I want to give that entire country a fist bump! The Girls Scouts also recently re-iterated a 4-year-old policy that welcomes transgender members. And in May, Boy Scouts of America President Bob Gates urged the group’s governing board to begin allowing openly gay scout leaders. It’s a changing world, people. Equality without harassment is something we must proactively and stridently foster and fuel. Even at the Y, we are still learning what this new normal means for us. Last year, we developed this Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statement for hiring:

We were founded as the Young Men’s Christian Association in 1844. But today, we are The Y, an association that values, and is made stronger by, its diverse people. At the YMCA of Boulder Valley, we are committed to equal opportunity employment regardless of gender, age, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religious affiliation.

We also have an organizational statement that we made about four years ago:

Everyone is Welcome The Y is a membership organization open to all people who seek opportunities for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. The YMCA of Boulder Valley does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, military status, sexual orientation, gender expression, or any protected class in any of its activities or operations. These activities include, but are not limited to, hiring of staff, selection of volunteers, selection of vendors, and provision of programs and services. Programs and branches embrace diversity, reflecting the needs and composition of the communities they serve.

In conclusion, I want to thank all of you who make our mission work possible and who help us make this YMCA an open and safe place for everyone. I can tell you my goal is not to offend. I am working to operate a non-judgmental and safe YMCA, and my bet is that you have someone in your life, who you love, who is gay or bisexual or transgender. I also bet you would want us to treat them with the same love and respect that you do.

I promise you, we will always try to do just that.

As always, don’t hesitate to email me with any concerns you may have about the Y, [email protected].


Thank You, 
Chris Coker 
CEO/President of YMCA of Boulder Valley