Baylor Medical Center gym refuses gay couple a family membership

Posted on 07 May 2010 at 10:02am
By John Wright | Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Director at Tom Landry Fitness Center says policy dictated by hospital; refusal prompts calls for LGBT boycott of facility


Steven Johnson

A fitness center owned by Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas won’t allow same-sex couples to sign up for family memberships, a possible violation of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance that’s prompted calls for a boycott of the facility.

Steven Johnson said he’s been a member of the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, at 411 N. Washington St. in downtown Dallas, for the last eight months.

On Tuesday, May 4, Johnson tried to add his partner of 23 years, Roland Crago, to his membership, but the gym refused.

"I have had numerous health clubs," Johnson said, "and all of them have accepted us as family members. So add Tom Landry Fitness Center to your list with Exxon and all the other companies we can not support with our dollars."

Phil Tyne, director of the Tom Landry Fitness Center, confirmed that gays and lesbians are prohibited from adding same-sex partners to their memberships as spouses. Tyne added that only spouses and children qualify for family memberships.

Tyne said the policy is dictated by the Medical Center, not the 7,000-member gym. He said a representative from the Medical Center’s public relations department would "pull the policy" and contact the newspaper, but they had not done so by press time.

"We can’t put him on as a spouse if they’re not a married couple," Tyne said. "It goes directly with the state law of Texas on what defines a marriage."

It may also go against the city’s eight-year-old nondiscrimination ordinance. And one local gay attorney said the policy raises questions about whether the Medical Center itself discriminates against same-sex couples when it comes to things like visitation.

Beverly Davis, director of Dallas’ Fair Housing Office, said it’s "possible" that the gym’s policy violates the ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations. The Fair Housing Office investigates complaints under the ordinance.

Davis added that she was surprised to learn that a gym in Dallas wouldn’t allow family memberships for same-sex partners.

"It is so common these days to have different family arrangements," Davis said. "It would seem to me that most people who are in that business ought to be accustomed to that by now, and would easily make an accommodation to recognize that you have all different kinds of families now."

Johnson said he planned to contact the Fair Housing Office and file a complaint. A similar complaint was filed a few years against another gym, the Texas Club. In response to media coverage, the Texas Club changed its policy before the complaint could proceed.

Rob Wiley, a gay Dallas attorney who frequently handles discrimination cases, called the policy "absolutely ridiculous." But Wiley acknowledged there may be a "gray area" under the ordinance when it comes to marital status.

"I think to some extent it’s open to interpretation," Wiley said. "I would hope that the city of Dallas would take a broad interpretation. … There’s certainly nothing in the ordinance that says same-sex couples should not be treated the same as married couples."

Wiley, who once represented a lesbian employee who was fired by the Medical Center, said he doesn’t’ believe the hospital is exempt from the ordinance as a religious organization, even though it’s affiliated with the Baptist university in Waco.

"When you have a religious organization that’s performing a nonreligious kind of service, then generally it’s not going to apply," Wiley said of the exemption for religious organizations. "I don’t think that lifting weights has anything to do with praying to God.

"It’s shocking, it’s petty, it doesn’t make good business sense," he added of the policy. "It really is just a policy based on nothing more than discrimination."

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 7, 2010.

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