Gay couple accuses Baylor-owned gym of ‘draconian and bigoted practices’

Posted on 26 Jan 2011 at 11:41am

For the second time in less than a year, a popular East Dallas gym owned by Baylor Health Care System is under fire for blatantly discriminating against gay couples.

Last May, a gay couple filed a discrimination complaint against the Tom Landry Fitness Center, which has a stated policy of refusing to offer family memberships to same-sex couples. The couple’s complaint was filed under a city of Dallas ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations.

However, the couple later withdrew the complaint after they said city officials told them the Tom Landry Fitness Center may be exempt from the ordinance because it’s a private club.

Now, another gay couple plans to file its own discrimination complaint against the Fitness Center if the policy isn’t reversed. Alan Rodriguez, who recently moved to Dallas with his partner of 10 years, says he was told by the director of the Fitness Center that Baylor defines family as “one man and one woman.”

Rodriguez, who’s renovating a home on Gaston Avenue with his partner, said he chooses to live and work in Dallas largely because of the ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination. He also said he goes to the Fitness Center for allergy shots and considers the gym a “neighborhood friend,” but was shocked to learn about the family membership policy.

“It is clear Baylor has taken the position to discriminate against gay people with respect to family gym membership. It is also clear Baylor has a regimented policy excluding domestic partners from the definition of ‘family,’” Rodriguez wrote Tuesday in a letter to a Baylor executive that was also sent to Instant Tea. “Therefore, I must conclude your organization also believes it lawful to discriminate against gay people regarding other medical services. Clearly, your organization considers this policy a legal form of discrimination. It remains unclear the extent to which this policy permeates all Baylor operations. Such draconian and bigoted practices are unthinkable in 2011.”

Rodriguez told Instant Tea he plans to file a discrimination complaint with the city if the Fitness Center doesn’t reverse the policy. However, the gay couple that filed a complaint against the Fitness Center last year suggested this might be a waste of time.

Steven Johnson said he was told by city officials after filing the complaint that the Fitness Center is exempt from the ordinance as a private club.

“They said you could continue to pursue this, but it may not go through because of this one element,” Johnson told Instant Tea this morning. “I would just encourage him [Rodriguez] to read that ordinance in detail because it’s pretty clear in there.”

Beverly Davis, director of the city’s Fair Housing Office, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The Fair Housing Office investigates complaints under the ordinance.

Despite Johnson’s statement, the ordinance in question makes no mention of an exception for private clubs. The only entities that are exempt from the ordinance, which is posted online, are religious organizations, and agencies of the state or federal government.

Jennifer Coleman, the Baylor Health Care System’s senior vice president for consumer affairs, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Coleman said before Johnson filed his complaint last year that Baylor officials planned to review the policy.

“Were going to look and see about that policy, what it says, and then I’m not sure what we’re going to do next,” Coleman said. “I can’t commit to changing it, because that’s not a decision for me to make, but something for us to look into. It’s unfortunate that this thing came up this way, but I can commit [that] we’ll sure look into it.”

The full text of Rodriguez’s letter is below:

Good afternoon Jennifer,

I’ve read you are the Health Care System’s senior vice president for consumer affairs. I recently moved to East Dallas with my partner of 10 years. We’re renovating a home not far from your facility on Gaston Avenue. I also visit the Landry Facility for allergy shots.

I consider Baylor a neighborhood friend and was surprised to find the Landry Fitness Center does not provide domestic partner access to family membership plans. The Dallas YMCA allows domestic partner access to their family plan. In fact, I cannot locate a health club in the city of Dallas that does not recognize domestic partners.

Phil Tyne, a Director of the Landry Center stated that Baylor defines a family as “one man and one woman” and therefore does not provide the family plan to domestic partners.

The Baylor Health Care System Code of Ethical Conduct states clearly on page 8 the following:
We will create a patient care environment that is free of unlawful discrimination for any reason including race, sex, age, color, creed, national origin or any other classification protected by law and that is free of harassment, including sexual harassment.

The Dallas nondiscrimination ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Privately-owned businesses and facilities that offer certain goods or services to the public — including food, lodging, gasoline, and entertainment — are considered public accommodations for purposes of federal, state, county and city anti-discrimination laws. This ordinance is largely why I choose to live and work within Dallas city limits.

It is clear Baylor has taken the position to discriminate against gay people with respect to family gym membership. It is also clear Baylor has a regimented policy excluding domestic partners from the definition of “family”. Therefore, I must conclude your organization also believes it lawful to discriminate against gay people regarding other medical services. Clearly, your organization considers this policy a legal form of discrimination. It remains unclear the extent to which this policy permeates all Baylor operations. Such draconian and bigoted practices are unthinkable in 2011.

Under this policy, all Dallas gay citizens and their families should be informed and think twice before entering one of your facilities. Your organization may struggle to comprehend my use of the phrase “gay family” but the Dallas Fair Housing Office and the public at large will not encounter the same difficultly.

I’m actually a nice person and I desire to live as a friendly neighbor with Baylor in east Dallas and improve the area and the lives of those that live in the area. I cannot express my disappointment with your organization.

It appears doing some quick research this policy may be under internal legal review? Can you please provide three items:

1) A copy of the policy in question that defines the word “family” for Baylor operations that denies me equal access under the law? Phil Tyne has politely stated Baylor Legal can provide this policy.

2) The status of internal legal review of the policy in question? I truly desire to receive a response stating this policy is being fast tracked into alignment with Dallas laws and modern ethical values.

3) The level of independence provided to the Baylor Health Care System by the University of Baylor? Specifically the board and executive appointment structures. I am surprised to see every Baylor email address ending with a dot edu. The larger community may be assuming a level of professional independence that does not exist. If so, publicity of these ties may be warranted.

Respectfully,
Alan Rodriguez

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