A gay couple that was denied a family membership at a gym owned by Baylor Health Care System has filed a complaint under the city of Dallas’ nondiscrimination ordinance.
Steven Johnson said he filed the complaint last week with the city’s Fair Housing Office, which investigates alleged violations of the 2002 ordinance. The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations.
Earlier this month, Johnson tried to sign up his partner of 23 years as a family member at the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center. Sales representatives at the gym refused, and the facility’s director later confirmed that it doesn’t offer family memberships to same-sex couples.
“Hopefully out of all this will come some changes in their policy,” Johnson told me today. “It’s just an example of the little things we [gay people] have to face every day.”
The Health Care System’s senior vice president for consumer affairs, Jennifer Coleman, told Dallas Voice she would look into the policy but couldn’t promise that it would be changed. Coleman hasn’t responded to e-mail and phone messages in the two weeks since then.
Johnson said Baylor hasn’t contacted him, either. “They have not reached out at all,” he said.
Johnson said he spoke with a city investigator when he filed the complaint.
“When I talked to him, he said he couldn’t give me anything absolute, but he said it sure sounded like it was a case,” Johnson said. “He indicated that he thought there was a potential violation, but he couldn’t confirm anything yet.”
Beverly Davis, director of the Fair Housing Office, has said it’s “possible” that the gym’s policy violates the ordinance. Davis also indicated that she was surprised to learn that a gym in Dallas would have such a policy in 2010.
If the case proceeds, Baylor will undoubtedly argue that the discrimination is based on “marital status,” not sexual orientation. It’s an argument that the City Attorney’s Office accepted a few years ago when it let a landlord off the hook for not renting to a same-sex couple.
This time, let’s hope the City Attorney’s Office shows some backbone and enforces the ordinance as it was intended, instead of simply carving out loopholes for businesses.
In the meantime, Johnson said he and his partner have signed up for a family membership at LA Fitness. He’ll still have to pay for his membership at the Tom Landry Fitness Center until September, but he said he doesn’t plan to go back there.
“I don’t know that I’d feel comfortable,” he said.
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