July 5, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
Virginia health club to offer ‘household’ memberships to unmarried couples with children
Law gavel, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo via Wikimedia)

A Virginia health club that rescinded a gay couple’s family membership announced on Thursday that it will now offer “household” memberships to unmarried couples with children under 22.

“Since opening our doors over three decades ago, we have always strived to provide the very best in service, programs, and staffing,” said Bud Grey, vice president of Carilion Clinic, which oversees the Roanoke and Botetourt Athletic Clubs, in a post to its Facebook page. “Our goal has been, and always will be to encourage and inspire health and wellness among all members of the communities we serve. In keeping with this goal, and in recognition of the many contemporary households that can benefit from our facilities through discounted membership fees, we are pleased to announce that we have expanded our Family Membership into a new Household Membership.”

The Roanoke Athletic Club did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comment, but Grey further outlined the new policy in his Facebook post.

“A household consists of a primary member and up to one additional household member that permanently lives in the household, and any of their dependent children under the age of 22 who also reside in the household on a permanent basis,” he wrote. “Club dues will not change; dues for the Household Membership will be the same as the Family Membership it is replacing. There is no requirement to amend your membership.”

Will Trinkle said in a lawsuit that he filed in Roanoke Circuit Court last week that he successfully applied for a family membership on May 15 that would have allowed he and his partner Juan Granados’ 2-year-old son to use the pool. The Roanoke Athletic Club initially approved the application, but Trinkle maintains that it and Carilion Clinic violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act when they revoked it less than two weeks later.

Trinkle further claims that Roanoke Athletic Club employees told him and Granados that they had cancelled their membership because the state does not legally recognize them and their son as a family.

“We’re very happy that families prevailed in the end—all families,” Trinkle told the Blade late on Thursday. He said that while he and Granados were “sorry” that they had to file a lawsuit “to get here,” the couple applauded Carilion Clinic for changing their policy.

“It took a lot of courage to bring a lawsuit like this,” added the couple’s lawyer, John Fishwick. “This is how you make change.”

Carilion Clinic, which is the largest employer in Roanoke, operates seven hospitals and more than 150 other health care facilities in Southwest Virginia. The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute is also located in Roanoke.

Mark Ferguson, a gay D.C. resident who grew up in Roanoke and blogs about Appalachian issues, launched a Change.org petition after Trinkle filed his lawsuit that urged the health club to offer family memberships to unmarried couples. He described Carilion Clinic’s decision to amend the club’s policy to the Blade as “a very exciting surprise.”

“I applaud the company for hearing from the more than 100,000 people who spoke up and said there’s no room for discrimination in this world,” said Ferguson.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

4 Comments
  • Terribly short-sighted and arrogant that the Roanoke Athletic Club was so quick to rescind the membership, sighting VA state policy. The right thing to do from the start, should have been to grant the membership (great Customer Service..HUGE positive PR by allowing “non-traditional” families membership). Hiding their own discriminatory actions by blaming it on the state is unconscionable. The Sate of VA, the last time I checked, does not tell you how to run your business. Now they have this negative press to contend with! THANK YOU to Mr. Trinkle filing his lawsuit! Now there is a precedent!

  • Amazing what a little ‘sunlight’–in the form of a lawsuit and bad publicity–can do to make businesses literally see the light. Now if the club provides a hospitable welcome to those who take advantage of the new membership category, they may very well attract more members when people tell their friends. That is how good customer service pays off–and they have already had a taste of what poor customer service can do, including get you sued.

  • *****
    Carilion Clinic, which is the largest employer in Roanoke, operates seven hospitals and more than 150 other health care facilities in Southwest Virginia. The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute is also located in Roanoke.
    Related…
    http://www.washingtonblade.com/2011/09/07/hhs-advances-hospital-visitation-rights-for-gay-couples/
    *****
    And to both excellent comments, I’ll just add that we shouldn’t underestimate the positive cascading impact of the ‘Obama Effect’ in this case.

    The Obama Administration’s hospital non-discrimination executive directives coupled with overwhelming national LGBT protest is the way real change is likely to occur in more rural, conservative locations across the nation.

    With the ACA’s constitutionality now sustained by SCOTUS, anti-LGBT discrimination is all the more RISKY business by hospitals and their holding corporations and stockholders.

    In this instance, a lawsuit (apparently based upon VA’s standard breach of contract/ fraud statutes, not discrimination) got the defendant’s attention. But when the story hit national LGBT press headlines and generated a national (change.org) petition, Carilion’s lawyers were quickly made aware of two things…
    1) The LGBT plaintiffs in Roanoke could expect broad-based financial backing for their suit from the national LGBT community, if necessary. And worse still,
    2) with heightened LGBT awareness of Carilion’s apparent anti-LGBT discrimination at their athletic club, Carilion’s 7 hospitals and many clinics might face additional lawsuits– PLUS possible adverse federal action under the Obama Administrations directives against anti-LGBT discrimination in hospitals.

    Despite the efforts in Virginia by McDonnell and Cuccinelli to weaken or eliminate LGBT rights protections,
    http://www.washingtonblade.com/2010/03/11/va-guv-tackles-discrimination-in-directive/
    Virginia businesses are coming to the conclusion that anti-LGBT discrimination is just really bad news for their businesses.

    Thank you, Mr. President.

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