YMCA Launches Initiative to Promote LGBTQ Inclusion

The effort, a partnership with the Biden Foundation, is designed to address discrimination and promote YMCAs as welcoming places.

In an effort to expand its outreach to the LGBTQ community, the YMCA of the USA is piloting a new program designed to better support inclusion across its locations.

According to Lynda Gonzales-Chavez, Y-USA senior vice president and chief diversity officer, the association was moved to respond to disproportionate levels of poverty and hate violence within the LGBTQ community—issues that centers like YMCAs are well-positioned to address.

A year-long pilot program at 10 locations will then expand nationally.

“Y-USA has seen an increase in support requests from local Ys around LGBTQ inclusion,” Gonzales-Chavez said. “We are focused on developing best practices and resources to strengthen a Y’s capacity to meet community need.”

The program, announced late last month, is kicking off with a three-year pilot at a cohort of 10 YMCAs that will test “locally focused strategies designed to engage and support LGBTQ individuals and their families.” The pilot will include staff training, LGBTQ-focused programs, and community collaborations. The pilot locations were selected “based on criteria such as geographic diversity, existing diversity and inclusion efforts, and organizational readiness for LGBTQ inclusion and equity,” Gonzales-Chavez said.

Y-USA’s initiative is a partnership with the Biden Foundation, created by former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. Y-USA approached the foundation, Gonzales-Chavez said, “because we share a common commitment to advance equality for all and ensure that everyone, including LGBTQ individuals, are treated with dignity and respect.” Funding support was provided by two additional groups, the Gill Foundation and the David Bohnett Foundation.

The program’s first year will focus on training and assessment within the YMCA locations, as well as public outreach, including collaborations with businesses, community leaders, and LGBTQ organizations. It also intends to promote the notion that “the Y is a safe and welcoming space for all.” Y-USA’s diversity and inclusion strategy supports all sexual orientations and gender identities, but individual YMCA locations in recent years have faced accusations of discrimination against gay couples and transgender patrons.

Tools developed from the first year of the program will then be disseminated to YMCAs nationwide, spearheaded by Y-USA’s diversity and inclusion department and a fellow from the Biden Foundation.

Individual YMCA locations have a lot of autonomy, so one goal of the pilot program will be to learn which practices and tools can be most widely applicable across its locations. “We recognize that needs and opportunities vary greatly from community to community and the local Y is in the best position to develop the most effective solutions,” Gonzales-Chavez said. “Y-USA is working closely with each of the Y associations within the cohort to develop the most relevant strategies and measurements within our existing YMCA diversity and inclusion frameworks.”

(MarcBruxelle/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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