On the wall of the large fitness room of the Chapel Hill/Carrboro YMCA (CHCYMCA) are four large banners with quotes from the Bible capturing the four ideal characteristics of the YMCA.
One yellow banner has “RESPECT” in white letters, with the words of Jesus below it: “Here’s a simple rule of thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you? Then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s law and prophets, and this is what you get” (Matthew 7:12).
The biblical virtue of “Respect” became embodied in the recent actions of the local CHCYMCA and larger YMCA of the Triangle (YOTA), which owns and manages many YMCAs in the region. Together, they lived out the words “Ask yourself what you want people to do for you? Then grab the initiative and do it for them,” when the leadership reached out to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) eligible employees (full-time) and their families in providing them equal access to the same Blue Cross/Blue Shield NC (BCBSNC) health benefit plan that non-LGBTQ eligible employees and their family currently receive.
It was a move that addressed an ugly discriminatory policy of the past, which showed a lack of respect for LGBTQ employees and their families, upholding the best, inclusive policies of the YMCA in the present.
This move toward justice was a long time in coming. Discussion of this move toward equality began over five years when I was on the Board of CHCYMCA and we dealt with LGBTQ rights over the future of a local Boy Scout troop that was being sponsored by CHCYMCA. At the time, the national Boy Scouts of America did not welcome out gay Scouts, let alone LGBTQ Scout masters. With a process of discernment in place, the CHCYMCA worked steadily through the issue of inequality that the Boy Scouts posed in refusing membership to out gay Scouts and LGBTQ Scout masters. Reluctantly, the board dissolved the relationship between the Scout troop and CHCYMCA.
Discussions about the Boy Scouts made us then look at our own house. The Boy Scouts were not the only organization making it hard for LGBTQ people and their families to achieve equal access: so was the very CHCYMCA.
I raised the issue of providing LGBTQ equal access to health benefits with our leadership team. At that time, there was a “50+1” rule in place, in which a non-profit would have to have 50 full time non-same sex employees receiving health benefits from United Healthcare or BCBSNC before one LGBTQ employee and family could receive similar benefits. CHCYMCA had less than the 50 employees, which meant we couldn’t offer our LGBTQ employees health care benefits for one’s family.
However, when the leadership of CHCYMCA began talks with the leadership of YOTA, a way forward toward equal access presented itself. YOTA had more than the 50 full time employees using the BCBSNC benefit plan that was needed for LGBTQ employees and their families to participate. With the possible merger, the CHCYMCA LGBTQ employees and their families and the LGBTQ employees of YOTA and their families, could all receive the same benefits that non-LGBTQ employees were already receiving from their respective YMCA plans.
On June 3, at an open meeting discussing the upcoming merger of CHCYMCA and YOTA, YOTA CEO Doug McMillan shared the good news that both LGBTQ eligible employees and their families will receive the same benefits non-LGBTQ employees and families currently receive. The winners in this new arrangement were not only the LGBTQ eligible employees and their families at CHCYMCA and YOTA’s other branches, but also an opportunity to embody one of the four cardinal virtues of YMCA: Respect for one and all.
Brett Webb-Mitchell lives in Chapel Hill.