Posts Tagged ‘swimming’

Swimming to Maryland

February 10th, 2011 No comments

…narratively speaking, that’s what today’s 365gay column does. I connect a flap over a Letter to the Editor of SWIMMER Magazine to the push for religious exemptions to the marriage equality bill being considered in Maryland.

How? Read the thing.

Swimming Pool Racism Story: Denouement

May 14th, 2010 1 comment

Recall the story from last summer, where members of a swim club in the suburbs of Philadelphia freaked at the presence of African-American kids, revoked the contract by which the kids had been allowed to use the pool, and thereby caused a national storm of protests. (You can get the full story here.)

A lawsuit ensued. Read this article from today’s Philly Inquirer and tell me: Who was the winner here? What might have happened had the olive branch offered been accepted? The facility could soon be dirt.

Categories: swimming pool racism Tags: ,

A Swimming Story for the DADT Repeal Controversy

March 28th, 2010 1 comment

When President Bill Clinton tried to lift the ban on gays in the military, top brass — including Colin Powell, who has since had a change of heart — defied their Commander in Chief, and argued vociferously and successfully against the move. The resulting compromise, of course, was the DADT policy that may very soon be lifted. According to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the policy will be implemented more humanely (principally by making it much harder for anyone to be “outed” by third-party statements), in preparation for its demise within the next year or so.

But not all of the military are singing from the choir book yet. Gates himself now says that he doesn’t favor repeal before a study into the possible consequences has concluded, and others have gone further. Early this month, a high-ranking general (Mixon) urged service members to fight back against the repeal. He was sharply rebuked, but the counter-push has continued.

Just yesterday, CNN reported that the top Marine commander wants separate rooms for straight and gay soldiers if DADT is repealed. From this article, I learned that the Marines, unlike other branches of the military, house soldiers two-to-a-room. Marine Commandant James Conway doesn’t want straight soldiers to be uncomfortable by having to share a room with a gay soldier.

Let’s be honest here: There doubtless would be Marines made uncomfortable by this unique situation. This discomfort shouldn’t be brushed aside just because it is literally homophobia. What’s needed is preparation through education, a clear and enforceable policy about inappropriate behavior, and perhaps a transition period. Ah, but what would such a transition look like? Should straight soldiers be able to refuse a gay roommate? For any reason, or for no reason at all? For religious reasons? There should be a way to get through this change without having to rework all or some of the rooms into singles.

I’m reminded of a friend on the mostly gay and lesbian Masters swim team that I belong to (although I’m not there so much these days). Simone was from Italy (Sicily, to be precise) and had come to the U.S. to study medicine. He was — and is to this day — straight. Since we often swam in the same lane, we became well-acquainted over the first couple of months he was there. And then, somehow, we started a series of email exchanges about how he’d felt when he first joined the team. Paraphrasing now from these more than ten-year-old emails, this is what I recall:

When he first came to Philadelphia looking for a place to swim, he was pleased to learn of our swim team, which worked out so close by. But almost immediately thereafter, he discovered that the team was predominantly gay, and therefore decided he couldn’t join. So he tried working out on his own for awhile, but as many swimmers will tell you, that gets old after awhile. So finally, after a few months, his need for people to swim with overcame his homophobia (again using the term here in the literal sense), and he showed up.

He told me that back home gays were still completely in the closet (I’d concur from my trip to the southern part of Italy a few years earlier), and to the extent the subject was discussed at all, it was as “a bad thing.” So he didn’t know anything, and was afraid to find out. I’d say it took him only a couple of weeks of swimming with us before he loosened up. He no longer bolted from the pool to the locker room without showering. He started to enjoy the endless, between-sets banter that are de rigueur for swimmers (the only way to deal with the pain!). Before long, he started hanging out with us after practice. And I’ll never forget the time that, during the hour swim (an event that must cease to exist), we swam next to each other for about 1,000 yards, matching stroke for stroke.1

In short, Simone had become a team member.

Swimming isn’t the military, of course. Yet there are some similarities. The tasks that call both groups together are challenging, often exhausting. Both work in close proximity, and have occasion to see others’ naked bodies. And I like to think that, with the proper attitude and leadership, the military could figure out how to make their team work once DADT is repealed. It seems to be working fine in every other country that has given it a chance. 

  1. Oh, did I mention that I managed to keep up with his freestyle while I was doing the backstroke? But that’s not important….

Race and Swimming (Part Two)

July 14th, 2009 No comments

Creative Steps, the Philadelphia day camp that was booted from the suburban Valley (Swim) Club for reasons that were largely racial, has rejected the club’s offer to return. Here’s the Inky’s take on this latest development, leaving out most of the back story (which you can find here):

Creative Steps rejects offer to return

By Derrick Nunnally and Zoe Tillman

Inquirer Staff Writers

“Amid a storm of racial controversy, a Philadelphia day camp whose children were asked to leave a private suburban swim club have rejected the club’s invitation to return and announced plans to sue.

“‘The children are permanently scarred,’ Alethea Wright, executive director of Creative Steps Inc., said in a news conference yesterday at the camp’s headquarters in the Oxford Circle section.

“She said that she had not returned a text message from Valley Club President John G. Duesler Jr. asking her to call him, and that the camp and dozens of families of campers will file a federal discrimination suit this month.

“Wright, noting that Duesler cited the pool’s inability to accommodate the 65 day-campers when he asked them not to return, said she didn’t see how the group could go back ‘unless additional footage is added.’

“[T]he situation has drawn global publicity, a separate federal discrimination lawsuit, and a civil-rights investigation by the state’s Human Relations Commission.”At the Creative Steps news conference, [d]ozens of assembled parents unanimously said they had no interest in sending their children back to the Valley Club.

“‘I didn’t know people hated people so much,’ said Sherlene Washington, who added that her 8-year-old grandson had been ‘hurt.’

“After the invitation to return went out, attorneys for parents of a group of the day-camp students said a discrimination lawsuit filed last week against the club was on hold.

“That lawsuit’s future, attorney Brian Mildenberg said at his South Broad Street office yesterday, depends on ‘everybody being pleased.’ The club has not yet been served with the suit, but Mildenberg said the parents he represents could still move forward with the case.

“The new lawsuit is to be filed this month, attorneys said. About 45 families, along with the day camp itself, are to be plaintiffs in the discrimination and breach-of-contract case.

“‘This has nothing to do with safety,’ attorney Gabriel Levin said. ‘It has to do with the color of their skin.’

“Before a camp trip to a gymnastics event in Huntingdon Valley yesterday, several of the children who made the June 29 trip to Valley Club’s pool expressed little desire to return.

“‘I don’t want to go back,’ Creative Steps camper Jabriel Brown, 12, said yesterday. ‘I don’t want to get treated the same.’


I find my sympathies shifting.

First, here’s a word of warning: Litigation is not something to embrace except as a last resort. Although I’ve been teaching Tort Law for many years, I didn’t realize just how bad litigation could be until I was, to my surprise, involved in two cases of my own within the past few years. Neither of these would I have chosen had other real options existed. Lawsuits are soul-draining, tension-producing, nightmare-reliving, expensive propositions.

Here’s a case where a suit can and probably should be avoided. It seems like the Valley Club has, albeit belatedly, realized that its actions were based on ignorance and racism, and have now attempted to make this right. What purpose is Ms. Wright seeking to serve by refusing to talk to Mr. Duesler? I’m hoping that the lawyers will try to work out some accommodation here, whether or not the kids feel comfortable returning to the club (I can certainly see why they wouldn’t).

And speaking of the kids….Once again, I see them as pawns. As one commenter on the last post remarked, the white kids were harmed by their parents’ hysterical reaction, just as the African-American kids were hurt by the sharp racism they encountered. But are these kids really best served when their parents and adult supervisors decline to engage in dialogue on how to improve the situation, both now and for the future? Maybe years of this kind of awful treatment have sent Ms. Wright the message that only legal steps can fix problems; if so, that message is surely being transmitted intergenerationally. How sad.

Here’s a lawyer for the camp:

“‘The children’s best interests are not being served,’ lawyer Carolyn Nichols said. ‘Simple lip service does not amount to change.’

“The day care center also wants the resignation of all swim club board members and the removal of any club members who made the racist comments, Nichols said.

“‘Our goal is to ensure that this type of behavior never happens again,’ she said.

With respect to the injured parties here: Your lawyer isn’t doing you any favors. All of her points are shaky:

The offer to return isn’t “lip service”: it’s a concrete and positive step.

Is resignation really the only option here? What about the possibility that people’s minds (and hearts?) really have been opened, and that this same Board might act differently next time?

And if you want to prevent a behavior from recurring, a lawsuit in the face of corrective steps might send this message: “Don’t bother trying to make things better next time. You’ll be sued either way.”

How about some real “Creative Steps” — including dialogue and reconciliation?