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Seattle YMCA Apologizes for Bathing Suit Ban

The apology comes after social media backlash


Published on: August 08, 2017

Flickr, Duncan Rawlinson

Kids in the Seattle YMCA’s Project 206 program just got an important lesson in speaking up.

Rising ninth graders and their families got a notice from the program — a partnership between the Seattle YMCA and the Seattle Public Schools — this week warning girls in the group that they would not be allowed to wear two-piece bathing suits on a field trip to Wild Waves.

“Scholars may not wear 2-piece bathing suits,” the notice warned. “Scholars who are not wearing proper attire will be given replacement clothing if it is available, or their parent or guardian will be called to resolve the situation.”

It sounded markedly similar to the sorts of dress codes that have garnered headlines across the country in recent years for penalizing girls, especially in the summertime when their male counterparts are given leave to bare ample amounts of skin to relieve themselves from the heat. And not surprisingly, parents responded.

Seattle mom of two Louise Bishop was OK with her 10-year-old daughter’s camp banning two-piece suits, but only because that camp was sponsored by a church. But Bishop doesn’t see any place for rules like this in a YMCA, pointing to the sexism of targeting girls based on their clothing.

“Boys get to walk around without a shirt, so I think girls should be able to wear bikinis,” she says. In fact, her daughter does wear a bikini (albeit not at church camp).

Bishop said bans like this aren’t just sexist — there’s also a financial concern. “Not all parents can afford to just go out and get a new suit,” she says.

The good news? No one is being forced to get a new suit. The bathing suit ban was swiftly condemned by parents and kids alike on social media, and calls flooded into the YMCA offices.

And according to YMCA spokeswoman Karen Welting, the organization staff agreed with the kids and their parents.

“Unfortunately it is an outdated policy put in place almost 10 years ago,” Welting says of the gendered dress code. “We don’t have different dress code for girls and boys here.”

Welting says the two-piece ban should not have been issued, and YMCA staff is not only reaching out to Project 206 families with an apology, but reviewing policies in all of its other programs to ensure these sort of dress codes are not being put into use.

The only dress code the kids will have to abide by for their Wild Waves trip will be that of the theme park itselfwhich bans “denim, or swimwear with buckles, rivets or zippers” on its water attractions and states, “Any clothing that can be considered vulgar, offensive or gang-related will not be allowed.”

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