A Letter (and a Reply) to National Fitness of Knoxville, TN

This post appeared on a friend’s Facebook newsfeed and I was immediately upset by it.

After reading that post from William Foley regarding the ludicrous treatment his family received at the National Fitness club in Knoxville, Tennessee, I sent the following email to Lee Sloan, President (leesloan@nfc1.com) and Randy Williams, Vice President (rwilliams@courtsouth.com).

Sirs,
I find it repugnant that National Fitness would treat a legally married couple in the way that Mr. Foley and his husband, Mr. Myers, were treated by your Knoxville location recently. Mr. Foley shared the experience on Facebook stating:

“My partner and I are married 10 years now. We tried to join a local fitness club in Knoxville last week, National Fitness, as a family. We were told by the facility manager that our marriage is not recognized by the state of Tennessee, so, they cannot give us the family discount. To this we walked out, taking our gay dollars with us. We have since contacted some friends who are members of the gym, one who knows the gym owner. He contacted the owner, but was told for liability reasons (whatever that means) they cannot go against state law. Another friend, who is a member knows the Mayor of Knoxville. I’m not sure what transpired next, but the President of the fitness center called me yesterday to tell me they want to make this work for us. He said lucky for us we have a marriage certificate to prove we are actually married. This would make it possible for us to join as married. I then asked him if he requires all married couples to show a marriage license to get the married benefit. He said only if the situation is unusual, like if it is a white couple with black children, or if a couple has a lot of kids close in age, to prove they are all actually siblings. I can’t make this stuff up. I think we will still take our gay family dollars elsewhere.”

Regardless of the State of Tennessee’s legal standing on marriage equality, the Federal Government has already seen fit to consider these two men legally wed. State-created barriers to marriage equality are tumbling across the country. Soon, consenting adults across all 50 states, regardless of sexual orientation, will be able to legally wed within their state, free from judicial or legislative concerns. To use the flimsy excuse that National Fitness could not accept their family for “liability issues” is a joke, and I think you both know it. That they needed the assistance of friends and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero to circumvent the absurdity of your venue’s draconian policies. And how, in 2014, is it reasonable for your employee to suggest that a white couple with black children is an “unusual situation?”

I am astounded by this situation. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. I am a Tennessee native who six years ago decided that there were broader and more open-minded people beyond the borders of my home state, who more closely shared my values. I am thankful that I am not subject to Tennessee laws any longer, but am heartbroken that these men, their children, and my family who still resides there, continue to suffer under the derisive and Jim Crow-like mindset of businesses like yours. While Mr. Foley and Mr. Myers have since been “welcomed” into your gym under the family membership, I hope they choose to spend their heard-earned money elsewhere, teaching their children a valuable lesson in the process – that a bigoted business does not get money from open-minded and loving individuals.

Wilson Thomas Adkins
Brooklyn, NY

A few minutes later Mr. Lee then responded.

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I took a few minutes and then replied to Mr. Lee:

 

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First, I appreciate your quick response. Second, I would encourage you to take a second look at your response and, in the future, do some careful proofreading to ensure that it is coherent.

As for your assumption that same-sex families are “not a common situation within our area,” it is not as unusual as you presume it to be. As I said, I am from Tennessee – Sevierville to be exact. I spent the majority of my life there. I am very aware of the LGBT population and am well aware of the likelihood that there are MANY families like Mr. Foley’s and Mr. Myers’s.

Some fact for your consideration: As of 2012, there were 4,962,227 adults residing in Tennessee. Of those, 129,018 identify as LGBT. That’s 2.6% of Tennessee’s adult population that identify as a member of the LGBT community. (This does not include those who are afraid of exposing themselves to bigotry and scorn.) Of those that identify at LGBT, 18% are part of a same-sex couple currently raising children. That’s over 23,000 same-sex families with children in Tennessee. I expect these numbers will increase significantly once state laws protect LGBT individuals and make it safe for all of them to identify themselves. You can review this data yourself by visiting any number of data driven websites such ashttp://www.lgbtmap.org/equality_maps/profile_state/43http://equaldex.com/region/united-states/tennessee, or this one from the National Bureau of Economic Research which shows that the size of the LGBT population is substantially underestimated, http://www.nber.org/papers/w19508.

As for what the other steps I feel you should have taken: First, this should never have been an issue to begin with. Mr. Foley and Mr. Myers are legally married. Putting them through the abuse as described in my previous email was unnecessary and vile. Second, and going forward, your staff at all of your facilities should be informed that, having now set a precedent of acceptance, no other same-sex couple/family should be turned away if they choose to pay your business for a family membership.

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud you for making a change to your policy. But this change should never have been necessary. That these men had to endure this difficulty and humiliation speaks volumes of your business’s mindset.

I hope this proves to be the only time National Fitness is cast in poor light and am eager to hear positive things in the future.

Sincerely,
Wilson Thomas Adkins
Brooklyn, NY

Mr. Lee responded seconds later.
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