The YMCA has been associated with buff gay guys since The Village People immortalized it in the late 1970s. The real YMCA experience might be very different (not to mention considerably less camp) than the song but nearly 30 years later it’s still delivering a welcoming space for queer users. YMCA has won the Xtra Best 2008 award for best gym for the second year in a row.
“We have a diversity and social inclusion committee that works on all different types of projects,” says Celecia Partap, public relations manager for the YMCA of Greater Toronto, adding that one of this year’s projects was a queer pride week during which the Y held seminars at all its locations on subjects like diversity in the workplace and challenging homophobia.
“We try to foster an inclusive society that welcomes everyone — regardless of background, circumstances or abilities,” she says.
Despite this broad approach to access for all, some locations have become more queercentric than others. The Metro-Central Y, located just two blocks from Church St, has become especially popular as a place for guys to cruise in between circuits.
Although Partap declines to comment on the cruising potential of any particular location, she points out that the decision to locate the Metro-Central in the heart of the village is indicative of the organization’s approach to access. “The Y is about providing programs in communities,” she says.
Although best known for its gyms the YMCA also boasts a number of other services. “We have employment programs that cater to youth as well as adults,” says Partap. “We’re a provider of emergency shelter, supported housing and a place for youth leaders to develop their leadership skills. We’re not just about health, fitness and recreation; when you become a member you have the ability to access all different types of things in addition to the swimming pool, weight room and track.”
Another way the YMCA has distinguished itself from other fitness centres is its pricing. Joining a gym can be prohibitively expensive for many — an aspect to accessibility that is sometimes overlooked — but through its membership assistance program, which promises that “no one is denied access to any YMCA program or service solely on an inability to pay the full fee,” the Y offers reduced rates to low-income households.