June 20, 2007
UVa has decided to expand access to its recreational sports facilities to the same-sex partners of employees, all because of the opinions of a state leader.
Called the Plus One Program, any current member can now sign up a gym membership for one extra person who lives with them.
This is just one legal way the university can give benefits to the gay and lesbian community.
“The Plus One Program is an opportunity for any of our members, current students or staff to be able to literally have, as it says, a plus one,” said Mark Fletcher, Director of Intramural Recreational Sports.
Upon the request of the university, Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell issued an opinion. The statement reads, "The University of Virginia is authorized to provide a recreational gym membership to an adult who is not a spouse and who lives in the household of an employee or student."
“When I came to UVa and went to join the gym and have my partner join the gym and couldn't, I was actually surprised,” said UVa Pride member Ellen Bass.
UVa Pride, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay and transgender students and faculty, said they have been fighting for more benefits for themselves and their partners and hopes this is just one small step toward larger benefits.
“The biggest one you probably know is health benefits for our domestic partners," said Bass. "The gym, you could argue, is a health benefit, or you could argue it’s even a benefit from a health standpoint, but access to medical care is a very big issue."
She was quick to add that since she been on staff, she feels the university has been very understanding of the wants and needs of the gay, lesbian and transgender community, despite not making many changes to protect a number of their rights.
The General Assembly must approve health benefits for gay and lesbian couples. But one other suggested improvement on the university level includes guaranteed time off to care for a partner or a partner's child.
Other Virginia colleges that allow same-sex partners of employees to use gym memberships include Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University and the College of William and Mary.