Gig Harbor woman says YMCA asked her not to wear Michael Savage t-shirt
Donna Chacalos Peloquin of Gig Harbor regularly sees workout gear and bumper stickers bearing political or social messages she doesn’t agree with at her local YMCA — and she ignores them.
“I just look the other way … I don’t want to waste my energy over it,'” she said.
But last week, the athletic center asked her not to wear the t-shirt she had chosen that day — a shirt she had chosen simply because it matched her shorts.
“This t-shirt is over 15 years old and it was in my workout bag,” she told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “I didn’t put it on thinking, ‘I’m going to make a statement.'”
What was on the apparently offensive t-shirt? A quote from conservative radio host Michael Savage that his listeners know well: “Liberalism is a mental disorder.”
“Apparently that triggered someone,” Peloquin said. “And I was flabbergasted when this person — it was kind of like she ambushed me.”
Peloquin said that staff approached her and told her that she would not be permitted to wear the shirt to work out again in the future. The shirt, they said, did not fit the Y’s “all-inclusive” policy.
“They were just so condescending to me,” she said.
Plenty of what Peloquin sees at the YMCA bothers her, such as tattoos, messages on other t-shirts, or the transgender bathroom policy. But as an advocate of free speech, she tells her kids to let things that offend them roll off, rather than getting upset.
“You have to ignore things, because if you didn’t you’d go nuts,” she said. “And here they’re promoting [being upset over a t-shirt].”
If the gym is going to start infringing on free speech, Peloquin wonders how far it could go. Would she be stopped from wearing a military t-shirt in honor of her son in the Air Force?
Michelle LaRue, director of Strategic Engagement for the YMCA of Kitsap and Pierce Counties, said that the YMCA strives to be “a place where the community can come together” around its core values of caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility, and that the Y “asks that [political] conversations be held with those values in mind.”
In this particular case, she said, the main issue was the shirt’s reference to mental illness. LaRue pointed out that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and noted that the Y has “members coming in every day struggling with this issue.” It was one of these members who took offense at the t-shirt.
“In the spirit of building a stronger community, we shared the feedback with her,” LaRue said. She said that Peloquin was not asked to change her shirt or to leave the facility.
While Peloquin found the words on the shirt amusing, she said that she treats everyone equally, and has a diverse group of friends.
“I talk to everyone — I’m really talkative and I’m friendly,” she said. “Whether you’re black, white, liberal, conservative, you’re my friend,” she said.
The extremely maddening part about the ordeal for Peloquin is that there seems to be a double standard at the YMCA — political messages are fine, as long as they represent the Left. She knows people who have been suspended from the Y for telling a joke deemed offensive, and worries that if she were to wear so much as a MAGA hat, she, too, would get kicked out.
“You go in the YMCA parking lot and you see all the Bernie stickers, the Hillary stickers,” she said. “But no one dares put a Trump sticker because they’re afraid their cars are going to get keyed.”