If you thought government sponsored segregation was a thing of the past, look no further than Tukwila, Washington.
Over the past few weeks, the gender-exclusive swimming hours at Tuckwila’s public pool has ignited a heated debate about whether or not special accommodations should be made for certain groups of people.
Every Sunday afternoon the city pool closes its doors to men, and allows women, many of whom do not want swim in front of men for religious reasons, to swim in private for a 90-minute time slot.
Pool management got the idea for gender-segregated swimming periods after two Muslim sisters began renting out the pool a few years ago so that women could use the facilities without being seen by men.
In June of 2013 the pool management turned this privilege into a public program.
One of the sisters, Jamila Farole, explained to King Five News that she needed the private swimming time because her religion did not permit her to swim in the presence of men.
“In Islam, women need to have their privacy and preserve their modesty,” says Farole.
Not only were male staff and swimmers from the surrounding community not allowed in or near the pool during this time, but the Farole says she “would have the windows covered and also the doors so no outsiders could see in.”
“This isn’t just something I’m doing… It’s a commandment from God; men and women are not to mix together. That’s my religious belief,” Farole said at a recent Tuckwila city council meeting.
This past summer, pool management made the women-only hours into a public program.
Some Tuckwila residents have vocally condemned these new gender-segregated swimming periods.
Robert Neuffer, who filed a formal complaint with the Human Rights Commission on the grounds that the program was discriminatory, told King Five News the single-gender swimming periods were, “wrong, no matter how you state it no matter how it is, it’s wrong.”
“I feel that any religion that discriminates against men or women that I don’t have to respect that,” he added.
In a Seattle Times article that discussed the women-only swim time, commenters also spoke out against the program.
One of the top-rated comments, written by someone under the name of “2Times,” stated “This is a PUBLIC pool. If you don’t want to swim in public, don’t. If your religious beliefs forbid you to swim in public, find other accommodations. To expect a public facility to accommodate your religion or your insecurity issues at the expense or inconvenience of others, is selfish to say the least.”
Another commenter called “Motnam” said, “We have civil rights laws in this country and guaranteed liberty for women. The idea that women come to this country and do not take advantage of that liberating environment, but prefer to be treated like chattel, by the rules of a 13th century ideology is disgusting. If they want to live like second class citizens, what the hell did they come here for in the first place?”
Malcom Neely, an aquatics coordinator at the Tukwila pool, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that they have no plans of ending the program. He said that during the 90 minutes set aside for women on Sunday’s they typically get 20 to 30 swimmers, “a pretty good number.”
During the male-only swimming time, which they began in order to create an equal opportunity for men to swim alone, has not been doing so well.
“The men’s swimming hours have not been as popular. We are just getting a few guys… Typically below ten,” says Neely.
When asked if the Tukwila public pool would be willing to make special accommodations for religious groups in the future, he responded “I am not sure. I guess we have not gotten there. That would be another trial.”