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The joyous and healing properties of water are universal. They connect us by representing a common thread that brings communities together in public settings such as aquatics facilities.

A mission for most aquatics providers is to deliver this life enhancement to all who stand to benefit. Inclusion – making as many as possible feel comfortable in a setting – has become recognized as an important part of that equation. Here, in honor of Pride month, aquatics experts share ways to help members of all genders and orientations know they are welcome and accommodated.

Make gestures to Celebrate and affirm the community and its members

If you run the type of facility that puts up festive decorations for various holidays, consider doing the same in June for Pride month. Even something as simple as a pride flag lets members of the LGBTQIA+ community know that the facility is safe and welcoming.

“Just having things on display that are visually affirming during Pride month is a positive thing,” says Kate Connell, founder of Iowa City-based Equitable Aquatics.

Some centers hold special events for the LGBTQIA+ community, such as Pride golfing events or teen Pride parties. “That would be good all year ’round, but especially during June,” Connell says.

Simple gestures such as placing pronouns on staff name tags add further affirmation.

Center attire guidelines on function

It’s likely that, at some point, you’ll have staffers whose self-identification won’t line up with what others expect. They may not want to wear the gender-coded bathing suits and uniforms that historically were considered appropriate.

So more aquatics facilities are moving away from traditional gender-centered bathing suits and uniforms.

“The only real requirement of a lifeguard uniform is that it’s appropriate to perform rescues,” says Kevin Post, CEO of St. Louis-based Counsilman-Hunsaker. “Outside that, we’re seeing people be a lot more open minded about dress code and uniform policies, and letting staff be more open and comfortable with how they dress.”

As an example, the City of Phoenix uses the same uniform, but offers a little choice. “We have tee shirts that identify them as life guards,” says Kelly Martinez, aquatics coordinator for the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. “Then we have shorts — some are women’s cut, some are men’s cuts. We don’t pick.”

If you have a visitor dress code, make it very clear. To accommodate those who don’t fall within the gender binary, don’t say what visitors can or can’t wear, but rather state what needs to be covered, Connell suggests.

Work with what you have

Providing private restrooms and changing spaces has become a big focus on accommodating the LGBTQIA+ community.

This is surfacing in the design of many new facilities. This helps makes the space more comfortable for all users.

“I see a lot of forward thinking areas looking at more individual changing areas,” Post says. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter [your gender or sexual orientation], people like privacy. There are a lot of reasons why people like privacy these days.”

But many properties, especially older buildings, don’t have space to build out new accommodations. Not to mention budgetary issues.

In those cases, start with what you have. If it doesn’t detract from compliance with local health and building codes, some aquatics managers will convert toilet spaces into changing areas. You might have a space that’s labeled as a family changing room, for instance.

You can relabel that and redefine it through policy, Connell says. For instance, some policies state that family rooms cannot be used by individuals, but are meant for families or people needing assistance. Changing that policy to allow individual use can provide an easy solution.

“If you can’t change the layout, you can change the policy around it,” Connell says.

Others will use curtains to create privacy,

including in showers, says Shawn DeRosa, director of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Bureau of Pool and Waterfront Safety, and owner of DeRosa Aquatic Consulting. He has seen living-room-style curtains used to convert alcoves or locker banks into private areas. If somebody wants, they can pull the curtain. If not, the space is open to multiple people.

Others erect pop-up changing rooms on more secluded areas of the deck, like off to the side.

Use flexible language

When providing private spaces, avoid using terms such as “family changing room.” This creates a narrow definition of who can use the space and causes others to question whether they can. While this was considered a solid solution before, Connell says, it’s more inclusive to call it a “private changing room,” or something similar. Then it can be used by anybody wanting privacy, whether it be somebody not falling in the gender binary, a disabled person who needs a helper with them, or a family.

Take a similar approach with family passes. You can call them “household passes” instead. This allows for families not considered traditional, and also accommodates adults who need a caregiver to attend. In doing this, remove any gender-based definitions of who qualifies for the pass, such as “a man, a woman and a child,” “husband, wife” or “mother, father.”

“A household pass can be for individuals who live at the same residence,” Connell says.

Provide signage

Post signs letting people know they will be accommodated. For instance, a facility where Connell used to work had signage at the front desk stating it had options for people who need more privacy.

“Anytime the public doesn’t have to ask, where they get a wink and a nod, there’s more of a sense of belonging,” she says. “A lot of times, people say, ‘Oh, they just have to ask.’ But they shouldn’t have to. It’s a burden to out yourself. ... We should give them directions.”

Here again, the benefits extend to the whole community, including those who need assistance. “If I’m bringing my Dad in, I want something that helps me know there’s an option for me,” Connell says.

Create a clear, policy — and follow it to the letter

While it helps to have flexibility when it comes to uniforms and choice of space, policies should leave no room for interpretation.

At some point, you may need that clearly defined policy to defend yourself. “If you have a policy, you can portray what you’re trying to do,” Post says. “If you don’t have a policy, it becomes very dicey — how do you explain yourself?”

Also be sure to familiarize yourself with local laws and codes. Your policies for addressing inclusiveness will extend beyond the philosophy of the facility itself. Your city, county or state could have laws regarding inclusiveness, public decency and accommodations. Make sure you comply.