No lesbians allowed: Rhode Island yacht club keeps ‘men only’ policy

In this Monday, June 20, 2016 photo, Danielle Hetu poses after speaking about the Westerly Yacht Club's membership policy as the yacht club is seen in background, right in Westerly, R.I. Wives can join as associate, non-voting members, but unmarried women can't. A vote to change the nearly century-old policy failed last week, with 171 men voting to uphold it. Women, and many men, are not happy.

In this Monday, June 20, 2016 photo, Danielle Hetu poses after speaking about the Westerly Yacht Club's membership policy as the yacht club is seen in background, right in Westerly, R.I. Wives can join as associate, non-voting members, but unmarried women can't. A vote to change the nearly century-old policy failed last week, with 171 men voting to uphold it. Women, and many men, are not happy. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

WESTERLY, R.I. (AP) — Taylor Swift has a home in this seaside community. But even one of the world’s most famous women wouldn’t be able to join the Westerly Yacht Club, which bestows full membership only on men.

A vote to change the policy at the nearly century-old club in the Ocean State, where the love of sailing runs deep, failed to reach a two-thirds majority last week, with 207 men voting for the change in a secret ballot and 171 men voting to keep it the way it is.

Wives can become associate members, and while they can run committees and organize parties at the club, they can’t vote. Single women and married lesbians are not admitted, even as associates, because they are not married to a man. Gay men may join, but their husbands may not become associates, a status reserved for wives.

Women, and many men, are not happy.

Several women connected to the club said it was ridiculous, in a year when Hillary Clinton is making a historic run for president, that they can’t join. Swift hasn’t asked, but if she wanted to would not be allowed, even though her beach house is in the same ZIP code.

“How do I explain this to my daughters? That you can be the president, but you can’t be a member of the Westerly Yacht Club?” associate member Danielle Hetu said.

Hetu and her husband, who sits on the club’s board, are among those who have been working for years to change the policy. Previous votes to admit women have won a majority but failed to win a two-thirds majority, as required by the club’s bylaws, members said.

One member who voted against the change said he believes many of the wives agree with him.

“They’re all happy with what they got. They don’t have to pay dues,” Bob Dionne said.

Annual dues are around $600.

Jane Barstow, an associate member and retired professor of English and women’s studies, thinks the policy remains in part because of the “old guard” at the club that is resistant to change. She theorizes that there may be something of a backlash against Clinton’s historic run for president, and says there may be other reasons as well.

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