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

“I heard somebody say that some women had told their husbands to vote against it because they were afraid of their husbands interacting with single women,” she said. “That’s very sad.”

Others have theorized members do not want competition for their businesses from professional women who could join the club for the networking opportunities.

Many people in the community were shocked to learn of the policy.

Linda Lee stopped by last year to inquire about joining. Lee owns a financial advising firm in nearby Mystic, Connecticut, and thought it would be a nice place to socialize, have lunch with clients and network. She and her husband live nearby and own a 50-foot boat, which is in her name. But when she asked at the bar about membership, Lee could not believe what she heard.

“Well, you can’t join. You have to be a man. Your husband can join,” Lee said she was told. “I just said, ‘Forget it.’ And I walked out. These days, we are so past that.”

Julie Cardinal has the club in her blood. Her maternal grandfather died on his boat there. Her father was the club’s commodore, and she got married at the club. Her husband became a member. But when they divorced, she lost her status as associate member. Now, when she wants to go there, she needs her father or mother to sign her in.

No one has yet challenged the policy in court. The club’s commodore, Scott Howard, pushed to admit women, but said he also believes the policy is legal because it is a private club.

Several associate members and members said they think it violates the law. They think antidiscrimination laws apply because the club has over 600 members, holds a liquor license and rents out facilities to the general public.

Lynette Labinger, one of Rhode Island’s leading civil rights lawyers, said the policy is problematic. Rhode Island prohibits discrimination based on gender. While a small group for men such as a reading group might be OK, it’s less likely to be allowed when a club has many members and charges fees.

The Westerly Sun editorialized that the policy gave the town a black eye and suggested that if people withheld dues and stopped going to the bar, the club might change.

Cardinal said letting women join would not change much; it would just give women more of a voice.

“I still love it and enjoy it,” Cardinal said. “I just don’t think it’s correct.”

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