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300 protest YMCA after teen lies about naked trans woman in locker room

Abbigail Wheeler on FOX News Photo: FOX News screenshot

An Illinois YMCA was protested by 300 individuals, including state Republican lawmakers, after a 16-year-old girl reportedly lied about seeing a naked transgender woman in the YMCA’s locker room.

The July 13 anti-trans rally took place in Rotary Park, across the street from the Kerasotes branch of the Springfield YMCA. It was co-organized by six members of the state’s far-right Republican House Freedom Caucus speakers and featured 16-year-old swimmer Abbigail Wheeler — all of whom want the YMCA to ban trans women from women’s lockerrooms even though that would violate the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Wheeler, a former member of the YMCA’s SPY Typhoons Swim Team, said that on April 27, she saw a trans woman in the women’s locker room during swim practice and felt “scared and upset,” the Windy City Times reported. Her swim coach explained that YMCA policy allows trans women to use the locker room.

During her July 11 and 12 interviews on Fox News, Wheeler said she saw the trans woman naked. But at the rally, she called this a “miscommunication,” saying, “To be clear, I did not see the [person] naked, and no [human] genitalia was exposed.”

During her Fox News interviews, she also said she was kicked off of the swim team after posting signs at the YMCA that said “Women’s Rights,” “Biological Women Only,” and “SafeSport.” However, a May 29 email from Wheeler’s mother to her daughter’s coach clearly says, “We have decided to remove Abbigail from the SPY swim team.”

As for the signs that Wheeler mentioned on Fox, Springfield YMCA’s marketing and communications director Lou Bart noted that she didn’t mention that the signs had also misgendered the trans woman and implied she was a threat to other women’s safety.

The signs said, “Men are not welcome here,” “Women Need Rights, Men Already Have Them,” “In case anyone is unawar [sic], I feel as a concerned member to share this shocking news. Transgenders [sic] are now using the womens [sic] locker room. They have been for a while now. Please feel free to share/spead [sic] the world [sic],” “Girls Rule, Boys Drool,” and “Women Deserve to be Safe Here.”

Wheeler and her parents were told that Wheeler’s signs were “hateful to other members and violated the YMCA code of conduct.” The YMCA said Wheeler wouldn’t be allowed to participate in any practices or meets until they met with her coach and YMCA leadership. However, the Wheelers declined to meet with them.

In a May 29 email to Springfield YMCA Chief Human Resources Officer Jill Steiner, Wheeler’s mother wrote that the YMCA was “undoubtedly exposing young girls to grooming, bullying, and real danger.”

“Your reaction to the girls’ positive, empowering signs made for women was far worse than your concern for the biological men watching little girls undress in YOUR women’s locker rooms,” she wrote. “In my opinion, this is sexual exploitation of women and children. Please remove Christian from your name! This far from [sic] Christ’s morals and values. What does Christ say about someone who harms one of his little ones!??”

In a statement to the aforementioned publication, YMCA Springfield leadership wrote, “There have been a variety of false statements circulated by these same individuals since May. They have continued to shift and change this story to sensationalize it beyond the facts.”

Springfield YMCA CEO Angie Sowle said that, since the Wheelers began talking to media, the impact on membership has been “negligible.”

“We don’t have people left and right canceling memberships and pulling donations from our organization,” Sowle said. “We have felt supported and encouraged to keep being who we are and taking care of the rights of every individual.”

Sowle also said that the branch has received death threats and “profanity-laced emails and voicemails” from people outside of the Springfield area “who have been stirred up by the national media by versions of the story that have changed multiple times and are as false as they could be.”

The YMCA allows trans women to use the women’s locker room to comply with the Illinois Human Rights Act, which forbids businesses from discriminating against people on the basis of gender identity. If the YMCA barred trans women from locker rooms, it could risk being sued for violating the law. The YMCA offers private changing facilities for its members.

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