Elizabeth Gooding, a mom of three from Rhode Island, is suing her local YMCA for violating her right to breastfeed freely in public. In the complaint, Gooding alleges that she was told on more than one occasion that she could not breastfeed her 1-year-old daughter Lucy at the daycare facility at the YMCA —and that the YMCA’s refusal to let her do so is in violation of the state’s Civil Rights Act. The complaint also calls the incidents out as a form of gender discrimination.
Gooding spoke on the phone with Babble this morning to recount the upsetting incidents that led her to team up with the ACLU of Rhode Island and file a lawsuit against the YMCA. Gooding says that there were at least two incidents where she was told that she wasn’t allowed to breastfeed and that the incidents left her feeling rattled and violated, to say the least.
Gooding emphasizes to Babble that her story is just one of many breastfeeding harassment incidents in the YMCA, which is one of the reasons she feels compelled to speak out about this issue. “If a mother cannot feed her baby in the daycare of a family establishment, where can she nurse?” Gooding wrote in an open letter she posted to her Facebook page this morning.
The incidents involving Gooding and her daughter began in February 2015, when Gooding says she was a yoga instructor at the Ocean Community YMCA in Westerly. While she taught, she’d drop 1-year-old Lucy off at the daycare facility at the YMCA. Before dropping her off, she’d nurse her daughter.
Sounds pretty normal and uncontroversial, right? Not so to the employees at the daycare. Gooding shares that one day while nursing, she was told that she “wasn’t allowed to breastfeed” at the daycare, and that what she was doing was making the “young boys” uncomfortable (yes, “young boys” specifically, because we all know how utterly offensive breastfeeding to them in particular!).
When Gooding explained to the YMCA that the laws in Rhode Island protected her right to breastfeed in public, she was told that that was all fine and good, but that she needed to cover up. When she explained that it was illegal for her to be told to cover up, she was told that she needed to go to a different location then, away from other children.
Yep, you read that right. Gooding was told repeatedly that breastfeeding her baby (which she says was doing discreetly without any fanfare whatsoever) was something that must be hidden, specifically from the eyes of other children.
As Gooding shares with Babble, there was absolutely no basis to these claims, in terms of what was happening at the facility as she nursed her daughter. “Little boys weren’t even looking at me,” she shares. “Three-year-olds are busy playing,” says Gooding, adding that never once did a fellow mom complain to her either. In fact, she says that more than once, as she sat there nursing her daughter, a mother came up to her and said, “Oh I’m so happy to see moms doing that.”
Gooding tells Babble that she complained to several members of her local YMCA staff, including supervisors, but each time she was told that she needed to cover up or nurse in a location separate from others. She even went on to speak to her local YMCA president, Maureen Fitzgerald, who simply told her to be more “discreet.”
In the open letter that she wrote about her lawsuit, Gooding not only recounts her own story of being harassed for breastfeeding at the YMCA, but also includes over 40 incidents of women who say that they had their breastfeeding right violated at YMCAs across the country. These incidents were reported by the Best For Babes Foundation, which keeps records of complaints they’ve received from breastfeeding mothers.
When Gooding found out that her experience was one of many that mothers have encountered at YMCAs, she realized this cause was bigger than hers alone, and she took her case to the ACLU.
“I want YMCA USA to make a public policy change,” Gooding tells Babble, adding that she believes this training should be mandatory for all employees, at all levels. In her opinion, “lack of education” is the reason why so many employees at the YMCA don’t treat breastfeeding mothers fairly, and cites the case of YMCA Canada, who issued an apology and policy change after a string of breastfeeding harassment incidents in 2014.
The Ocean Community YMCA released a statement published in the Westerly Sun about Gooding’s lawsuit, saying that the YMCA took “affirmative steps at that time to address her concerns. The Ocean Community YMCA developed a policy on breastfeeding in the workplace and provided education for its employees in this regard.”
Obviously, Gooding’s story and lawsuit is in direct conflict with this statement. In fact, Gooding is so enraged by her continued mistreatment by the YMCA that she has organized a nurse-in at YMCAs across the country on June 11th to protest the YMCA’s mistreatment of breastfeeding moms.
But to Gooding, this isn’t just about her. This is about all the moms who have been mistreated at YMCAs across the U.S. “I can’t believe this happened to so many other women and nothing was done about it,” Gooding tells Babble.
And it looks like Gooding is just the heroine to take this cause on, to hopefully make a positive change for these moms as well as any breastfeeding mom who has been harassed for performing the simple and natural act of feeding her baby.