Co-ed Lockerooms – Separate or Equal

by Terri Lee Paulsen
locker room

 Is a girl who plays on a boys’ team any less a part of the team than her teammates? Of course not. So why does my daughter have to get dressed in a separate locker room and miss out on the camaraderie and the other aspects of being on a team?

USA Hockey recognizes the right of girls to play on boys’ teams. (I cringe every time I heard that: boys’ teams. If there’s even one girl on it, is it still a boys’ team?) So why do people feel the need to make it difficult for them? With USA Hockey removing checking from the Peewee level, more girls are likely to opt to play with the boys for another two years.

 My 9-year-old daughter has drive, determination and a competitive streak a mile wide. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a darned good player and one of the best skaters you’ll see of anyone her age. She wouldn’t be challenged playing with the girls in our association. There’s only one U10 team in our 250-player association just west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. And while there are a few talented players on that team, the two best ones were moved to the U12 team, one just started playing this summer, and two were moved up from the U8 team so they had enough players to field a team. That’s why she tried out for Squirts this fall, so she can play on a team with players that are roughly of her same ability.

Her Squirt team is made up of 14 boys, about half of whom she’s played with since she was 5 years old. During the final two days of tryouts she was forced to get dressed in the hallway as there wasn’t a locker room available for her (even though they knew six weeks before she would be trying out).

When she was named to the Squirt B team, I asked her coach if he’d be willing to implement a co-ed locker room policy that would allow her to be with her teammates. Simply put, everyone would be required to wear shorts and a T-shirt in the locker room at all times. If they needed to change more than that, they would use a bathroom. It’s a policy that I found an association in Michigan was using and it worked well for them so I figured an association in “The State of Hockey” would be fine with it too. It was being unofficially used by associations all across the state.

The manager e-mailed all of the parents about the policy, and it appeared to be working well and to this day the manager and head coach had not received any complaints. But someone complained to a Board member that their son was uncomfortable wearing a T-shirt and shorts in front of my daughter (the same level of clothing they wear to do dry land), so the Board stepped in and stopped us. No talk of a compromise, just that my daughter had to use a separate locker room. The Board wouldn’t even share any information about the complaint, saying it may disclose the identity of the person who lodged the complaint, so we don’t know if they were uncomfortable, inconvenienced or what. Whatever happened to following the grievance procedure and talking to your team’s manager first; then, if it couldn’t be worked out then you run it up to the next level?

And before anyone chimes in that boys and girls shouldn’t share locker rooms because something inappropriate could happen, be advised that USA Hockey requires background-screened adult monitors to be in the locker room 100% of the time. So how much trouble could 15 kids wearing shorts and T-shirts get into when there are two adults in the room watching the team (I was always present in the locker room when my daughter was there; if she left, I left too.). And our players all signed a Code of Conduct form at the beginning of the season indicating they would treat everyone with respect, and the coach committed that he would enforce good behavior.

But the Board ruled that we had to strictly follow USA Hockey’s Gender Equity – Co-Ed Locker Rooms policy. The Board actually announced it as “continue following,” but the past four years my daughter has played she always shared locker rooms with her male teammates. And an older girl who just left the association (after playing Squirt through first-year Bantam) was in the locker room with her teammates the past five years.

The Policy

USA Hockey’s co-ed locker room policy contains a “recommendation” (USA Hockey’s word) that genders should have separate locker rooms. If there isn’t another room available, then they should alternate the use of the locker room, with the genders taking turns, a means of “reasonable accommodation.” Picture 14 boys in full gear standing out in the hallway while my daughter is inside the locker room getting her gear on, then all entering the locker room for their pre-practice talk. Repeat this in opposite order after practice.

However—and this is the part the Board, District 6 and Minnesota Hockey don’t seem to be able to grasp—the policy states that other procedures are acceptable, if they seriously consider both female and male privacy rights. Umm, I think the minimum garment requirement satisfies this requirement. I explained to a USA Hockey representative exactly what we were doing with the minimum garment requirement and she had no issues with it.

But the USA Hockey co-ed locker room policy doesn’t indicate what ages it applies to, so it must apply to all, including adults who play in the USA Hockey co-ed program.

So now, not only does my daughter’s Squirt team need to be in separate locker rooms but the association’s Ice Mites, a mere 4  to 7 years old, now have to dress in gender-appropriate locker rooms. And if a dad brings his daughter to practice, he can’t go in the locker room to help her get her gear on. They’ll be sitting on the floor of the hallway lacing up her skates (the arena doesn’t have benches outside the locker rooms). Same thing if Mom brings Junior. Since there are 44 kids in the Ice Mite program, and 31 are boys, the boys’/men’s locker room will be bursting at the seams with the boys, their dads and the male coaches.

So last weekend, when the boys on my daughter’s team were in the locker room at a tournament celebrating their championship win (helped by my daughter’s goal), she was in the arena’s weight room with me getting out of her hockey gear. She can be in the locker room while the coaches address the team, but she has to leave when it’s time to take the gear off.

And since that tournament, the director of Minnesota District 6 has weighed in and decided it would enforce this policy for all 12 associations in District 6. You’re talking some of the best youth teams in the state. Halfway through the season, when teams are starting to gel and in the run up to playoffs, now these teams will have to deal with this. The president of Minnesota Hockey refuses to intervene.

We’re concerned this will hurt our daughter’s chances at tryouts in the coming years. If she happens to be on the bubble between teams and coaches have discretionary picks, who’s going to pick a girl when they know how much of a hassle the locker room situation will be? That they can’t address the team unless they know everyone is present.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

I taught my daughter the adage, “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” I tried to stress the positives of having her own locker room: no noisy boys, she can spread her gear out as much as she wants, we can listen to music and her younger sisters can hang out with us (well, maybe that last one isn’t an advantage). I told her we shouldn’t let it ruin her season, and we’ll still fight the decision. I reminded her that none of this was because of anything she did, it was just some adults who were being foolish. Good lessons, but not something I think a 9-year-old should need to learn.

Are you a girl playing on a boys’ team? Are you a coach of a co-ed team? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences! Girls: What’s the worst place you’ve ever had to change? (Note: Using a bathroom to put your gear on is not an acceptable place, according to USA Hockey.)

Terri Lee Paulsen

Freelance editor, writer, hockey mom, player and coach in Minnesota.

As well as public replies to this article, Terri welcomes direct comments, advice or suggestions.
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