End Gender Segregation at the McKinley Park Pool

Published March 27, 2018
Kate Moser and baby Lucy Moser enjoy a summer swim at the McKinley Park pool.

By Kate Moser

I have been a proud resident of the McKinley Park neighborhood since 2005. In the summer of 2007, I discovered what I believe to be McKinley Park's greatest summer amenity: the outdoor pool.

It is an amazing space, Olympic-sized with an attached kiddie pool and water playground. It is also on the southern side of the park, so it gets a lot of sun. Best of all, it is free. But here's the caveat: Many families can't make use of it.

Most of the summer, the times that the sun is high in the sky are reserved for day camp, which is reasonable. Although the pool opens "to the public" at 2 p.m., this is reserved for male-only swimmers until 2:45 p.m. and then female-only swimmers from 3 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. Males and females can only swim together from 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.  

As a female, I had always enjoyed those 45 minutes, as the pool wasn’t crowded, and I could swim laps and sunbathe. But then — gasp — I had a son. I tried to take him, aged 8 months, to the kiddie pool during female swim time. There was no one else at the kiddie pool, but the lifeguards said the baby had to go: They could get in trouble with their supervisor if they didn’t enforce this policy.

None of the fathers I know with daughters, and none of the mothers I know with sons, can use the pool at a time that is appropriate for young children. Once swimming opens up to everyone, both the sun and the thermometer are dropping rapidly. In addition, the open swim times are very overcrowded, with one often waiting 30 minutes in line just to be told that the pool has reached its capacity of 300 people.

To add insult to injury, the family swim time policy mandates at least one adult per three children. Families with four or more children are pretty much uninvited.

I have reviewed the Chicago Park District’s pool schedules in detail, and it seems that these schedules are, without question, regionally motivated. As of summer 2017, 25 percent of Chicago Park District outdoor pools and 24 percent of its indoor pools had gender-segregated swim times. All of them were on the South and West sides.

The McKinley Park Advisory Council has been discussing this issue for years and has made it a point of focus for this summer. Council Treasurer Heather Breems has even requested letters from families about how these swim times negatively impact them, and has brought these letters to 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas.

The advisory council's effort to change these archaic and discriminatory swim times reflects the viewpoints of the neighborhood. We, as the diverse and family-friendly residents of McKinley Park, are hoping for a more equitable and inclusive swim schedule, beginning this summer.

Families — and, really, all of us — deserve to enjoy the beautiful pool that is part of our dynamic neighborhood.

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