Several weeks ago, this space was devoted to the proposition that an organization that discriminates against women would no longer be the recipient of my charitable support (such as it is). The organization in question was the Jaycees, an international leadership training organization whose American members have repeatedly voted not to admit women to full membership. "The checks stop here," I wrote, citing a scene in which a hundred Jaycee executives sat idly by while a woman chapter president was ousted from a meeting by a national president who announced he could not "teach leadership to a woman."
There is, however, an asterisk that belongs to that resolve. If there are good guys and bad guys in the Jaycee battle over women members, the Downtown Jaycees, a chapter of 130 people in the Washington area, are among the good guys. This chapter has discreetly but adamantly defied the national leadership's order that it demote women to associate memberships where they can no longer vote or hold office.
Back in 1977, after the American Jaycees voted not to admit women as full members, the national leadership began pressuring local chapters that had admitted women to comply. Several chapters, including the Downtown Jaycees, took the national organization to court. In 1979, the Downtown Jaycees won a preliminary injunction to prevent the national organization from removing their charter, with all the membership and fund-raising advantages the highly recognizable Jaycee name brings. But the D.C. Court of Appeals dissolved that injunction last October, and since then the Downtown Jaycees chapter has been at the legal mercy of a national organization that has been willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to litigate women out of full membership. The Downtown Jaycees, in peril now of losing its right to the Jaycee name, has resolved, however, that its women members will remain equal.
More than half the Downtown Jaycees' members are women, as are seven of the chapter's 16 officers, according to Don Hempson, a Navy commander who is its president. "They are so integral a part of our chapter that I wouldn't want to belong to it if they weren't there."
The Jaycees' goal is to provide leadership training through community service projects for people who are 18 to 35. Roslyn Garrity, a personnel manager and a member of the Downtown Jaycees, says she knows of no other organization that provides the same leadership development opportunities for women. "It's extremely valuable. It's another way of repressing women to keep them out of organizations like that."
The Downtown Jaycees organize and pay for the Cherry Blossom Parade; they help raise $40,000 to $50,000 and provide the manpower for the Christmas shopping tour for needy children; they organize a field day for handicapped children; they sponsor the Junior Miss contest in the city and the Soap Box Derby locally; they organize a coaches' all-star luncheon and help sponsor a Washingtonians of the Year awards dinner. The chapter also initiated and helps coordinate the Arthur S. Flemming awards for outstanding federal government service on the part of young men and women worldwide.
The chapter has tried to avoid a showdown by using initials instead of full first names on its membership rosters. Other Jaycee chapters in Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Rochester, N.Y., have dropped out of the organization and formed Vector International. "If we have our charter revoked, we'd have some cash flow problems. People are less willing to support an organization that is less well known," Hempson says.
But there is another reason the Downtown Jaycess have stayed in, Hempson says. "We believe, as a chapter, there should be no artificial barriers which preclude women from enjoying the advantages of Jaycees and community involvement and leadership development. We want to work within the Jaycee organization on the women's issue because we think it's an important one and not just a local issue, and that change to the Jaycee organization and to the Jaycee rule is needed. If we left the organization, that change is never going to be effected, or it will take longer, at any rate. We feel a commitment, especially within the nation's capital, to set an example."
If the national organization moves against them, Hempson says, the chapter's members are committed to equal status for women in a leadership training organization, "regardless of name." The Downtown Jaycees are made up of bankers, lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, and others who have taken a quiet stand on principle that this community can be proud of.