Gay rights groups target AAA policy

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The American Automobile Association (AAA) division that serves members and residents in Florida, Georgia, Middle and West Tennessee, and Puerto Rico is being targeted by three gay-rights groups for allegedly having a discriminatory membership policy. But some members of the GLBT community think they may be overreacting.

According to an article in Project Q Atlanta, AAA Auto Club South’s policy in 2005 did not allow associate memberships for same-sex partners of AAA primary members. Representatives from AAA South did not return phone calls to O&AN regarding their current policy.

Three GLBT rights groups (Georgia Equality, Equality Florida, and the Tennessee Equality Project) have targeted AAA South in reaction to the alleged discriminatory policy.

Tennessee Equality Project Board Chair Chris Sanders said the group's campaign is to urge AAA South to change their membership policy and to encourage the GLBT community to consider alternatives to AAA.

Former President of the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce Van Pond thinks this may be a bit reactionary.

“The lack of policy doesn’t mean it’s not possible (for same-sex couples to join AAA),” he said.

Years ago, Pond and his partner enrolled as primary member and associate at the office of a AAA manager who had advertised in Out & About Newspaper.

“It was not even a big deal,” Pond said. He even called and purchased gift memberships for his family.

Though no one from AAA South responded to our inquiries about their current membership policy for same-sex couples, Don Lindsey, Director of Public Affairs for AAA East Tennessee, explained that his territory differs from its Middle and West Tennessee counterparts.

“If there are two adults in a household, and they are both residents, one can be the primary member and one can be an associate," Lindsey said. "It’s a couple — it’s not defined. If you have a cousin living there, we don’t ask that question, basically.”

Sanders said that loophole in AAA South's policy is not enough.

"What we're advocating is going a step further and recognizing the two people for what they are—a committed couple," Sanders said. "Such a policy, along with proper training of AAA South agents, would make sure that no one has to face being turned down by an agent who doesn’t accept us. Some couples are reporting being turned down. We think a clear policy that recognizes us is the simplest solution.”

Pond is hopeful that AAA South will eventually recognize same-sex couples as a profitable market base and elect to change their policy from within. In the meanwhile, Pond says that AAA South keeps sending out renewals and he and his partner keep renewing.

“In Tennessee, it is the individual office manager that has the power to grant memberships," Pond said. "This was a regular interaction. The individual offices are set up to handle members and memberships. When you’re dealing with AAA South, which is a huge office, it’s big brush strokes.”

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