water fight

Group Floats Separate Swimming for Men and Women at Williamsburg Pool

The Metropolitan Recreation Center pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The Metropolitan Recreation Center pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Photo: Mathew Katz/DNAinfo

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Some Williamsburg residents are asking for more women’s-only hours at a local public pool, but with a compromise: Give men some alone time, too.

A group of local women — of various ethnicities and religions — got unanimous approval last Tuesday from Brooklyn Community Board 1  for three additional hours of women-only swimming at the Metropolitan Pool on Bedford Avenue. Also okayed: creating men-only hours.

The Parks Department, which did not respond to a request for comment, will have the final say.

“It’s not a contentious issue in our neighborhood,” said Jan Peterson, the chair of CB1’s Women’s Issues committee. “White, black, Hispanic, Polish — all the community leaders support this issue.”

Still, the vote threatened to reignite the controversy over the decades-old, single-sex swimming sessions that surfaced in 2016 after an anonymous tipster alerted the City Commission on Human Rights.

That triggered a review and spurred the Parks Department to shut down the women’s-only sessions, which were eight hours a week at the time.

The Commission reversed course a few months later, however, and the no-men-allowed swim times were reinstated, on a limited four-hour schedule that remains today.

The practice, which notched national attention, was widely criticized by everyone from The New York Times Editorial Board to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which argued the decision to keep any restricted hours violated the Constitution.

The Parks Department shut down a request in March 2017 for the return of the full eight-hour schedule. The Williamsburg women believe now is the chance to reclaim their time — with a nod to offering men some privacy as well.

“We polled women of all ethnicities of women of all religions, of all ethnicities, ages: Jewish women, Muslim women, Hispanic women, Italian women, pregnant women, who just don’t want to swim with men,” said Maria Aragona, a lawyer who is behind the proposal.

“If I had a young daughter, I wouldn’t want to bring her to a pool where there might be a child molester,” added Aragona, a Williamsburg resident for 23 years.

Aragona, other members of CB1’s Women’s Issues Committee, non-board members of the committee, and representatives of at least two local elected officials will meet next week to draft a letter to the Mayor’s Office and the Parks Department with their revised proposal.

‘It’s a Disgrace’

The women’s-only sessions, also available at the St. Johns Recreation Center in Crown Heights, are open to all women. They largely serve the neighborhoods’ Hasidic population, whose beliefs forbid women from swimming with men.

Bella Sabel, a Hasidic woman in her mid 70s who has lived in Williamsburg since the early 1960s, said the women-only pool hours should never have been reduced.

“It’s a disgrace,” she said. “Something in the city functioning for so many years for the health of the women, and it’s just taken away from them for no good reason whatsoever.”

The women want three additional hours a week: one more hour each on Mondays and Wednesdays, and an additional hour for women and children on Sundays, for a total of seven. They are proposing the same amount of time for men, according to Aragona.

Aragona balked at the notion that the taxpayer-funded pool shouldn’t allow separate schedules for men and women on Constitutional grounds. “There are charter schools that are just for boys — those receive public funding,” she said.

Victoria Cambranes, a local activist who is running for City Council in the 33rd District, says the partitioned hours would benefit everyone from religious practitioners to survivors of sexual assault.

“Because it’s a city-funded pool, it should be open to all New Yorkers,” she told THE CITY. “We’re not trying to glorify women or put them on any kind of pedestal. We want to make sure everyone who wants to use the pool is comfortable doing so, and that includes men as well.”

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