Transgender woman alleges N.C. beach club forced her to resign membership

by Conswella Bennett
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jul 7, 2010

Summers have become bittersweet for Rachael Gieschen.

July 4 walks along the beach with picnic lunches, games and a much-anticipated firework display to culminate the day's activities were all Gieschen family traditions at the Hanover Seaside Club in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. And for as long as Gieschen can remember, she and her family spent weekends, holidays and summers at the shore.

"I've been going there since I was born," she fondly recalled. "It was our home away from home."

This tradition, however, came to an end last year.

The private club Gieschen's German grandfather and his brothers helped to create in the late 1890's denied the 69-year-old retired Air Force veteran membership after she informed its board of directors she had transitioned from a man into a woman.

Although she began the process in 2007, Gieschen admitted she felt something was different when she was a young child. As she grew older, however, she suppressed her desire to live her life as a woman. Gieschen served in the Air Force for 23 years. She married twice and raised five children.

"It was almost 60 years of hiding, my life was like a revolving stage-you go around, and you come out as a different character," said Gieschen.

Gieschen told EDGE she is now the happiest she has ever been in her life. And she just wants to be allowed to go back to the Club-the place she said she created her own memories with her family. Two of her children are still members with her grandchildren.

She wrote a letter to the Club's board to let them know about her transition, but she said she received a less than warm reception when she visited on Oct. 5, 2008. Gieschen said long-time friends and acquaintances gave her the cold shoulder. And she ate her lunch in silence.

"The reception was cold," recalled Gieschen. "Nobody talked to me."

Members were aware of who she once was.

"I just had on a wig and make up. Being 6'2, it's kind of hard to miss me," Gieschen added as she described how she had anticipated a cool reception. "I didn't expect not to be spoken to."

This visit was to be her last.

Gieschen received a letter dated May 28, 2009, from the Club's board of directors that informed her she should resign her membership.

"First it is clear that this new phase of your life means a lot to you, and we hope that it is all that you hope for... We also appreciate your recognition of some of the difficulties now raised by your membership, as reflected in your letter," read the letter. "We believe that your reminiscences from your youth, portraying the Club as your "home away from home" and your "private island," well exemplifies the feelings our members have had for the Club as their private getaway, right up to the present. Appropriately, the board must always consider whether members will continue to feel comfortable and at home at the Club."

That letter also referenced her Oct. 2008 visit; saying members expressed agitation and discomfort.

Another concern was the use of locker rooms.

The letter stated members would be uncomfortable regardless of which locker rooms or restrooms were used.

"In view of the physical limitations of the club, we do not see how this problem can be resolved to everyone's satisfaction," wrote Mike Lewis, president of the Club's board.

Gieschen was given the opportunity to meet with the board privately to discuss the matter. She made a request in writing and met with board members on July 23, 2009.

During that time, she unsuccessfully tried to get board members to meet with her and her therapist. And despite her pleas and arguments, the board informed her in an Aug. 14, 2009, letter it was in the best interest of the Club to cancel her membership for the reasons stated in the previous correspondence.

The board also added two sentences to the Club's rules in April, 2009, that said "members acknowledge that this is a family friendly Club with an entrenched tradition of creating a comfortable environment for its members." In addition, the new regulation also stated "members shall not engage in inappropriate, disruptive or offensive behavior."

Ironically, one of Gieschen's younger sisters is on the Club's board. Others are those with whom Gieschen grew up and often played on the beach.

Gieschen said her sister does not support her decision to transition.

"She is not a happy camper with my decision," she said.

Two of Gieschen's five children are not speaking to her, but she regularly visits her other three and their grandchildren.

She has no immediate plans to sue the Club, but Michael Silverman, executive director of the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, continues to work with Gieschen as she considers her options.

"Rachel's preference is to work this out amicably," Silverman told EDGE. "Our hope is that the Club will reconsider... We do believe that this can be resolved fairly. The response has to be just give Rachel a chance. She's the same person. The wrapping may have changed, but the inside is the same."

Silverman sees this as an opportunity to teach an important lesson - to learn to deal with differences. And Gieschen agrees.

"They remember the old me," she said of the Club members. "They don't know the new me. I'm still the same. I want them to see I'm the same person they knew five or six years ago. It's time to do the right thing and reinstate my membership. I'm hoping the Club will do the right thing."

A lawyer representing the Club declined to comment on Gieschen's allegations.


  • CaSandra Minichiello, 2010-07-07 13:31:36

    This is an awesome article, I just can’t believe I am reading this in 2010. I know that ignorance still exists, but I just don’t "get" what the big deal is? Is this "Club" still living in the 60’s?

  • , 2010-07-07 13:43:13

    Go Rachel, go! I admire your sense of self, your pride in who you are, and your willingness to fight for what you know to be true. You’re an inspiration, not something to be avoided. I hope your club will come to see that.

  • , 2010-07-07 14:34:24

    Great article! Her story is both inspiring and infuriating. Rachel is clearly a very brave woman. I would be proud to know her and share a club with her (if anyone would have me as a member)

  • , 2010-07-07 18:33:10

    You have the right to be who you are regardless of how other people feel about it, just like people have the right to be uncomfortable arround you. That being said, what impact could your going to the beach possibly have on anyone elses life anyway? I don’t get it, it’s not fair, and for what it’s worth, I’m sorry

  • , 2010-07-07 22:11:58

    I am a son of R Gieschen and I do see him, however I only see him as a male and currently he does not see my children as a female. I just can’t explain this to my young children and make them understand that the grandafather that they once knew is now living as a woman. He was given the oppurtunity to keep his membership as long as he came as a male, like he does when he sees his kids and grandkids. He made the decision to void his membership because he didn’t want to come as a male..She has no memories at the club only the father I know does.

  • CaSandra Minichiello, 2010-07-08 11:42:58

    To the son: If you can accept your father, so will your children. You can’t MAKE anyone understand anything. You need to accept people as they are, without conditions. How will you treat your children, if one day..they tell you they are gay or they want to dress like the opposite sex...or that choose to live a different life other than the one you want them to live??

  • , 2010-07-08 14:50:51

    Yes, you are correct, you cannot MAKE anyone understand anything. The reason that I know this as a fact is how can a parent stand by and let a spouse abuse their children from a previous marriage because that spouse knows their secret or at least a version of the secret that is was true at that moment in time. How can someone who didn’t want his own child talking about their partner at the time in the Club’s dining room during breakfast, not understand how uncomfortable people would be with someone they grew up with suddenly not being who they are? While this story does tell one perceived side of the story, the side that it doesn’t tell is the devastation that has occurred at the decisions that have been made by R. The "bull-in-a-china" shop type of decisions that don’t just affect R but ripple out to those he says he loves and cares about. While the article states that he has had contact with three of his children, what the article doesn’t state is that those children have told R that he has to be their father when he is around them and the grandchildren. And before any of you start screaming, one of those three children is bi-sexual. R was asked not to do this article and many of you feel it was a brave move, and in some ways it may have been, but at what cost. It has ended up doing irreparable damage to family relationships and may have cost friendships not just for him/her but within the family too. Remember, all of us have a story and all stories affect everyone. And yes, transgenders are brave but the families that have to deal with effects are also brave ones

  • , 2010-07-08 19:37:23

    The "damage" to family relationships is irreparable only to the extent that a person chooses to hold on to prejudices and forget love.

  • ZoeB, 2010-07-08 20:54:16

    From Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation Garcia-Falgueras A, Swaab DF Endocr Dev. 2010;17:22-35 // The fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in extreme cases in trans-sexuality. This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation. // Yes, it’s tough on families. Just as it’s tough on families of those who have Cancer. But few families despise grandmothers if they get cancer treatment that makes them go bald, and insist that they remain looking the way they used to, even if it means dying early. In fact, I can think of no other medical condition where having the only treatment that’s effective leads to such ostracism by those they love, and who supposedly love them.

  • , 2010-07-14 21:38:04

    Accept someone for who they are? What if they have a desire to have sex with animals or worse prey on young children. Should we accept them then? Lines must be drawn. This club is a family oriented club. I would not want my children walking in on this person in the bath house in this club. It’s a private club and they can exclude or include whoever the hell they want. They can even exclude the elitists who are posting above!

  • CaSandra Minichiello, 2010-07-15 10:35:38

    To the person directly above, really? You are comparing apples to oranges. There is a huge difference between committing a CRIME and being who you want or choose to be that is not causing harm to someone else. The only reason why Rachel’s family, along with this "club", is having a hard time with this is because they are a close-minded, ignorant bunch of people. Honestly, I don’t know why Rachel would even WANT to be a part of it. It’s a shame that those people who are a part of that "club" are raising their children to believe that they should be "uncomfortable" around those who are different. They are not serving their kids well, but harming them because our society is filled with ALL kinds of people who are different than we are. Yes, it is a private club and they can exclude whoever they want. BUT this issue goes way beyond their "rules". It’s simply ridiculous. Its 2010 people. Get over it. And again to the person directly above, you should be leary about your children walking in on ANYONE in the bath house in any place/club.

  • , 2010-07-16 00:10:12

    Just so you know R Gieschen is only sharing the side of the story that focuses attention on R Gieschen. I have been a guest at the club and seen Gieschen walk past his own family members and not speak! I also believe, from a letter that Rachel wrote, that the presentation of a major lifestyle change was handled in a very negative way by Rachel. I have members of my family who are actively involved in gay, bisexual and transgender lifestyles who are able to be themselves without hurting everyone involved for the purpose of gaining as much attention for themselves. What goes around, comes around. Maybe the club is treating Gieschen this way because of the parts of the story that Rachel has not chosen to share with you. Just remember, you are only hearing one part of the story and I assure you it is not the part with all of the facts.

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