Going to the gym can make even the most confident people feel like they're back in junior high gym class, and this is particularly true for some members of the LGBTQ community. "Basically, the gay-er I looked, the weirder going to the gym got," Nathalie Huerta, founder of The Queer Gym, which is geared specifically towards LGBTQ folks, tells Bustle. "I felt unwelcome by women in the locker room. I felt unwelcome by men in the weight room. Overall, the experience didn't feel very welcoming or inclusive."
Located in Oakland, California, The Queer Gym offers a safe space for all members of the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ allies to honor and transform their bodies. "I grew up in a gym because I've been an athlete all my life. When I first came out as a lesbian, I was feminine presenting. As I got more comfortable with my sexuality, I started to present more masculine, and that's where things at the gym started to get weird," Huerta tells Bustle.
As going to the gym began to make her feel more uncomfortable, Huerta harnessed her experience as a personal trainer, and being "a hella out and proud lesbian" to create a safe, inclusive space where the LGBTQ community could work out in a judgement-free environment.
The prospect of threats to their safety can keep many members of the LGBTQ community from seeking services they need or want. The Movement Advancement Project released a report earlier this year that detailed the places members of the LGBTQ community feel most unsafe, which includes doctor's offices, public transportation, stores, restaurants, hotels, theaters, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and — you guessed it — the gym.
In order to ensure the comfort and safety of all members, The Queer Gym — which until 2015 was called The Perfect Sidekick — requires all people seeking membership to apply in person. "We want to 'vet' potential new members to make sure they have the right intentions and will be a good fit for our gym culture," she explains. "Also, with the current political climate, we want to meet with everyone we allow into our gym to ensure the safety of our members."
To maintain the integrity of the community, Huerta says the gym's team (members are also invited to participate) undergoes Queer 101 cultural-sensitivity training twice a year to ensure that all members of the LGBTQ community have a positive experience, as some members of the LGBTQ community, like femme-presenting lesbians, transgender individuals, and bisexuals, report not always feeling welcomed within the LGBTQ community. So while a lot of people talk the talk about inclusion for all members of the queer community, Huerta walks the walk. "We simply do not tolerate any actions that exclude others in any type of way. From the beginning, we set the standard for both our team and our members. When a new member joins, we introduce them to some basics during our initial meeting, i.e. pronouns," Huerta explains.
"Furthermore, part of their first six weeks with us, they go through a series of videos that explain not only basic body movements, but also basic understanding of the queer culture. Beyond that, we have processes in place to address when someone is not being inclusive. We do our best to be vocal advocates for everyone at the gym, including our straight allies that are also members," Huerta says.
The Queer Gym offers tailored training for transgender members preparing for gender confirmation surgery, adjusts programs for clients taking hormones, has gender-neutral locker rooms and bathrooms, and begins all classes by asking clients to share their pronouns. Additionally, they host fundraisers for clients whose insurance does not cover gender confirmation surgery, organize volunteers to assist members during their post-op recovery, and put on a 5K run with profits going toward providing reduced-rate memberships for members and potential members who need financial assistance.
It's amazing what my body can do now and how strong I feel! I can flip a big ass tire, I can do so many damn pushups, I can do a wall stand! What! I feel so strong and bad-ass every time that I'm there."
After trying out five different gyms, this is why Julieta Barcaglioni joined The Queer Gym, a decision that she says has changed her life. "I look forward to going to the gym and kicking some ass every single time. This is the first time in my life that I've done weight training," Barcaglioni tells Bustle.
"It's amazing what my body can do now and how strong I feel! I can flip a big ass tire, I can do so many damn pushups, I can do a wall stand! What! I feel so strong and bad-ass every time that I'm there. It's been a great journey reconnecting with my body and experiencing it in a different way."
Barcaglioni says that being a member has enhanced her life both in and out of the gym, including giving her more self confidence. "The Queer Gym has given me a place to call my gym with pride. I feel that I belong and it's my place, my gym tribe," she says. "I'm learning so much about how my body works — exercise, stretching, nutrition. My body is more toned now and clothes fit me so much better, but most importantly, I feel healthy and strong."
Barcaglioni, who ran the 5K and signed up for a six-week challenge before joining The Queer Gym, says being a member has surpassed her expectations in every way. "I love seeing people of all races/ethnicities, all levels of fitness, all sexual orientations, all gender identities, all styles, all ages, [and] all walks of life every single time I go to the gym," she says. "This diversity is so damn important to me; this is an environment that I want to be a part of! People know my name; I know people's names."
If you're not in the Oakland area, and this gym totally sounds like your jam, Huerta wants to empower others to take charge of their workouts the same way she did. "When we started the gym in 2010, there was no one even thinking about this concept," she says. "Now, almost 10 years later, there are starting to be more options for folks across the country."
She suggests following The Queer Gym on social media to find out more about other inclusive workout spaces to help people located outside of Oakland find, or create a safe space to work out, feel empowered, and find community. Because, going to the gym is hard enough on its own. It shouldn't feel like a chore — and by connecting with your community, it doesn't have to be.