How to be LGBTQ-Friendly in Fitness
By Jessie Lucas
It’s a universal human truth: we all need to take great care of ourselves by eating well and making time for regular exercise. Unfortunately, the fitness industry hasn’t always been as welcoming to some people, including members of the LGBTQ community. Since I’m part of this community myself, I am deeply committed to making the fitness and wellness spaces more inclusive and LGBTQ-friendly. I envision a world where everyone can feel safe, welcome, and happy at the gym or wherever they choose to work out. Here, I’ll tell you a little bit more about my own experience and share some of my ideas for making fitness a place where we can all feel comfortable.
Are Gym Facilities LGBTQ-Friendly?
As a member of the LGBTQ community, I speak from years of experience when I say it’s not always easy to be queer in the fitness world. Think about what happens at a gym: everyone’s wearing skimpy clothing and striving for physical perfection. You might walk into a gym and assume that a person who appears to be female-bodied is trying to trim their waistline and bulk up their booty. And, likewise, you might think someone who appears to be male is trying to bulk up and build killer muscles. For someone who is experiencing gender dysphoria or general body dysmorphia, these assumptions can be extremely harmful.
Additionally, what do you see when you look around the gym? Mirrors are everywhere. For someone who isn’t comfortable in the body they were born with, this can be a major distraction — or even damaging to their mental health. When someone feels so self-conscious, uncomfortable, and unwelcome, they’re not likely to return. We’re all long overdue for a change!
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Creating a Safe Space for All
The great news here is that it’s really pretty easy to create a safer space for your LGBTQ members/training clientele. Here are a few of my suggestions.
Hire Members of the LGBTQ Community
You’ve heard it before, and it’s true: representation matters. When we see people with identities similar to our own, we feel included and valued. That’s why it’s so important to have employees at your gym or fitness center who come from a variety of backgrounds: race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender identity. Think about it: if you walked into a gym for the first time and one of the staff members at the check-in desk looked a lot like you, wouldn’t you feel more at ease? By employing members of the LGBTQ community as teachers, trainers, and hospitality and maintenance staff, you’re demonstrating that people from all walks of life are welcome.
Implement Gender-Neutral Spaces
One important way to make your LGBTQ members feel safe and comfortable is to create gender-neutral spaces in your gym. At the minimum, it’s always helpful to designate one of your changing areas as gender-neutral. For your clientele who are transgender or non-binary, gender-neutral locker rooms are one place to feel a little less self-conscious and anxious. If you have the space for it, you might also consider gender-neutral workout rooms and group classes. It’s a great way to make people of all gender identities feel comfortable — so they can focus on working out.
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Ditch a Few Mirrors
For some forms of exercise, mirrors can be extremely helpful. In dance classes, for example, they’re one of the easiest ways to check your placement and form. That said, if someone’s not entirely comfortable in their body at present, they may prefer to work out in a room with no mirrors. This could apply, for example, to someone experiencing gender dysphoria who hasn’t been able to start the transition journey. If your space is limited, you could install a rod over the mirrored part of your workout studio and draw the curtain across the mirror only for certain classes.
Use LGBTQ-Inclusive Language
As a lesbian who has been working in the fitness industry for more than fifteen years, I’ve heard some comments that have really made me cringe. I’ve had clients assume I have a husband, which, of course, I don’t! I’ve also heard people use “gay” in place of “corny” or “uncool.” Those remarks really put a damper on my mood, and that’s why I try to make sure I use language that is affirming and inclusive. That means greeting a group class with “Hey everyone!” or “What’s up, fam?” rather than “Hi guys!” or “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen!” It also means respecting other people’s pronouns and sharing mine to help them feel more at ease with me.
It can feel awkward to have a conversation about personal pronouns. You may find that it’s easiest to give yours first and wait for the other person to share their own, rather than asking them directly. If they don’t do that, don’t press them. They may not feel comfortable coming out to you or anyone who may be in earshot. There are no hard-and-fast rules here, so just be kind and do your best to show respect to those around you. And if you do bungle someone’s pronouns, simply correct yourself and move on.
Mental Health and the LGBTQ Community
Making the fitness industry more welcoming and affirming of members of the LGBTQ community is more important than you may realize. According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with LGBTQ identities are more than two times as likely to suffer from mental health issues as heterosexual men and women. That can look like depression, anxiety, or a number of other mood disorders, and it can result in behaviors like isolation and self-harm. Making your gym or group fitness class a warm and safe space for people of all sexualities and gender identities gives LGBTQ folks in your community a positive outlet. You’re providing them with a friendly place to exercise, which is an excellent way to reduce stress. It’s also a great place to meet friends and participate in a fun group activity.
The fitness and wellness spaces have a ways to go before they’re truly LGBTQ-friendly. Why not make a few quick adjustments in your little corner of the world? You may inspire those around you to do the same. Every positive change, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction!
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