29 May

As Pride Month approaches, we are reminded of the importance of diversity, inclusion, and community. I believe that fitness is for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or background. 

This Pride Month, I'm excited to celebrate the strength and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community and reaffirm my commitment to creating a safe and welcoming environment for all.

As a cisgender woman and member of the LGBTQ+ community, I recognize the privilege and benefits I have over many of my peers, especially in the fitness community. My perceived identity aligns with my personal identity, making it easier for me to avoid judgment regarding which restroom or locker room I use, the type of workout apparel I wear at the gym, or the weights and exercises I perform.

I grew up in a small town in southern Missouri, surrounded by close-minded individuals with toxic misconceptions about gender and sexuality. I moved away after high school and played two collegiate sports (soccer and softball) at a Jesuit University in Iowa. In neither of these environments did I feel safe and supported enough to be myself. It wasn't until I moved away from both of those environments that I felt comfortable enough to come out—which was no small task. Ostracized by my family and a handful of friends, I struggled for many years to feel a sense of belonging anywhere. 

Often, as members of the LGBTQ+ family, we literally have to create our chosen families. I empathize deeply with the feeling of not fitting in and lacking support. As a personal trainer and human being, I now strive to provide a space where everyone can feel valued and supported just by being present.

Fitness is more than just physical health; it's about building confidence, improving mental well-being, and fostering a sense of belonging and becoming one’s true authentic self. For many LGBTQ+ individuals, finding a gym or personal trainer who understands and respects their identity can be a challenge.

Honing My Superpower: The Importance of Belonging

Recently, I attended an event where Hailee Bland-Walsh delivered her impactful "Balance is BS" speech. She emphasized on honing into our superpower---"that one thing you do REALLY well, do it!" In that moment, I realized my superpower: helping people feel like they belong. This ability developed strongly through my own journey of self-discovery and adversity I faced through my own coming out experience, surrounding myself with positive influences, and witnessing my own mental health shift to a much happier place.

I want to discuss the importance of inclusivity and the sense of belonging in the fitness world. How can we achieve that sense of belonging as fitness professionals or even as members attending a gym or class?

From the very start, I include a question in my pre-consultation questionnaires asking potential clients for their pronouns, treating this information as essential as their name, date of birth, and medical history to establish respectful communication. As a group instructor, I foster inclusivity by prioritizing team exercises over individual competitions, ensuring there's never a male vs. female dynamic. Being intentional about these team exercises can foster more unification among participants and make the class/events less about performative measures alone and more so about just having fun TOGETHER. 

Additionally, I pay attention to personal preferences, making simple gestures like asking clients if they prefer to face the mirrors during an exercise for visual cueing, face away, or even completing our entire workout in a space without any mirrors. This can make a huge difference for someone struggling with gender or body dysmorphia. With the privilege of training several transgender clients, I now understand the importance of exercise selection regarding body dysmorphia—something I, as a cisgender woman, would never have had to worry or think about for myself. 

As class participants, we can be aware not to comment on someone's body in general (regardless of gender identity) and just be a welcoming face—introduce yourselves, say HI! 

A 2016 survey conducted by Out in Sport found that “one in four queer people stated that negative experiences of sport in school were responsible for their non-participation in early adult life, and almost half (47%) found the culture around sport either intimidating or unwelcoming.” LGBTQ individuals attempting to join the space again is a HUGE feat for many, so be the person in class to break the cycle. Show them it is a safe and welcoming space.

Our differences are what make this world beautiful and interesting. Let's celebrate and embrace our differences. Prioritizing diversity and inclusion matters in every facet of life, but even more so in the wellness space, because health and wellness are important for everyone. The benefits of wellness extend to every single human being. These benefits allow individuals to feel energized, whole, empowered, and nourished in their bodies.

Everyone deserves access to wellness in environments that feel welcoming, comfortable, and where they feel seen, respected, affirmed, and celebrated. Fitness is for everyone. Let's work together to bring as many people as we can into this conversation because we have the opportunity to shift the landscape of the fitness industry. We are responsible as trainers and as members of gyms to create a culture of respect and accountability--We are all responsible.  

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