People and Fitness: What can your Gym Do To Reach out to the LGBTQIA+ Community and Reduce Gymtimidation?
In the last few years there have been an increasing number of studies and increased visibility about the fact that young people who identify as belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community are participating in less exercise than their non-LGBTQIA identifying counterparts.
This isn’t due to a lack of desire or a lack of interest in sports or participating in physical activity. Unfortunately, the reason for this imbalance is complex but all too predictable. A lot of members of this community feel unsafe and unsupported in an atmosphere that can be quite intimate and intimidating.
We already know that Gymtimidation is a real and impactful phenomenon. And research has shown this feeling can be compounded when you already associate certain areas with discrimination and harassment.
The focal point for all this, is, of course, the changing rooms. Many members of the LGBTQIA+ community have said that they do not believe the staff will either be trained well enough or supportive enough. This could lead to situations of intense victimisation or isolation. Given that the changing rooms are a fairly vital area, necessary in order to fully utilise a Gym or Fitness Club, it leads to large levels of avoidance.
While we are obviously focusing on what can be done from a Gym or Fitness Club owning perspective, it is important to remember that this is felt across all echelons of physical activity. Whether it is the desire to attend a swimming pool or a sports club, many members of this community sadly view it as a higher-risk proposition. It is therefore no wonder that these numbers do not match up when comparing physical activity participation.
Both an area where physical activity occurs and the changing rooms are seen as places of vulnerability. When targeted discrimination is an omnipresent threat that an individual is seeking to minimise and where they do not believe they will be supported, they will avoid that place.
As well as the health implications, this is also unfortunate from a social implication. The LGBTQIA+ community is already more prone to social isolation. Therefore it is reasonable and necessary to look at what we can do to reassure members of the community that they will be supported, that their participation is wanted, and how to communicate that message in an effective and respectful way.
So, What Can The Fitness Industry Do?
Take a look at how Language is used within your Gym or Fitness Club
The concept of serious reflection on our language and how it affects marginalised people within our society is a relatively new one. That means that there are a lot of terms and phrases that we use unthinkingly in everyday life that we should perhaps spend more time thinking about.
There are several areas where immediate and impactful change can be accomplished.
- Title: Whether on a paper sign-up form, your gym website or your gym app, putting gender-neutral titles demonstrates a Gym has acted upon inclusive values
2. Gender: Much like title, another criteria on nearly every sign-up sheet is gender. De-emphasising the binary of Male and Female is an easy and effective step to goodwill to the marginalised Trans and non-binary communities.
3. Pronouns: It may be a part of grammar you’ve spent little time considering, but to many people within the LGBTQIA+ community and outside of it, it matters a lot. While it is not necessary to add it to any potential sign-up documents, giving the ability for people to add their pronouns to their account with your Gym or Fitness club is an easy way to demonstrate that your business acknowledges the importance they hold.
Talk with young members of the LGBTQIA+ community, whether individually or on a group basis
It may sound basic, but it is often overlooked. The power of reaching out and asking to talk to people cannot be overstated. These are ultimately the people you are trying to make feel more welcome. Here are some ways to reach out:
- Approach your own membership via e-mail or social media and say you are keen on reaching out to improve their experience within your Gym or Fitness Club.
- If you receive a positive reception, ask people individually if they’d be interested in attending a group session.
- Also consider reaching out to your local council, community centres or LGBTQIA+ organisations.
- No matter what form they end up taking, ask them what your facility can do as an institution to be more inclusive.
- Send a representative to a local LGBTQIA+ organisation to either give a talk on what your Gym is trying to accomplish
Review your business and your facility from a new perspective
As with any attempt to increase inclusivity, the success of this kind of initiative will be about how well a gym or fitness club owner can see their business from a new perspective. We have covered outreach and customer interaction and we will close this off with some questions to be asked and answered.
- Does your gym or fitness club have any openly LGBTQIA+ members of staff?
- Do the signs and posters within your gym or fitness club use gendered or gender-neutral language?
- Does your gym or fitness club have gender-neutral changing rooms and toilet facilities?
By asking simple questions and taking a step back for honest reflection, hopefully you can determine just how welcoming your gym or fitness club is to the LGBTQIA+ community. If you do not feel able to answer these questions with authority, seek out someone from the LGBTQIA+ community and give them a tour around the gym with the above questions in mind.
None of us want to exercise in an environment we don’t feel comfortable in, but unfortunately that is the reality for many people within the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond. As responsible members of the fitness industry, we should always be looking for ways to make everyone feel welcome in our clubs and gyms. As we discussed in the introduction, historically these places have been highly gendered and unwelcoming, and while the reality is shifting, the perception will always move more slowly.
As such, it is important that we signal openly and honestly what we are trying to do to address these issues. If we are silent on these matters, many marginalised communities may assume that the unwelcoming status quo remains in place.