We are almost halfway through 2021. So far, it has been a century of ‘delayed yet path-breaking events’ like same-sex marriages becoming legal in many countries, more women are in politics than ever before, and scientists finding water on Mars among many others. One of them also happens to be observed every year in June - Pride Awareness Month. As a part of Pride Awareness month, individuals & brands from across the world promote self-affirmation, equality and dignity of the individuals identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual, also know as the LGBTQIA+. 

Being a social stigma in many countries, where identifying as LGBTQIA+ is a punishable offence, there has been increased awareness around this movement over the last few years and we see cisgender allies coming in support of the community. This has led to many businesses, institutes and governments undertaking steps to make their space more inclusive, and welcome the LGBTQIA+ community to take part in day-to-day activities without facing any shame. 

While fitness centres are accessed by many people, those of the LGBTQIA+ community still face some amount of disparity that stems from uncomfortable situations as a result of societal conditioning. Here is how you can make your fitness space inclusive for everyone

Gender-Neutral Approach

Let’s start with why pronouns are important in today’s world. Growing up, a majority of us were taught to identify only 2 genders - male & female - on the basis of conventional appearances & behaviour. A social construct by nature, gender cannot be assigned to a person if they conform to certain stereotypical gender aspects like appearance, behaviour or anatomy. The act of assuming an individual’s gender can be potentially harmful to a person’s mental health and should be avoided.

You can start with:

  • Addressing the individual in a gender-neutral approval. You can say “How may I help you?” instead of “How may I help you, Sir/Ma’am?” when a person walks up to your front desk
  • As a part of your onboarding process, the form you hand out to the person to fill could have a blank space for gender, instead of specifying just the two options - male or female
  • To ensure your patrons are informed about pronouns, you could start by introducing them to the concept of pronouns. It may not be a welcomed discussion but you could start by being an example. You can start by introducing yourself like this - “Hi, My name is Sameer. My preferred pronouns are - he/him/his.” 
  • You could also make sure that your staff & trainers are trained to ask patrons for their preferred pronouns & use them accordingly to create a sense of inclusivity
  • In a group fitness class, you could say “Friends” or “Folks”, to sound  instead of “Ladies & Gentlemen!” or “Boys & Girls!”

Non-Invasive Conversations

Your fitness centres may see sign-ups by individuals who may identify as transgender. Educating your front desk staff & trainers to speak to them as any other cis-gendered clients can help them feel comfortable in your space. Many transgender folks go for sex reassignment surgery, which may make them look conventionally masculine or feminine. Asking invasive questions about their gender or their transformation journey to feed your curiosity (unless it is about nutrition, strength, workouts & health limitations) can make them feel very uncomfortable. Instead, have a discussion with your trainers & staff on how to talk to transgender clients in a way that does not make them feel uncomfortable. 

Establish Accountability

In 2021, we urge you to be more aware of the kind of inclusive language used by your trainers and patrons. Being aware of the right language to be used around queer individuals can help you create an inclusive environment in your gym/studio. Passing politically incorrect comments, racist jokes, homophobic slurs and gender-based comments can create an environment of discomfort that may hinder an individual’s fitness journey. Educate your trainers as well as your patrons and encourage the use of appropriate language if you come across certain kinds of comments or jokes that are being passed. We urge you to be responsible by educating & not tolerating those who are engaging in creating an uncomfortable space for others.

Inclusive Representation

Cisgender individuals are not the only ones who access fitness. While it is important to represent individuals from the LGBTQIA+, it is also necessary to represent the folks from different race, abilities, sizes and genders. With this, you send out a message to people that fitness is not accessible just to the conventionally fit folks who are lean & muscular. To be more inclusive, you could opt to use your social media, posters & flyers by having equal representation, as it helps the LGBTQIA+ folks feel more welcomed & can trust your space to be safe for them.

Learn to Unlearn

Be open to learning new things. As you start to make your space more inclusive, you will come across many questions by those to whom the concept of inclusivity may be new. Educating yourself can help you in spreading the knowledge & the right information to the people who may be new to the concept of inclusivity in the fitness industry. Being an ally means that you do your bit by educating your peers about the community.

You could also get your information on inclusivity from the internet, where you will find many influential people talking about the importance of representation & inclusivity in the fitness industry & in general. Understanding their everyday struggles will make you realise the privileges that a cis-gendered person has and that will help you in the unlearning process. With every small step you take towards making a difference, you will inspire others to do the same.

At Fitternity, we believe that we believe that all individuals deserve access to a safe and comfortable fitness space and that onus is on us to make it a safe space for all. Let’s learn to unlearn to make the world a more inclusive space for everybody.

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