The Perfect Sidekick
USA’s First LGBT Gym
An LGBT gym in Oakland is taking the uncomfortable experience of working out in a non-inclusive atmosphere by offering a safe place to sweat with an inclusive-community work out experience. The gym has been around for nearly six years and boasts being the first LGBT gym in the country. Located just outside San Francisco, “The Perfect Sidekick” is said to be the only LGBT inclusive gym in the country – at least for now.
Queer CEO and founder, Nathalie Huerta, says that the creation of an inclusive gym was actually a bit of an accident. Before going to business school, Huerta worked as a personal trainer and in an effort to limit competition, she had moved her personal training ad on Craigslist to the “Women Seeking Women” section. She says that’s when the clients started to roll in, getting five clients in the first week with a steady influx thereafter. By winter time, Huerta had a large enough client base to rent out a small space, moving the workouts inside. One year later and she had outgrown that space. Two moves after that, Huerta opened her doors at 2706 Park Boulevard in Oakland, California on December 1, 2012, with members helping to paint, build equipment and even install the floor.
Classes are never broken down or targeted to one section of the community at The Perfect Sidekick and everyone is welcome, including LGBTQ allies. Her gym is truly a community.
The Birth of a New Beginning
Huerta is no stranger to non-inclusive environments. As a woman and a lesbian, she experienced awkward stares and comments from other women in the locker rooms as well as awkward experiences in the weight rooms at the gyms she used to work out at. It was these experiences, along with her desire for flexible work hours, which drove Huerta to rejoin the fitness business as a fitness trainer not so many years ago. Huerta notes that regular gyms were not a welcoming experience for her and it occurred to her that if she felt that way, surely she couldn’t be the only lesbian who was experiencing these feelings.
When Huerta started The Perfect Sidekick, they were known as “the lesbian gym”, but then Bis, Gays and Heteros started to join her gym too. However, while she saw the number of members increasing, she also took notice that several people from the Trans community were making membership cancellation requests.
The Trans Community Demands Inclusivity Too
Huerta says the gym’s success comes from trial and error, admitting “mostly error”, especially where the Trans community is concerned. After asking around, Huerta discovered that they didn’t feel The Perfect Sidekick was a safe space for them, and so Huerta decided it was time to get educated about the Trans community, acknowledging that her gym was her first exposure to their community.
While Huerta never intended helping the Trans community, she couldn’t stand by and be accused by the Trans community of not being inclusive enough. Ignoring accusations didn’t feel right to her since she truly does believe in inclusivity, so she decided that if she was going to call her gym inclusive then she needed to be inclusive in its entirety.
After noting the drop-off of the Trans community members and taking it upon herself to learn more about their community, she discovered that the right to have the pronoun corresponding to a person’s gender identity was a huge issue, so Huerta introduced the “Preferred Gender Pronoun” discussion that she incorporated at the beginning of each class. Huerta says that she felt if they were going to declare themselves an LGBTQ gym, then they better truly make sure that they are providing a safe place for everyone, and with new standards in place, she has achieved just that. Trainers now say “chest” instead of breasts and special workouts are provided for clients undergoing gender transitions. Trainers at Huerta’s gym are also required to attend an LGBT sensitivity workshop every six months to ensure the development of ways to use inclusive language and provide a safe and all-inclusive environment is maintained.
To further make this inclusivity possible after finding little information available online, Huerta set up meetings with Trans organization directors and health professionals to learn more about the needs of the Trans community and how to foster camaraderie and community among all of her gym’s members. Until Huerta opened The Perfect Sidekick, places were limited that gave members of the Trans community a chance to work with trainers who understand how to sculpt bodies during all stages of the gender transition process. At The Perfect Sidekick, Transgender people now express their excitement of not having to bind themselves or take their shirt off. Until recently, there has been no certification on training someone who is on hormone therapy or someone preparing for top or gender reassignment surgery. Huerta now offers this specialized training with guidance and education provided from medical professionals.
The Heterosexual Community
The Perfect Sidekick has also proven to be a godsend to the heterosexual community. According to Huerta, straight members - particularly straight women - often express their gratitude for having a place that allows them to work out with a sense of empowerment. They say this empowerment comes with not feeling like they are a part of a “meat market” as they’ve felt in the past at regular gyms.
Huerta’s found that her gym’s heterosexual members have been the most proactive in taking the workshop, Queer 101, and educating themselves on how to be sensitive to LGBT community. She notes that the straight members at The Perfect Sidekick have become “super allies” and that they take more initiative whenever the gym initiates activities such as Queer 101.
Huerta sees a lot of people getting together to grab coffee after class, people she notes, who would never have come together at any other place.
With more than half identifying as part of the LGBT community, the Perfect Sidekick now boasts reaching its 150 member limit. The gym limits its membership to 150 members in order to create and maintain quality relationships. This limited membership also allows the gym to continue including a free one-on-one session with a personal trainer every month, a free open gym, nutrition workshops and a free monthly event called Pain & Champagne, which is open to the public. This event includes an intro level workout with a chance to sip champagne and mingle with trainers and members.
Continuing with her quest to be inclusive, to learn, and to provide a safe environment for her gym’s members, Huerta allows clients to “call the shots” by listening to feedback and looking to The Perfect Sidekick’s Facebook page for guidance.
Although only located in Oakland, Huerta is looking at opportunities for expansion. Currently she has opportunities to test the waters in The Bay, in LA, or to establish franchises.
You can contact The Perfect Sidekick by phoning (510) 808-5057, emailing at email@example.com, texting to 87365, or visiting them at 2706 Park Boulevard in Oakland, California.
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