The gym is one of the most gendered spaces you’ll find. The binary is enforced everywhere — from locker rooms designated for men and women (often without a gender-neutral restroom in sight) to implicit and explicit gendering of particular equipment, areas, and classes. “Those are the men’s weights.wp_posts“That class is only for women.”
Besides triggering anxiety or gender dysphoria among trans or non-binary folks, and often enabling toxic masculinity, many gyms don’t do enough to combat sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia among their staff and members. Fortunately, in many cities you can find queer-friendly gyms (often queer-owned) that are welcoming and safe.
Queer-friendly gyms not only accommodate members by respecting pronouns and chosen names and by providing gender-neutral restrooms; they’re also more likely to be body-positive, de-emphasize weight loss as a goal, and work toward social justice. Best of all, queer-friendly and queer-centered gyms foster a close-knit community.
Solcana Fitness, Minneapolis, MN
One of those inclusive spots is Solcana Fitness, a queer- and woman-owned strength and conditioning gym in Minneapolis, MN. Hannah Wydeven opened Solcana in 2014 as a CrossFit gym, which made her one of only a few women gym owners in the Twin Cities. “My goal was to open a gym that explicitly centers itself around women’s experience and queer experience,wp_postssays Wydeven, who launched with help from an investor.
The gym’s name was inspired by early-1900s circus strongwomen. Wydeven’s first choice was “Vulcana,wp_postswhich was the stage name of strongwoman Miriam Kate Williams, but another business had claimed it first. Combining “Sol,wp_postsin reference to the sun goddess, with “canawp_postsfrom “Vulcanawp_postsmade “Solcana.”
Beyond offering queer folks a safe space, Wydeven aimed to focus the gym’s message on self-motivation and strength-building rather than competitiveness and weight loss, while also making efforts toward equity. She chose a location accessible by public transportation, offers sliding scale memberships, and in 2020 created Gyms for Justice to gather local gym owners for anti-racism work. (Unfortunately, many she contacted weren’t interested in joining.)
That same year, Wydeven cut ties with CrossFit after two company executives made homophobic/transphobic and racist comments, including remarks about the police murder of George Floyd. She says she’d initially thought she could help change the CrossFit community from within but eventually realized the company wasn’t receptive.
An unexpected benefit of launching Solcana was its role in helping Wydeven embrace her own queerness. Wydeven is married to a cishet man, Josh, and the couple has a 3-year-old and a baby due in May. “[When I opened Solcana], I was still afraid to be vulnerable in that way, in case people were like, ‘Well, you can’t be [queer] because you’re married — don’t try to take this,’wp_postsshe says. “I had a lot of impostor syndrome. I expressed that by being like, ‘I’ll just make a place where I’m constantly surrounded by people who validate me and make me feel positive, and then maybe it’ll allow me to like express who I am.’”
Wydeven says the gym’s inclusiveness — most members are queer, while about 75% are women, nonbinary, and/or trans — doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. “We’re explicitly inclusive to certain people, and we build spaces where certain people will feel most comfortable,wp_postsshe says. “That’s going to make other people feel uncomfortable, and we do not care to comfort them.”
410 Fitness, Baltimore, MD
Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood features its own queer-friendly gym, 410 Fitness. Named for the city’s area code, the business is woman-, queer-, and Latina-owned. Owner Andrea Alamo considers the “quirkywp_postsHampden a perfect fit. “It’s probably the most queer, diverse neighborhood in the city,wp_postsshe says.
Alamo, who moved to the U.S. as a child from Venezuela, is the gym’s second owner. In 2013, 410 Fitness began as a small workout group that met in a park, and by the time Alamo joined the gym four years later, it had become a CrossFit gym in Woodberry, a neighborhood bordering Hampden.
Alamo says the gym dramatically changed her relationship with food and fitness. “From the minute I walked in, it was just incredible,wp_postsshe says. “I had never seen specifically women lifting heavy weights, who just felt confident in their bodies and were strong. And I was like, ‘I want to be strong.’”
In early 2020, Alamo became a coach at 410 Fitness — and then soon after, it shut down due to the pandemic. A couple of months later, the owner decided to close the business for good, and Alamo considered taking over. “I asked [my partner], Caitlin, and she’s like, ‘Now?! In 2020? Right now, you’re gonna buy a gym? You know what, I love you, I support you.’”
With some financial help from her parents, Alamo bought the gym, but it was missing a couple of key elements. “The old owner had sold all of the equipment and had cut his lease,wp_postsshe says. “And so I bought the gym without a space and without any equipment.”
A few days later, the CEO of CrossFit made the callous, racist comments that had led Wydeven to end Solcana’s affiliation with the company — and like her, Alamo decided to leave the company behind. “[410 Fitness] grew together as a community as friends from that world, but… none of us really wanted to be associated with the things that they stand for,wp_postsshe says.
While running $10 classes for the gym’s members in a nearby park as the pandemic continued, Alamo scouted out potential new spaces, eventually choosing the current Hampden location. Because the building wasn’t ready yet, the business moved to an interim space while it was being prepared, opening in its “forever home,wp_postsas Alamo calls it, in the fall of 2021.
Alamo says she wants the gym to make members feel safe as soon as they walk in. “I’ve been to places where I haven’t felt safe or have felt unwelcome — places where Caitlin and I haven’t felt comfortable holding hands,wp_postsshe says. “The feeling of being in a space where you know that you’re going to be accepted fully for who you are, specifically for who you are, is the goal.”
In addition to queer-friendly signs like gender-neutral restrooms, a big Pride flag on the wall (often spotted on the gym’s Instagram), and a wall of member photos where folks are encouraged to add their pronouns, the gym also provides a space free from diet culture, as Alamo says. “We don’t talk about body size as a goal in any way, shape, or form. We talk about strength,wp_postsshe says. “We don’t discuss food being ‘good’; we don’t discuss food being ‘bad.’ It’s just food.”
For its staff and members, 410 Fitness is much more than a place to exercise, says Alamo. “It truly feels like we’re running a community — a little community of people where we hang out and we happen to be working out.”