Fitness Has An Inclusivity Problem – But This Gym, Made Famous By ‘Queer Eye,’ Is Changing That (Men's Health)

Posted: Feb 17, 2023 in In the News

This article originally appeared in Men's Health on February 17, 2023.


Fitness Has An Inclusivity Problem – But This Gym, Made Famous By ‘Queer Eye,’ Is Changing That

By Lauren Larson

Even with an infusion of some of the best marketing available – a turn on an episode in the sixth season of Queer Eye – the promotional wheel never stops a-spinning for a nascent gym. So it is at Austin’s Liberation Barbell Club on a sweltering Saturday in mid-July, as Laurie Porsch and Tyler Jacob Villarreal tend to the club’s Instagram. Porsch, 35, is the owner of Liberation, which she founded just before the dawn of the COVID era. Villarreal, 23, is a trainer at the club who has also taken on social-media duties.

Porsch is small, strong and quick, with hot-pink nails and a cloud of dark, curly hair. Fuelled by “an unhealthy number” of Red Bulls, she has lifted off from the standing desk in the front office and is now darting around the gym, demonstrating for Villarreal how to properly photograph Liberation’s clients for Instagram. The day’s visitors are a distillation of Austin-core: they are tattoo prone and friendly, and everyone looks like they could paddleboard for 40 kays. Nobody seems self-conscious when Porsch squats down and begins taking pictures of them in front of the giant wall of pride flags that backdrops the heavy-duty strength-training equipment. “Show me how it’s done, Laurie,” Villarreal says a little sardonically, following her around the gym.

“You’re overthinking it – it can be super simple,” Porsch says, ignoring Villarreal’s Gen Z cynicism and hunching down, phone up, behind a client who is easily slicing through the air on a rowing machine while chatting with a friend.

But Villarreal’s task is not so straightforward: how do you capture a gym’s vibe? Even if you’re really gym savvy, walking into a weight room for the first time can conjure a “new kid in the lunchroom” anxiety, compounded, for many, by the fact that serious lifting equipment can signal an intimidatingly macho, cishet scene.


Most commercial gyms, such as Gold’s Gym and Planet Fitness, have sought to mitigate that intimidation and to create inclusivity: a safe and inviting spaces for everyone –regardless of disability, ethnicity, fitness level, gender identity, income, race and beyond – through marketing campaigns, nondiscrimination policies and more-tactile investments, such as wheelchair-friendly equipment. But these sprawling, franchised communities don’t always instil that inclusive attitude in their clientele and staff the way a local gym, like Liberation or Seattle’s Rain City Fit, strives to do. In 2015, a Michigan pest sued Planet Fitness for revoking her membership after she complained about sharing a locker room with a trans woman, and in 2018, a trans woman in California sued a Crunch Fitness after she was denied the use of the women’s locker room. The gravity of the “fitness for everyone” movement is most potently felt in Liberation-sized gyms.


Ricky Martin started a free fitness class that now reaches 7000 people.

Ricky Martin, a trainer and community-outreach worker in Richmond, realised his people were suffering: he saw high rates of obesity and diabetes – “[We all had] family or friends who were dying” – and little structure to help folks begin a fitness journey. In 2014, he created a pilot program to instruct people how to teach a group fitness class. “The volunteers came from underserved communities, and they looked like people in those communities, and so they had a heart for it because they understood the urgency,” he says. Ten women showed up for the first session and learned to teach a class Martin developed with the American Council on Exercise. It requires no equipment and mixes calisthenics and core moves. 


Read the full article here.

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