Nathalie Huerta used to feel uncomfortable working out at a gym — despite the fact that she considers it her passion.
“I wasn’t welcomed in the weight room by the men and I wasn’t welcomed in the locker room by the women,” Huerta, who is a lesbian, told Fox News Latino.
It’s the judging, and the longing feeling of somehow not quite fitting in, that inspired Huerta to open up The Perfect Sidekick or TPS in Oakland, California in 2010. The gym claims to be the first and only LGBTQ gym in the nation dedicated to providing a safe and comfortable environment to its gay and transgender members.
“The LGBTQ community needs their own gym because we need a safe place to work out in, a place where we can be ourselves, welcomed and celebrated,” Huerta explained to FNL.
There are more differences between TPS and a traditional gym — for example, every six months trainers are required to take LGBTQ sensitivity training, which includes learning how to use appropriate pronouns to refer to someone. Also, the locker rooms are non-gender specific.
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But then there are more life-changing type differences, particularly for the transgender community, providing a tailored physical training regiment to members who are preparing for gender reassignment surgery.
“We want to meet with them where they are at,” Huerta explained. “How far along are they in their transition journey? Are they on pre-hormone therapy? Are they on hormone therapy? Everything is customized to what those two things are for them.”
The northern California gym’s membership has grown from 20 in 2010 to 160 today, evolving to become a friendly and social center for many in the LGBTQ community.
“Essentially our only outlets for socializing are bars, nightclubs and parties, and that lifestyle is only good for so long,” said Huerta. “And from there you have to find a good outlet for social interaction and that’s really what makes the gym special."
"We [provide an] opportunity for people to come and create genuine authentic friendships that they probably wouldn’t have had an opportunity otherwise,” she noted.
Huerta’s efforts to concentrate on offering a safe, authentic and comfortable space for people is resonating with not only gays, but with straight people, particularly women. In fact, 25 percent of the members at TPS identify as heterosexual.
“They (women) just love the vibe of being comfortable in the gym,” Huerta said. “Often for them they feel like a piece of meat at the gym, but they don’t run into that here.”
Now, many of these women are bringing their husbands and straight male friends and while Huerta admits she was afraid about how that would change the dynamic, she says it’s been a positive experience all-around.
“I believe that in order to understand one better,” she explained. “we have to have exposure to one another.”