SafeGYM Training Educates Affiliates and Coaches on How to Create Inclusive Experiences

February 10, 2021 by
Credit: Erin F. Pustarfi
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To help gyms better serve LGBTQ+ members, Erin Pustarfi has created the SafeGYM Training toolkit, a resource designed to educate coaches and trainers on gender identity and fitness.

The big picture: As a longtime CrossFitter, Pustarfi says she didn’t see “efforts to ensure LGBTQ+ members’ inclusivity” from coaches and members. 

  • She explains this using her own experiences: “I identify as a gay woman and upon signing up to my current CrossFit gym I didn’t know how open and vocal I could be about my sexuality. If there was something as seemingly simple as a Pride flag hanging in the gym I would’ve known that I was in a space where I was welcomed and wouldn’t have to hide who I was.”
  • “Many coaches do not know how to approach some uncomfortable conversations around gender identity and fitness, and this toolkit educates them on how to better accommodate their clients,” Pustarfi says. 

The toolkit: SafeGYM is divided into six sections — three educational and three focused on adjustments and changes — and covers topics like LGBTQ+ terminology and history, allyship, and advocacy. The action-based teachings help identify what changes gyms and coaches can make to be more welcoming, including strategies for language and behavior adjustments. 

Pustarfi dives into the “How to Be a Good Ally” section, saying it’s more than just “talking the talk;” allies have to take action.

  • “In this section, coaches [and] members are taught about what language is appropriate to use. For example, saying someone is openly gay versus admitted they were gay, using the term admitted makes it seem that a person’s sexuality is something to be ashamed [of],” she writes in an email.
  • “Another thing is to mirror language,” Pustarfi continues, “If a woman who identifies as a woman and is attracted to women refers to themselves as queer and not lesbian, then as an ally (and just a good person) refer to them in those same terms, not something else.” This she says is a “universal behavior.”

The toolkit breaks down the differences and interactions between gender expression, gender identity, anatomical sex, and sexual and romantic attraction. 

  • “Realizing that while someone presents more “feminine” but identifies more “masculine” influences how the individual approaches their training, and coaches should be able to have those conversations with those clients,” Pustarfi says. 

SafeGYM also addresses how to readjust training with gender non-conforming and gender-neutral athletes in mind. Pustarfi says a piece of that is “rejecting gendered workouts:”

  • “Why write something as ‘male’ and ‘female’ when it could be written as ‘RX,’ ‘Intermediate,’ and ‘Beginner,’” she asks, adding that this allows athletes to complete a workout without the question of gender.  

The details: The SafeGYM Training toolkit can be purchased online. A digital copy runs for $25 and the printed version for $60. Pustarfi says her business model is set up so that profits from merchandise — the toolkit, shirts, and stickers — are donated to LGBTQ+ organizations. 

  • Pustarfi: “SafeGYM is an educational toolkit,” she explains, “But it is not a one and done addition to coaching.” 
  • The toolkit will work well for both affiliates and individual coaches. There are no toolkit-using gyms yet, but Pustarfi has been working to get the word out.
  • Eventually, Pustarfi says that affiliates and coaches participating in the SafeGYM sensitivity training will have access to a Facebook group for additional support, questions, and any additions that need to be made. (Because there is an “ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ equality in the US and globally,” Pustarfi expects SafeGYM to be constantly changing and updating.) She also hopes to add a seminar element.
  • “My hope is that there is a working relationship between SafeGYM and affiliates to continue to make their spaces safe for the LGBTQ+ community,” she says. 

Pustarfi is also a new board member for a branch of The Out Foundation, an organization focused on fitness and the LGBTQ+ community, in Portland, ME. She says that she and other board members hope to utilize the SafeGYM Training toolkit as community outreach.

The bottom line: CrossFit is known for its welcoming, community-focused nature. But, as Pustarfi points out, many gyms still “uphold many cisgender and heteronormative standards that exist within society.” SafeGYM is giving affiliates and coaches a chance to be better, in service and support, to their LGBTQ+ identifying members. 

  • “The LGBTQ+ community faces many unique struggles in daily life and those often spill over into the gym and fitness sphere. Individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to experience anxiety and depression, have family issues, feel excluded, and gyms can be a sanctuary for many,” Pustarfi says.
  • “In an effort to be more inclusive and break away from these damaging and outdated ideologies surrounding gender and fitness,” she continues, “This toolkit teaches gyms and coaches on how to break those established barriers.”

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