Queer Latina Nathalie Huerta hated the typical gym experience. So she channeled her frustration into action and created The Perfect Sidekick, the nation's first LGBTQ gym.
As a lifelong athlete, a lesbian and a woman who struggled with her weight, Nathalie Huerta was often put off by the typical gym experience. "I didn't feel welcomed by the men in the weigh troom," the 31-year-old Californian says. "If you're struggling, they want to come over and help you or hit on you. If you're killing it, they're checking you out or catcalling."
Still, the notion of opening the nation's first LGBTQ gym came rather unexpectedly. Though Huerta had the education to make it work — a bachelor's degree in sports medicine from the University of San Francisco and a master's in business administration from Mills College — and plenty of family support (her parents, Mexican immigrants, had 10 children, seven of whom now own their own businesses), Huerta says it wasn't originally her goal to establish a gay-friendly gym.
The project began modestly. Hoping to draw in a crowd that shared similar health-club frustrations, she advertised her personal-training abilities on Craigslist. Within a week, she had five clients. When she rented a little studio in Oakland, The Perfect Sidekick was born.
Five years and three location changes later, The Perfect Sidekick is still, well, kicking, and Huerta hopes to expand nationwide. "I want to be the Starbucks of gay gyms," she says with a laugh. There's a real need for them, she feels. "[Having] a 24-hour fitness center in a gay neighborhood doesn't mean they cater to that community," she says. "This is the only gym that specifically caters to that community."
Although Huerta welcomes all clients, she and her staff go the extra mile to address the needs of LGBTQ members: twice a year, they undergo sensitivity training, and they create fitness plans for those in hormonal therapy or those preparing or recovering from surgery. The Perfect Sidekick also added one simple question to their registration forms: What's your preferred pronoun?
"Having a pronoun acknowledged is a big milestone, especially when it's someone who's transitioning," she says. "It's telling you that this is a safe space. We see you. We acknowledge you. We respect you. We celebrate you."
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