Saph Parchment, a board member at Kind who identifies as queer, says she regularly works out at mainstream gyms, but some of her friends didn’t feel comfortable joining her.
“I kind of had a hard time getting friends out to the gym whose bodies would be considered different,” she says. “I thought that it would be really great if there was a gym and a fitness space that was exclusive to LGBTQ folks in Ottawa where they could sort of feel safe.”
Parchment says when she brought the idea to Kind, people were enthusiastic, particularly RJ Jones, the vice-president of Kind, who’s involved with the Odawa Native Friendship Centre and recommended using Odawa’s fitness room. A Saulteaux-Cree activist who identifies as two-spirit and gender non-binary, Jones is known for working to build bridges between communities.
Manajiwin, which means respect in Ojibway, is open on Saturdays as a drop-in from 2–8pm, but Parchment says as interest increases, the hope is to be open more than once a week. Launched during Capital Pride Festival 2016, attendance was initially modest, but Parchment says as the word gets around, she’s hoping to see higher numbers.
Encouragingly, community interest is high, with people getting in touch to discuss volunteering as personal trainers, and massage therapy students have also offered their expertise, she says.
The main gym area has cardio machines including treadmills, ellipticals and a rower as well as dumbbells, barbells and resistance machines. There are also boxing gloves and a punching bag.
“We have everything that a regular GoodLife or whichever gym would have,” she says.
From Manajiwin’s gender-neutral washrooms and showers to a commitment to fostering a respectful, body-positive space, Parchment says she hopes people find it a welcoming place to exercise. Although she’s worked out regularly in other gyms, she says mainstream gym culture is not for everyone.
“There’s just an environment of like a bro culture . . . and there’s a lot of weird staring if you don’t look like what folks would typically look like in society according to your gender,” Parchment says. “That’s sort of been my experience with gyms and why I felt like a space like this would be important and useful to other people as well.”
For some LGBT people, particularly trans folks, gyms can be intimidating, yet health and wellness is important for everyone, Parchment says.
“In order to get surgeries and things like that for transitioning for trans folks . . . some doctors like them to be at a certain level in terms of their fitness and how are they going to do that when they don’t feel safe to go to a gym?” she asks.
It’s important that Manajiwin is a space where trans and queer people can come, “and not feel ashamed about their body and how it looks or how they feel about it,” Parchment says. She wants to hear from community members about what they want and need in the space and encourages people to email her directly to share their comments, questions and suggestions.
There’s no charge for working out at Manajiwin, but if you’d like to leave a donation, Parchment says the money will be given to Odawa.