'This is like home to me': Edmonton's Queerflex gym expands in new space
Canada’s first non-profit queer-centred gym offers more services in new location
Fitness trainer Adebayo Katiiti feels at ease when he walks through the Queerflex doors. The gym is a welcoming space for Edmonton's LGBTQ community, something the transgender man never experienced in his native country of Uganda.
"This is like home to me," Katiiti said. "I find a lot of safety here."
"Working with people who actually have similar experiences, there is that trust that is built straight away," said the 24-year-old, who claimed asylum in Edmonton in 2016.
Kyle Fairall was striving for just that when Queerflex was started two years ago — a safe space for LGBTQ people to exercise and connect with each other.
"The thing, I think, that makes Queerflex special, on top of the fact that it was built from community, is the culture that we have here," Fairall said.
"We're trying our hardest to move away from the intimidating feeling that comes with gyms."
That includes using non-gendered language and encouraging clients to move at their own pace.
"There is no pressure and no shame around taking modifications, doing certain exercises or workouts with supports," Fairall explained. "We actually encourage that."
Fairall, Katiit, and two other trainers offer fitness training, classes and workshops. Queerflex clients can also access the services of a counsellor, massage therapist and dietitian.
Queerflex used to operate out of a donated basement space, but the 400-square-foot location couldn't accommodate group classes.
The new location is six times bigger and enabled Fairall to reduce the wait list for Queerflex from 20 to five.
"Sometimes it doesn't even feel real," laughed Fairall. "The last two years, we spent building the foundation, literally pouring the foundation in a basement for Queerflex to be what it is. Now we're up on ground level."
The evolution wouldn't have been possible without the untiring support of Edmonton's LGBTQ community, said Fairall.
Queerflex collected over $10,000 through fundraising efforts. The donations allow Fairall to offer services on a sliding fee scale.
"Financial accessibility is a big thing for folks in our community," Fairall said. "We're able to still pay our trainers a living wage, but allow our clients to come and pay what they can for those services."
Edmonton's wider community also played an important role in making Queerflex what it is today, Fairall said.
The walls of Queerflex are lined with fitness equipment donated by two local companies, TYDAX Fitness and Apple Fitness Store.
The flooring was donated by Home Depot and the walls were painted by YESS Painting, a company that gives half of its profits to Edmonton's Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS).
Queerflex and other safe spaces like the Pride Centre are crucial for young people who have been marginalized because of their gender or sexual identity, said YESS executive director Margo Long.
About 70 per cent of the homeless youths who access YESS identify as members of the LGBTQ community.
More safe spaces are needed throughout Edmonton, said Long.
"We have marginalized people all over the city, including kids who are living in the ravine and couch-surfing," she explained. "Access is a problem."
Working out with a group empowers young people and helps build trust, she said.
"Being in a space where you're actually connecting with other individuals creates that community healing and connection piece as well," Long said. "That's huge for anyone."
Katiiti knows first hand how crucial that support is, having been disowned by his family in Uganda.
He founded a non-profit organization called RARICA Now — standing for Rights for All Refugees in Canada- Amiskwaciywaskahikan — to help other LGBTQ refugees settle in Edmonton.
Katiiti wants to share his Queerflex family with them.
"As a person who has been isolated and let down, it really means a lot. And I found that in Edmonton, and it has made me make Edmonton home."
Queerflex officially opens its doors at 10616 105th Ave. on Nov. 17. All are welcome to visit between 10 a.m. and noon.