Edmonton

Edmonton LGBTQ gym targeted in 'malicious' online campaign closes down

The blog posts about staff and clients of Queerflex had prompted a hate-crime investigation by the Edmonton Police Service.

Doxing campaign investigated by city police hate crimes unit

Queerflex says its closing permanently after members of its team were maliciously targeted in blog posts in September. (Queerflex/Facebook)

An Edmonton gym intended to provide a safe workout space for members of the city's LGBTQ community is closing permanently, five months after it was targeted in a series of online blog posts.

The blog posts about staff and clients of Queerflex, 10616 105th Ave., had prompted a hate-crime investigation by the Edmonton Police Service.

In a statement posted online this week, Queerflex board members said the non-profit was forced to fold after gym staff and clients were the victims of doxing — the practice of publishing personal information about an individual or group on the internet.

Patriot Pride Canada Wide, which has been described by some anti-hate activists as a hate group, published two blog posts on its site in September naming the gym. The posts claimed Queerflex is a breeding ground for domestic terrorism, while saying people who use the gym are "gender-confused unicorns."

The EPS hate crimes unit launched an investigation and the gym closed. At the time, gym management said the "malicious" vitriol only occurred online but staff were concerned the attacks could escalate into physical threats or harassment. 

The gym resumed personal training sessions in late September but has not been fully operational since.

The gym will officially close permanently on Feb. 29, the gym said in its statement Tuesday.

'It's devastating'

Parker Pothier, a longtime client, doesn't know where he will work out now. Queerflex was one of the few gyms where he felt safe and accepted. 

"It's devastating to lose a safe place like that," he said. "There is nothing else like it. It's devastating for the community and it's devastating for me personally and I think that's where a lot of us are at." 

Queerflex, Pothier said, was more than a gym. It was a supportive, affordable facility that helped him work through his ongoing recovery from an eating disorder. 

The doxing event was unnerving but he hoped to return.

"One of the rules that was the most important to me is that there was no body shaming or diet talk allowed at the gym," he said. 

"There were no mirrors; there were no scales to step on; all the calorie counters on the electronic machines were all covered up. 

"There are other kinds of gyms but there is nothing like Queerflex, nothing is accessible as Queerflex." 

Patriot Pride Canada Wide affiliates itself with The Clann, a group that made headlines for staking out the Al-Rashid mosque in Edmonton last year.

On its website and on social media, the group has targeted human rights groups and advocates in Edmonton, including HateFreeYEG, which enlists businesses to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for hate groups, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. 

"The board voted to cancel all group classes until further notice for the safety of our members, contractors, volunteers, and anyone affiliated with our gym," Queerflex management said in Tuesday's statement. 

Management had hoped to reopen the gym after tightening security at the property but said the indefinite closure made their financial situation untenable. 

'This decision has not come lightly'

"The board has since been hard at work behind the scenes, attempting to implement new security systems and protocols to improve the safety of the gym space," the statement said.

"Despite all our best efforts as a volunteer-run board, the lack of revenue from the cancellation of our group classes and memberships in September ultimately challenged the financial sustainability of our organization."

The gym said it regrets having to close but the decision came after "careful consideration of all possible alternatives.

"The board of directors is deeply committed to creating safer spaces for our community and this decision has not come lightly.

"We wouldn't be here without the dedication and the support of our community and its allies, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

Queerflex was founded in 2016 as Canada's first gym dedicated to serving LGBTQ people. The non-profit provided fitness training in a safe and inclusive environment for trans, queer and non-binary people. 

Edmonton police said Tuesday that the hate crimes and violent extremism unit investigated the doxing incident but did not lay charges. 

"We recognized the impact on the staff and the community however the matter did not meet the threshold for criminal charges," Sgt. Gary Willitz said in an email to CBC. 

Gym management declined an interview with CBC News but said in a statement the doxing incident highlights the ongoing need for safe spaces for the queer community.  

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca