Odawa, Kind Space work out safe LGBT fitness drop-in

Members of Ottawa's LGBT community now have a safe, comfortable place of their own to exercise, thanks to a partnership between the Odawa Native Friendship Centre and Kind Space.

Saturday drop-in gym a 'space for folks to really just feel comfortable'

RJ Jones is one of the organizers behind "Manijiwin," a weekly initiative to provide fitness space for Ottawa's LGBT community at the Odawa Native Friendship Centre. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

Members of Ottawa's LGBT community now have a safe, comfortable place of their own to exercise, thanks to a partnership between the Odawa Native Friendship Centre and Kind Space.

The initiative, called Manijiwin (the Ojibwa word for respect), is a drop-in at the Odawa gym in the City Centre complex open every Saturday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Kind Space vice president RJ Jones helped spearhead the program after seeing a need in the community for workout space.

Going into an actual gym setting can kind of be ... anxiety-inducing because a lot of folks have questions around people's bodies.- RJ Jones, vice-president, Kind Space

"There actually are not that many LGBTQ and trans-friendly spaces, and I know going into an actual gym setting can kind of be, I guess, anxiety-inducing because a lot of folks have questions around people's bodies, and I know there's kind of just a lack of sensitivity around people's spaces," said Jones.

"It's often met with a lot of stares, and it's really uncomfortable just really being trans and going out into the community. And these are conversations I had with other folks in the community — how they wish there were more spaces for LGTBQ and trans folks for fitness."

'Lack of diversity in gyms'

The program's volunteers help community members become familiar with gym equipment. Jones says the long-term goal is to offer more programming, including different kinds of fitness classes.
The initiative takes place every Saturday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Odawa Native Friendship Centre. (kindspace.ca)

For now, the goal is to let LGBT people know the body-positive gym is there for them.

"(It's) really just being able to have an open space for folks to really just feel comfortable, because there is that lack of diversity in gyms," said Jones, who's Saulteaux–Cree and a long-time volunteer in Ottawa's Indigenous community.

"It's just being held at an Indigenous space, which kind of offers more opportunity to do that bridging between the communities, and also for other LGBTQ Indigenous folks feeling comfortable to come to do this space as well."