Queerflex: Safe, affirming, accessible

What started with borrowed fitness equipment in the back of a car has now grown into a full-scale commercial gym. But it’s not your average workout space.

Queerflex is Canada’s first non-profit gym solely dedicated to creating a safe, accessible, space for queer, trans and non-binary people. The gym, located in the same building as Edmonton’s Pride Centre in the city’s downtown, works to provide accessible wellness services to the LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit) community.

The gym was created to address the unique needs of a group that often experiences trauma and hardship. That’s why the gym not only offers fitness classes, but also provides additional wellness services, including queer and trans-affirming massage therapy and mental health support. All services are offered on a sliding scale pricing model to reduce financial barriers.

With this mission, Queerflex is not only a place to get physically stronger, but to comfortably build relationships and find belonging, explains Kelly Hobson, Queerflex’s executive director.

“We hear people say they didn’t realize they could go to a gym and feel this comfortable. While you might leave knowing how to do an overhead shoulder press, you’ll also leave having connected with people who see you, hear you and value you,” says Kelly.

The gym has offered a number of unique programs and initiatives to continue to build safe community. For example, QTYFlex is a program for queer and trans youth aged 12 to 18. The initiative not only introduces participants to different fitness approaches, but starts conversations about how to have a shame-free attitude towards food and finding ways to discuss needs in non-queer-centred gyms.

Queerflex also works to create inclusive spaces beyond their walls, pioneering education programming to improve accessibility in mainstream fitness facilities. They offer an educational workshop titled “LGBTQIA2S+ Fitness Accessibility Training: 101 + Facility Assessment.”

Any fitness facility in Edmonton or surrounding areas can request this workshop to learn more about gender-inclusive language, pronouns, and anything that might be excluding queer individuals from feeling comfortable in that gym. The space assessment helps facilities identify social barriers, offers improvements to current systems and provides policies for queer and trans inclusion.

This innovative work earned Queerflex a Communities ChooseWell Developing Healthy Policies Award in 2019. The team was overjoyed to receive this award, as Queerflex and ChooseWell are built on similar principles, explains Kelly.

“Queerflex was created out of a desire to provide safe, affirming, accessible fitness for people from the 2SLGBTQIA+ community,” they add. “Knowing that ChooseWell is all about creating safe, healthy communities at the grassroots level, there’s really clear alignment between what we’re both trying to achieve.”

Ultimately, Kelly says Queerflex’s success is due to a community coming together.

“The folks who use Queerflex’s services are remarkable people. They each bring something really unique and special to the space,” says Kelly. “It does take a village to make these things happen.”