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Kansas City gym owner strives to be 'radically inclusive'

city gym hailee bland-walsh.png
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-09 09:07:20-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City gym owner is using Pride Month to push for more inclusivity within the fitness community.

When Hailee Bland-Walsh opened City Gym 10 years ago, she did so with a simple goal in mind.

"What we try to do at City Gym is create a radically inclusive environment, where we say explicitly to people, 'Hey, you belong here,'" Bland-Walsh said.

The intention comes from personal experience. Despite coming out as lesbian in college, Bland-Walsh said she still wasn't able to be truly open about her identity for years.

"Early in my career, I didn't necessarily feel comfortable talking to my managers or my clients about who I was because I was afraid I would lose business, frankly," she said.

Now, she aims to create an environment where no one has to wonder whether they will be accepted or safe, either emotionally and physically.

Her gym, located in Kansas City's Waldo neighborhood, has gender-neutral bathrooms and private shower suites. It also offers a fitness class specifically for transgender men.

"From its very genesis, City Gym has been about creating space, physical space, which translates to emotional space, that's about safety," Bland-Walsh said.

Trey Williams, who has been a City Gym member for about three years, said he was immediately drawn in by the gym's inclusive environment.

"As a gay man, I don't think I've always felt super comfortable in sports or in athletic arenas," Williams said. "So to find a space that's owned by someone like me, is represented by staff that is like me, I think it made me feel more comfortable."

Bland-Walsh said the fitness community as a whole has a lot more work to do to become inclusive, not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but other marginalized communities. She said structural change is needed in everything from gym marketing to the physical layout of fitness facilities.

In the meantime, she said, she hopes to provide an example of what that progressive work looks like.

"We show other gyms, 'Hey, you can be radically inclusive and still be in business,'" she said.

And for the gyms that are outwardly celebrating Pride Month, Bland-Walsh wants to see the momentum keep going.

"It's Pride Month, and everybody wants to change their logo and make it rainbow. And that's amazing. I love solidarity. But let's do this work even after June," she said.

The gym is hosting three Pride workouts this Saturday, followed by a Pride celebration. The workouts are open to members of the gym and guests of members.

Walk-in clients also can purchase single class passes, if spots are available. For more information, visit the gym's website.