Coach Nat Talks About How Queer Gym Navigated the Pandemic and the Importance of Safe Spaces

Queer Gym Coach Nat BElatina Latinx
Image courtesy o The Queer Gym/BELatina

Celebrating Pride is an everyday affair. At BELatina, we make sure of that. We keep a close eye on stories like Coach Natalie Huerta’s, and we will be sure to continue supporting them and spreading the word about their beautiful work.

Coach Nat is a Mexican entrepreneur, pioneer, founder, and CEO of The Queer Gym, the first LGBTQ gym in the United States, based in Oakland.

When we met Nat a year ago, her project had already been underway for some years. Now, we wanted to catch up with her important work, the pandemic’s impact, and her new projects.

Here’s what she told us.

What sparked the interest in establishing the Queer Gym?

I went to school for Kinesiology, I was a trainer, and the gym was kind of like my happy place right up until I started to present queerer […] I noticed that, as soon as I started to cut my hair and present differently, the gym slowly became really creepy. Everything was great until I was gay. That’s not what I was looking for. And so that kind of sparked the idea to do it. […] I actually started the gym my second semester of grad school. I’ve had it now for twelve years. We started in the Bay Area.

What would you say to the people who might be less motivated to work out at home than in person?

So, number one, the building doesn’t give you results. You don’t need a building to get the results, right? I think that’s been a challenge because when the pandemic hit, everybody went online, but mostly everybody did it very poorly. 

[In the case of the Queer Gym], it’s “live” coaching, so you can hop on. It’s going to be a “live” coach. It’s going to be a live class. Sizes are small, […] about 20 people. And then, even with that, we focus on creating a space where people feel comfortable working out with their cameras on. 

Number two, make sure you have a good time when you’re there. The best way we describe our workouts is if you can imagine a fitness class and a drag show having a baby, that’s kind of what the workouts are like for us. I think many people would sign up because that sounds like a good time.

Part of creating a safe space is picking the right coaches. 

The fitness industry typically picks the cutest, most in-shape people who actually end up doing the opposite of creating a safe space. They make you feel intimidated and ashamed because you don’t look like them. It’s essential for us to have diversified bodies on staff so that it’s relatable for our clients. You want your coach to be a couple of steps ahead of you and still be relatable, not 20,000 steps ahead of you. 

My own philosophy is that you don’t have to look like a trainer to be a trainer. But you do have to have the habits of a trainer to be a trainer. You can be body positive all you want. Still, if you are practicing shitty nutrition habits and shitty sleeping habits, that doesn’t make you adequate to be coaching people and their nutrition and behaviors. 

Fun names, having the right people, and creating the right environment will get you where it could show up and stick around. And that’s why I try to really work hard on creating a safe space in the Queer Gym.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in going from in-person to online?

Handling the growth. […] The challenge was just tripling our membership in twelve weeks and then trying to handle that with the staff that was used to working in-person […]. While some people could transition and make that work, others were not. 

All of our marketing efforts for the Queer Gym were actually a lot easier because we were competing against other gyms that were brick and mortar. After all, they weren’t advertising at the moment. So [it was mainly] how do we handle this growth? How do we train and adopt the team not to do things online?”

Our class got a little bit more wild, [and we] started hosting virtual events. Friday night, we do virtual happy hours [with] rotating themes. For building the community, I knew it wasn’t going to be [about] who has the best virtual class production. [We knew] people are lonely, people are freaking out. How do we connect them with missing their friends? How do we get them engaged?”

I know you mentioned that this all came about because you had a culmination of horrible experiences of being queer in gyms. Was there a particular moment or a particular experience where that was when you said 2enough is enough”?

I remember walking in the gym [and thinking], “there’s never any gay people here.” The only type of gay people that would see at the gym [were people who] would show up for a week, two weeks, and then we would never see them again. Or the type of gay that will show up every day, usually the white, ripped […] gay guys. I remember just being like, where are [the queer people]? Why do I never see them? 

And then, a couple of months later, as a trainer, I was given a trans woman as a client. I remember training them and feeling very inadequate. I understood the science of training a body, but I didn’t know the nuances of training a trans body. And I didn’t understand the cultural significance, like the cultural understanding of how to train a trans person. I remember being like, damn, if I’m the best qualified to train this person, I am doing a terrible […] job. 

They were asking questions about hormone therapy, and I was like, I have no […] idea how estrogen will impact what you’re doing. That gave me kind of an understanding from a consumer perspective of what needed to happen. And it also gave me insight into what needs to happen from a coaching perspective.

There are all these benefits to work now that my community wasn’t receiving because they didn’t have access to a place to go work out that was helpful and inclusive. My community doesn’t get to have more self-esteem, more confidence, longer lives, better mobility, all these perks. They don’t get to have any of that because there’s no place willing to serve them right.

Do you plan to open up a physical space or a hybrid model for folks to gather and work out? Has that been something that you’ve been thinking about for the Queer Gym?

Right now, there’s no plan to open up physical locations. Our hybrid model will basically include what we’re doing right now in conjunction with real-life meetups. We still host virtual events every two weeks, and then we do a [in-person] meetup monthly.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Working out is like dating. You’re not going to date one person, have a bad experience, and [give up]. If you’re going to find the one true love in fitness, you have to take different types of fitness to find the one that is the one. 

As a community, we tend to have this idea, like, 14 hours, only going hard and beast mode, and […] that’s not true. It doesn’t need to be that. Some people enjoy CrossFit, swimming, riding, yoga. I encourage people to date all these different types of fitness until they find the one they end up falling in love with. Because once you fall in love with it, you’ll do things to be able to still do that thing that you love.

You can sign up for a Queer Gym membership on their website here and take a look at their activities here.