A queer-run fitness studio in Canberra is making exercise accessible to all members of the LGBTIQA+ community, writes Holly Hazlewood.
Finding a safe exercise space for LGBTQIA+ people is up there with the elusive hunt for an understanding general practitioner or, to be honest, a sensitive health professional of any kind.
Slowly there are more places where queer people do not have to hide themselves in order to reach their health and fitness goals with a venue in Canberra allowing people to bring their full selves to a space which had traditionally been the source of discrimination.
A Tiny Studio has a name that defies the size of its goals and owner Don Smedley hopes his gym can be an oasis for queer people to work out.
“What I wanted to do was to provide a space where I could make people healthy, active and support people within my community,” says Don.
“I sort of came into being healthy and active later on in life. I never really pursued it earlier because I just never felt supported. I never felt comfortable in those (gym) environments,” he says.
“I felt that was really detrimental to me as a person physically because I didn’t seem to fit in those environments. And so therefore, I missed out on those opportunities as a youngster.”
Don started to compete in triathlons at age 30 and when he moved to Canberra in 2018 wanted to spread his message of health and well-being amongst the ACT’s queer community as a personal trainer.
Providing a one-on-one service to people of all levels of experience, Don said some of his most satisfying moments have come from people who are just stepping into a gym environment for the first time.
“Seeing people’s attitudes change, their dispositions, that they’re just healthier and happier by giving them this accessibility, you definitely see a big change in their confidence and it accelerates the process of them getting healthy,” says Don.
While he does not turn away potential clients from the non-queer community, Don said being a queer man himself does allow for him to provide a level of sensitivity to the unique needs of the LGBTQIA+ population in health spaces.
“I think it’s super important because it’s a lived experience that I have and you’re aware of the (gym) environment. You have that sensitivity.
“There’s a requirement for queer businesses to provide these services because we still need to repair a lot of the trauma that our queer community has been through, so that they feel confident that they can traverse these spaces properly.”
This is never more important, says Don, than with older members of the queer community who have had to suffer through potentially decades of slurs and heteronormative ideals in health spaces.
“So those older clients that I have, they have just always had this sort of barrier,” he says. “It’s amazing seeing them come in, having no experience and then after a year they’re running or doing whatever exercises they can. They’re going and trying new things.”
15 Coranderrk St, Canberra. Ph: 0400 256 167