Creating A Welcoming Space for the Queer Community at Your Gym

Interested in creating a welcoming space? Here's how to welcome the queer community into your gym.
Valley Self-Defense
January 28, 2022
Creating A Welcoming Space for the Queer Community at Your Gym

I’ve probably been queer for a lot longer than I’ve been out. I can remember as a kid wishing I was a boy, desperately wanting to cut my hair short, crushes on girls that I didn’t realize until someone pointed them out to me when I was in my 30s.

I mean, come on. My favorite movie as a teenager was But I’m A Cheerleader (oh, the irony!).

But with age, comes greater understanding (thank god) and I am at a point in my life that you can accept my ridiculous rainbow leggings and unicorn rash guard or you don’t. I’m still going to wear my rainbow tutu whether you like it or not.

That doesn’t mean I don’t feel my heart flutter a bit when I’m in spaces when eyes stare at my partially shaved head for a little too long or when I can tell that people are whispering about my possible gender. These things can be even harder when you’re in the martial arts world. Martial arts are sorely needed in queer and womxn-led spaces, but they are also intimidating. Often coached by cis-men, it can feel like a “boys club” in the worst sense of the term.

Even harder can be shame or body dysmorphia, making it hard to feel safe in your own skin on the mat. In Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, many moves require extreme closeness. The only other people outside of my Krav Maga/BJJ family who have been closer to my body are my doctors and my spouse. It can be incredibly intimate and it requires so much trust from people you may have just met.

I have had sincere moments of doubt in my Krav Maga journey. Moments where I felt like being my whole self was a detriment and that should never be the case. But it’s also the thing that has given me more confidence than anything else in my life.

When I first started writing this blog post, I wanted to share tips for my queer family on how to find a gym for themselves. But being queer, you probably already know what to look for and how to search it out. What’s more important is to reach out to gym owners who may want to be more LGBTQIA+ inclusive, but don’t know how.

Putting up a rainbow flag isn’t enough. Here are some other things you can do.

Create a Code of Conduct

Make it crystal clear who is welcome in your space. Spell. It. Out. You may think that people know that you are welcoming, but without something written down and placed in a prominent place, people will fill in the gaps.

For an example of a Code of Conduct, you can take a look at VSDs:

Stop Inappropriate Behavior Immediately

Whether or not you’ve posted a Code of Conduct, make sure that inappropriate behavior is not tolerated. We can fall into a trap thinking, “well, there’s no one of that identity here, I’ll just let it go this time.” But someone is always listening and we don’t know the full lives of the people we meet on the mat.

Use Your Pronouns When Introducing Yourself

When introducing myself to new people, I say, “My name is Danae and my pronouns are she/her.” When there are new people in class, I start class with an introduction, “My name is Danae and my pronouns are she/her. If you have a pronoun we should use, please let us know now or at any point during class.” When students don’t know each other, I often ask them to introduce themselves and to give their pronouns to their partner.

You may think, “people will find this weird.” Or that it could be embarrassing for you. I have given my pronouns at tactical shooting stores and in front of people who I knew either did not understand or did not want to understand, but I have never been yelled at or disrespected for saying my pronouns. If anything, it has opened up a dialogue of people who are eager to learn, but uncertain how.

Create Space

Celebrate Pride! Have seminars, workshops, specific times for people who might not be comfortable working out in other classes. Open up your women’s classes and include trans and non-binary people. Bonus points for a class that is specifically for trans and non-binary people. Notice what is strong with your queer community.

Be Yourself

It can be vulnerable to be fully who you are. But I have found that the best way to invite people in and let them be their full selves is to be your full self as well. No ego. No fear.

Being inclusive, whether it's around gender identity, race, ethnicity, is a work in progress. You will mess up. You will mess up big at some point (I know that I have). All you can do is learn, ask for forgiveness, and do better.

Valley Self-Defense welcomes you in all your messiness. We do not tolerate harassment, in any form, whether that's in-person or online. You can read more about our code of conduct.

Co-owner Lee hates Krav Maga, but it's helped her get to an important step of healing from her past trauma. Going at her own pace has made all the difference.

All Valley Self-Defense instructors have been trained in trauma-informed care and how to help those handling trauma in a Krav Maga class. For anyone with anxiety about trying Krav Maga, we are happy to meet with you in person or speak with you over the phone. To connect with us, email us at

Krav Maga near me? There is! If you're looking for a Krav Maga class near you, Valley Self-Defense is a proud member of the International Krav Maga Federation with schools located across the United States. To find a school near you, visit the IKMF USA website.

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