Building a Physical Space for Decolonizing Fitness

Providing an affirming environment for folks of all genders, orientations, and sizes to heal their relationship with movement.


The Goal

When Ilya started Decolonizing Fitness in 2015 it was completely virtual. Decolonizing Fitness existed in online resources, social media posts, and anywhere Ilya was speaking or sharing knowledge. Now it’s time for Decolonizing Fitness to have a physical home! Help Ilya purchase the equipment needed to transform this space into a fitness-oriented community space where folks of all genders, orientations, and sizes can come to heal their relationship with body and movement.

The goal in building a physical home for Decolonizing Fitness is to provide free access to a safe gym space and affirming training for trans and queer folks in the Greensboro, NC area. Additionally, the goal is to provide a free or low-cost space for other affirming fitness professionals to train clients or film content, as well as providing a space for hosting workshops, speaker series, and other educational events.

Ilya has already converted the space for training use; however, gym equipment doesn’t come cheap and Decolonizing Fitness’s commitment to making movement accessible to everyone means investing in “heavy duty” equipment designed to accommodate a wider range of body sizes. Decolonizing Fitness is asking for $15,700 in donations to purchase this equipment to ensure that services can be provided for free. Check out Ilya’s Story and the itemized budget below!

Ilya’s Story

Decolonizing Fitness is a one-person operation. It’s just me, a Black non-binary, fat, queer spoonie currently living in North Carolina. I know all too well how difficult it can be to navigate the challenges of developing and sustaining a supportive relationship with movement, especially in a fitness industry that devalues those who exist beyond normative beauty standards.

I’ve faced direct employment discrimination and workplace harassment. Several gym owners told me that they would never hire me because I "didn't look like a personal trainer"- which translates to me not being a thin, toned, cisgender person. I get the message that I “don’t look like I belong” a lot, including in corporate healthcare facilities, I've been followed and harassed for my work credentials when trying to use the company gym during my lunch break, while other employees glared in silence.

Fitness spaces have always been physically and emotionally unsafe for me and people like me. Over the years I’ve had my share of racist, transphobic, and anti-fat comments hurled at me by trainers, patrons, coaches, and athletes. Although, I try to stuff much of my feelings down because it is so painful to recount, looking back my physical safety has been compromised on too many occasions in fitness spaces. The pandemic has also added yet another layer of health and safety concerns for me as someone who is immunocompromised.

Trans people are currently facing escalating criminalization for simply existing and trying to use public accommodations. While trying to train in mainstream fitness spaces I've been targeted and harassed by gym staff. I’ve even being kicked out for continuing to use the locker room that aligns closest with my gender identity. When NC HB2 (also known as the “bathroom bill”) was introduced in my state, I held my urine for hours rather than use the bathroom, out of fear of being policed for using the public restroom at my gym our out in public.

This trauma around using public gyms has taken a toll on my mental, emotional, and physical well-being and as of now I refuse to train in them. Everyone deserves a safe and affirming space to engagement with movement and fitness.

My experiences compelled me to devote my life’s work in helping make the fitness industry more welcoming to our most vulnerable populations.

I founded Decolonizing Fitness (DF) in 2015 in an effort to help dismantle toxic fitness culture. I started DF as a mobile personal training service intended to help reshape the world of fitness for trans masculine and gender expansive people – particularly Black folks in larger bodies. I focused by work on highlighting the complexities and barriers that we face in mainstream fitness culture, while also building new, more supportive systems to replace them.

Since I’ve never had access to a building where my clients and I felt safe I've become quite resourceful over the years finding spaces to engage in movement. I have often coached people in parks, on sidewalks in front of their apartment buildings, in churches, on playgrounds, in open public fields, in parking lots and any other place where we could move collectively.

Living in the rural south I’ve loaded up my car with equipment and also traveled to various cities working with people who had no affirming coaches near them or didn’t live close to public transit.

Noticing the ways many folks lacked access to safe and supportive fitness pros, I went searching for lists of affirming providers. Finding none, I created the first known database of its kind, which lists over 120 Affirming Fitness and Movement Practitioners (and counting) in the U.S and abroad. These professionals explicitly identify with anti-oppressive, anti-racist, anti-ableist, anti-ageist, size inclusive and gender affirming frameworks. I provide this database, which I update and maintain on a quarterly basis, for free on my website. At last count the database had been downloaded over 5,000 times.

A way to decolonize fitness for me is to limit the barriers in having access to safe physical movement spaces, affirming coaches/trainers as well as having access to reliable equipment that can accommodate a diverse range of body sizes.

Thankfully, I now have stable housing and the capacity to create my own sacred movement space. My goal is to convert my 359 square foot garage into a home gym for folks in my local community to engage in movement at no cost. I will fill the space with sturdy strength training equipment and yoga props/accessories that are designed to accommodate a wider range of body sizes. It will also be a welcoming space for people from out of town to visit and train. Lastly, the space will also be utilized for my comrades and I to film movement videos and host small workshops.

Increasing access to welcoming and affirming physical spaces is lifesaving and sustaining. People with oppressed identities face health inequities at every level of life. By providing folks with an environment where they can heal their relationship to movement, discover their strength, and connect with the community, I am aiding in providing a remedy to the health inequities that are often negated.


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What I Need

Gym flooring: $720

Dumbbells: $370

Dumbbell Rack: $250

Heavy Duty Flat and Adjustable Bench: $945

Lifting Platform: $650

Heavy Duty Squat Rack with Cable and Rack Attachments: $3,754

4 High Quality Barbells & Collars: $810

Weight Plates: $650

Dual-station hanging bag stand: $574

Heavy Bag: $239

Heavy Duty Lat Tower: $1900

Wall Storage: $250

Stationary Bike: $1300

Yoga mats: $35/each (8 for $280)

Yoga bolsters: $40/each (8 for $320)

Yoga blocks: $8/each (8 for $64)

Yoga straps: $15/each ( for $150)

Associated Costs (taxes, shipping, assembly etc.): $2,473

Total for all listed above: $15,700


Click this link to donate