By Fatima Lee Garsi
Since its inception, Sister Fit has been a space open and affirming of diverse identities. Recently, you may have noticed that we have made a deliberate shift in our branding and services to more clearly and consciously include LGBTQ+ people and diverse women, in addition to Muslim women.
Some Muslims have expressed displeasure with this shift. I know some are worried about losing credibility within their communities for being connected with anything that so clearly includes and affirms LGBTQ+ people. Some people grapple with what it means to “support” the LGBTQ+ community in such specific and clear ways and need to contend with their own biases.
I am happy to see people like these leave. I am happy to not hear back from them.
As Muslims, we contend that we care about social injustices and inequality. We are keenly aware of what it means to face injustice, prejudice, targeted campaigns of misinformation, and violence.
We know what that feels like.
The LGBTQ+ population is a marginalized group. It’s a group that faces injustice, extreme prejudice, volatile expressions of harmful information, and violence.
In religious circles, this marginalization is intensified. LGBTQ+ people are not treated well in society and especially not in religious circles.
Why wouldn’t we make space in a setting where we teach self-defense, boxing, and fitness? I want to create a space for LGBTQ+ people in a setting that is vibrant, affirming, diverse and fun.
When I first opened Sister Fit as a gym for Muslim women, the critisism and angry comments that came my way were intense. Some were angry – why should Muslims have a space catered to their unique needs when Muslims aren’t known for being inclusive to other groups?
I thought this was a very legitimate point.
The common fear in Muslim communities is that mentioning LGBTQ+ people, acknowledging that they exist in our communities, or affirming LGBTQ+ identities will “promote” homosexuality – as if sexual orientation is part of a grand sales campaign.
There is a deep level of hypocrisy and dehumanizing of LGBTQ+ people that is embedded in mainstream Islamic culture – this is not welcome at Sister Fit. If you have a problem or a dislike of LGBTQ+ people – this isn’t the place for you.
I was disappointed that some previously employed team members felt it went against their values to share space and train people who may identify as LGBTQ+. I felt angry that this value wasn’t shared with me when I onboarded them.
Moving forward, it’s important that any and all team members at Sister Fit are value-aligned. Our staff members and gym members do not welcome discrimination of any kind toward any member of society. That’s not what we’re about.
I have stated many times that our gym is open to all women – and I meant it. These were never empty words to abide by the requirements of a public space. I meant my words and I wanted to ensure that Sister Fit branding and services clearly conveyed that sentiment.
Since opening up Sister Fit to Diverse Women and LGBTQ+people, there has been a wonderful renewed energy in the space. There are vital cultural exchanges as well as genuine learning and bonding happening. I wish this open and genuine energy could be carried over into the Muslim spaces where people are afraid of befriending non-Muslims, or don’t understand how de-humanizing their positions on LGBTQ+ issues can be.
Several new Muslim members have expressed relief when discovering that our gym is sincerely inclusive and does something that our community cannot.
I have learned to stop looking to see which organization or mosque is truly inclusive – I know the place that I and many others have been looking for exists right between these walls.
On October 17th, we celebrated our 2-year anniversary. Here are some images that capture the love and community we are grateful to have.