A transgender man has filed a complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission after he was initially denied entry into a pool at a popular gym chain because he wasn’t wearing “a female one-piece” swimsuit.
Gabi Young, a teacher’s assistant for New York City Public Schools and a pre-medical student, said he was about to enter the pool at Equinox gym’s East 63rd Street location at 817 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan on August 20, when he was confronted by a lifeguard who tried to block him from using the pool.
Young, a transgender male, has been going to the gym since 2015 and joined as a member last month, says he used the pool as a way to manage his chronic pain. But the lifeguard criticized his outfit — a blue swim tank and trunks — for not meeting the pool’s dress code. Young says the incident was humiliating, because the lifeguard in question called him out in front of other gym members following a yoga class.
“I was embarrassed that she came up to me in front of everyone, actually in front of the people that I did the yoga classes with,” Young told Gay City News. “I’m being policed for what I’m wearing like I’m supposed to fit into a female box just because I have breasts.”
The lifeguard reportedly told Young he needed a bathing suit to go into the pool. When Young questioned her, she suggested that he needed to wear a “one-piece.” When he asked her to clarify her comments, she allegedly recommended he wear “a female one-piece” swimsuit. He defended his choice of attire, and the lifeguard eventually relented and agreed to allow him to use the pool.
Young said he felt shocked, hurt, and humiliated, and was so incensed by the employee’s behavior that he chose to leave the facility and not use the pool.
Young later complained to the club’s managers about the incident, and they said they would talk to the employee in question privately. Young said the club has not yet responded to his complaint via email.
Young also said he’s experienced tremendous anxiety as a result, struggling to sleep and eat, and being unable to return to Equinox for another gym class due to panic attacks.
“I never thought of it before, but now I’m thinking, am I being judged on how I’m dressed going through the door?” Young said.
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John Gallagher, a spokesperson for Equinox, told Gay City News that the company stands in solidarity with the victim and is reviewing the incident. Reportedly, the staff at the East 63rd Street location told the company that the lifeguard in question mistakenly thought that Young was wearing street clothes, which are not permitted in the pool, instead of swimwear.
“The diversity of our members and employees is a hallmark of our business and contributes to the strength of our brand,” Gallagher told the newspaper in a written statement. “We strive to be supportive of all members and want everyone to be able to enjoy the benefits of membership in the way that maximizes their comfort. Equinox takes the member’s concern very seriously and is reviewing it with club staff.”
However, Equinox decline to share details of their LGBTQ inclusion policies or the text of the company’s employee handbook outlining such policies.
Young has since filed a complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission. While the commission could not comment on the specific encounter because its members have not yet spoken with Young, they urged others to report similar instances of anti-LGBTQ discrimination or harassment in places of public accommodations.
Young said he is not canceling his membership, but is avoiding the gym’s pool for now. Young has also urged the gym to implement LGBTQ-inclusive training for employees, and hopes other fitness companies adopt policies that create safe spaces for queer or transgender members.
“I do love the community, and I do love the classes,” Young said. “That’s why a lot of trans people don’t want to go to gyms…they feel uncomfortable. It’s not welcoming.”
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