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Think CrossFit is restricted to straight white dudes? OutLift—an all-inclusive group for LGBT athletes—proves it’s a fitness trend for all
By Drew Mackie
September 29, 2016 :: 8:33 AM
The average person, gym-goer or not, might imagine a typical CrossFit session to be a lot of grunting, a lot of high-fives and a lot of masculinity on display while men lift heavy things. OutLift, a new group for LGBT CrossFit athletes (OutLift.org), might feature all these things as well, but its founders are striving to do so while shedding the elements that might have prevented some people—gay and straight alike—from trying out the fitness regimen.
OutLift launched this spring and currently boasts 150 members. Centered at Nela Athletics in Atwater Village, the group hosts regular events that combine group workouts with cookouts, aiming to draw people from all corners of Los Angeles.
Kevin Wu, an OutLift co-founder, said the group allows him to meet people he might not come across otherwise. “I liken it to gay dodgeball or Frontrunners, the gay running group. I always thought those groups were a great way to make friends—to workout with like-minded people and have your own space and enjoy it together,” he says. “But it’s also good just for the sake of visibility, to show people who might have a certain perception of CrossFit that, no, it’s not just that. I’d imagine a lot of people don’t think of gay athletes when they think of CrossFit.”
The group began as the result of conversations between athletes who liked the Northeast L.A. location—because a good handful of LGBT Angelenos worked out there, but also because it drew from a representative cross-section of the city’s population. “It’s a giant melting pot of people,” explains Christian Port, the group’s founder. “People here are more open to talking and collaborating, and our gym has always had strong support for LGBT stuff. But we were also realizing that a lot of our friends who worked out at other gyms had really different experiences.”
Grateful for their experience and sensing that others throughout L.A. might want that, too, OutLift hosted its kickoff workout and barbecue in April. As time rolled on, they quickly saw subsequent events drawing people from a greater geographical area that they’d initially anticipated. “We had people coming from all the way out in the 818, from the South Bay, from Pasadena and Covina,” says Port. “It’s been interesting to see that grow, and it’s growing quickly.”
At a gym like West Hollywood’s Brick CrossFit, you likely wouldn’t have problems finding gay athletes, but that’s not always the case elsewhere—and all the more so as you move away from the L.A. metropolitan area. As Port sees it, the perception that CrossFit is an activity for straight white dudes stems in part from the fact that the regimen has a history rooted in the military and religion.
“It’s not a coincidence that when Rich Froning introduced his own branded Reebok CrossFit shoes, they had a Bible verse on them,” Port says, referring to one of the most victorious competitors at the annual CrossFit Games, the most public-facing aspect of CrossFit culture. Few out athletes compete in those games, and they’ve occasionally gotten flack from the LGBT community. In 2014, trans athlete Chloie Jönsson sued the games for the right to compete as a woman. (That case is still pending.) And this year, the competition offers Glock handguns as prizes—which, just weeks after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and amidst the Black Lives Matter protests, dismayed some.
Outlift member Garrett Mckechnie says while he hasn’t experienced homophobia in the CrossFit environment, he could imagine how other locations might not be so welcoming. “Yeah, I’m sure that in an atmosphere where men are bashing their egos together, people will encounter that,” he says. “But that’s why it’s good to get the word out that there is this community. For someone doing CrossFit outside L.A., it could be a great way to meet up.”
To the group that launched OutLift, Atwater has always felt different. Port and his co-founders credit the owner of Nela Athletics, Paul Austad, with fostering a sense of community and inclusivity, both in Atwater and at his other location in Eagle Rock.
“I’m absolutely stoked,” says Austad at having had this group start in his gym. “The biggest thing for me is that our community is inclusive to anybody. A huge piece of what we are trying to build is that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, fitness should be a part of your life. And now this group is saying, ‘Come, relax, enjoy a healthy atmosphere, get a good workout in, have some food, meet some people.’ That is what we’re about.”
In addition to changing the CrossFit experience for LGBT athletes, OutLift might also change the way CrossFit is perceived by the chunk of the population who has no interest in ever attending a session. (For what it’s worth, this writer attended his first CrossFit event at an OutLift open house. He didn’t throw up and only felt like he was going to die for about 10 minutes.) Port is aware of all the CrossFit stereotypes, hoping to change them and built a better-connected community.
“All throughout Southern California, the gyms themselves are really siloed from each other,” he says. “You have a lot of smaller affiliate gyms all over the place, and oftentimes people will just workout at their one gym and never meet people from other gyms. We know there are a lot of LGBT people in L.A. that do CrossFit, but in general we just need more cross-pollination.”
And in the spirit of inclusivity, at OutLift it’s often not just gay athletes but people who are happy to exercise alongside each other irrespective of their sexuality or sexual identity. “Everyone at our gym goes to the events,” says Mckechnie. “In an earlier time, it might have been more controversial, but now it’s a community group for everyone. There is a huge amount of people, straight and gay, who go.”