A transgender woman in Parksville is speaking out after she was allowed to sign up for a women-only gym, then later told she would only be allowed to access the co-ed gym due to the fact that she is trans.
Brigid Klyne-Simpson says she previously had a rocky relationship with exercise because she didn’t feel comfortable going to gyms and working out with mostly men.
“I fell out of it in university because I was just kind of intimidated being around a bunch of mostly really buff guys at the university gym,” Klyne-Simpson said in an interview with CHEK News. “So finding a ladies gym was something that seemed really exciting, and now that I’m out, I understand why I was uncomfortable at the other place.”
Bodyworks Fitness is a gym in Parksville with two locations. One is co-ed and the other is ladies-only.
Klyne-Simpson says she was able to sign up at the Bodyworks Fitness ladies-only facility where initially, a trainer welcomed her to the gym.
“One of the trainers there greeted me, and she was extremely kind and she could basically tell I was trans right away and said I would be welcome there, and explicitly said I would be safe as well, even gave me a hug,” Klyne-Simpson said.
She said she signed her membership agreement on the spot and returned Friday, having a “great time” as she worked out for more than an hour. But days later, something changed.
“Then on Monday, I got a call from the same person basically saying, ‘Sorry, we made a mistake, you’re not actually allowed to be here, but you’re more than welcome to use the co-ed facility,” recalled Klyne-Simpson.
“I just hung up, because I mean, I was extremely devastated, there’s really no other word for it.”
She says she has previously worked out at co-ed gyms and never felt comfortable because it was mostly men in the facilities.
“It was important to me to be in a place that would be like explicitly accepting, like, ‘you are a woman, you’re allowed to be here,'” she said.
Dale Nagra, owner of Bodyworks Fitness, says Klyne-Simpson is welcome to work out at the co-ed gym but says other gym-goers at the ladies-only gym may not be comfortable.
“We want them to be comfortable, but we also have to worry about the young girls that this gym is set up for and the women, and how are their parents gonna feel that they’re in there, then this person walks in with a male voice and big person,” Nagra said.
“So now you pick the comfort of the male who identifies as a woman…and then anybody can go in there saying, ‘OK, I identify as a woman, and I want to be able to go in there.’ And so, do we pick the comfort of the transgender person, and they may not be as comfortable with the co-ed gym but at least that’s an alternative, or do we pick the comfort of the young girls that are working out there that might not feel comfortable?”
A 2018 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found there is no evidence that allowing transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity increases safety risks, and that reports of privacy and safety violations in washrooms or changerooms is “exceedingly rare.”
In fact, a 2021 study by the same institute found transgender people are four times more likely than cisgender people to be a victim of violent crime.
Klyne-Simpson says she understands some people can feel uncomfortable at first if they have never met a transgender person before.
“But all it takes is education. Once you understand trans women are women, trans men are men, non-binary people are who they say they are, it’s as simple as that,” she said. “If you still feel uncomfortable after that, that’s on you, it’s not on me. I am who I am, it’s as simple as that. I just look different. That’s all.”
Nagra says there are transgender patrons who use the co-ed gym in Parksville, and it is set up with a women’s, men’s and gender neutral change room.
“We already have transgender people here, and all sorts of people, we’re not discriminatory at all,” Nagra said. “We’ve got staff that’s minorities, so, we’re not saying there’s no solutions, we’re looking for a solution and we’re not discriminatory people.”
Kelli Paddon, B.C.’s parliamentary secretary for gender equity says situations like this highlight that it is important to continue working to advance transgender people’s rights.
“Trans people deserve to feel safe, welcome and affirmed for who they are. Trans women are women – period,” Paddon said in a statement to CHEK News. “At a time when trans people are under increased attack around the world, it’s up to all of us to speak out and to help break down barriers that transgender people face.”
Klyne-Simpson says she has reached out to the BC Human Rights Commissioner and Alberni Valley Pride about the issue and hopes to find a solution.
“Even if this was resolved, I wouldn’t want to go back there, but it’s not so much for me, it’s for other people, because I’m sure this is I’m not the only person that this has happened to,” Klyne-Simpson said.
“While I never set out to become an accidental activist or anything, I feel like maybe I do have a certain responsibility that because this has happened to me, I need to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
-With files from CHEK’s Kendall Hanson