Lake Sharp and Sam Rypinski were fed up with corporate gyms when they met last year at a feminist business class.
Sharp, a fitness trainer who'd been leading group classes at a high-end gym in downtown L.A., finally quit after more than four years of policing what she describes as sexist, racist and homophobic comments from her clients.
Rypinski, a self-described gym rat who found solace in playing sports as a kid, found himself alienated from spaces intended for health and wellness: At the YMCA, he fielded unwanted sexual advances from men in the locker room; on the massage table, he was asked uncomfortable questions about the scars on his chest, forcing him to explain his gender reassignment surgery.
“One person recently said, ‘Oh my God, what happened to you, did you have open-heart surgery?” says Rypinski, who is transgender. “People whose professions are to deal with bodies, it shocks me that they don’t have the sensitivity to the variety of bodies that may come through their door.”
Rypinski had dreamed of starting his own gym when he enrolled in the business course at nonprofit co-working space Women’s Center for Creative Work. Sharp, a Colorado native who graduated from Occidental College, had signed up for the class thinking maybe she’d learn a thing or two about marketing and selling her ceramics.
When she and Rypinski met, they bonded over their shared experiences as caretakers for their parents and talked about the various ways they’d felt like outsiders at gyms, despite their wildly disparate backgrounds. Sharp immediately switched gears and got on board with Rypinski's project.
The result is EveryBody, a radically inclusive gym slated to open last August or September in an industrial stretch of Cypress Park near the L.A. River, just a couple of doors down from Rypinski’s film production studio. The name is fitting in more ways than one — the gym is a space for physical bodies to break a sweat, but it’s also a place where the co-founders hope every kind of body will feel welcome to work out, including those who are transgender or gender-nonconforming.
And while EveryBody is a for-profit company (the co-founders didn’t enroll in that business class for nothing), it’s modeled after a nonhierarchial, nonprofit organization: There’s an advisory board, staff sensitivity trainings around issues of race and gender, and fundraisers aimed at offering free or reduced-cost memberships to low-income residents of the neighborhood.
Rypinski and Sharp say there’s nothing else in the country quite like EveryBody — but based on the overwhelming interest in the gym so far, maybe there should be.
At a fundraiser and aerobics workshop held at the warehouse and soon-to-be gym space in June, Rypinski asked the crowd, “How many people have ever felt uncomfortable, unsafe, awkward or otherwise unwelcome at a gym?” Nearly everyone in the room raised their hands.
“When you start thinking about how people feel who aren’t skinny, heterosexual and often white, that leaves a lot of people out,” Rypinski says. “That’s where we get to really hire people that reflect the people and populations that we want to serve, and do training to educate people around the types of bodies that are going to be in the room.”
For transgender people, navigating everything from which bathroom and locker room to use to what type of clothing to wear in a group fitness class can be particularly distressing. “Even though I’m in male spaces, I’m often feeling like, if they find out [I’m transgender], they’re going to be really upset and complain,” says Rypinski, who adds that even the act of taking off his shirt in a Bikram yoga class can sometimes feel like an invitation for unwanted questions and harassment.
“The fact that I have to be so attentive to all my movements and self-conscious about everything that I do and how I’m existing and taking up space is really counterproductive when you’re trying to go somewhere to feel better about your body,” he adds.
He and Sharp envisioned a gym where anyone can use whichever bathroom or locker room they choose, but an L.A. city plumbing code modeled after a state law requires all gyms to maintain gender-segregated bathrooms and locker rooms. It’s a policy that Rypinski finds “archaic” — he’s met with Mayor Eric Garcetti in the hopes of reversing it. (The Mayor’s Office acknowledged the meeting but declined to comment on it.)
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Rypinski isn’t alone in his push for reform in Los Angeles, which comes as transgender bathroom rights have become a heated topic of political debate around the country. Inspired by a California bill that would require businesses to make their single-use bathrooms gender-neutral, the Los Angeles City Council earlier this month introduced a motion aimed at allowing transgender people to use the city park bathroom of their choice.
But progress has been slow, and Rypinski says the law preventing him and Sharp from designating both their bathrooms and even a locker room as gender-neutral is “locked in a bureaucratic gridlock.” In the interests of acquiring permits and opening their doors to the public, they’ve agreed to comply with city codes by designating men’s and women’s restrooms — a compromise they hope will be temporary.
One unique work-around they’ve come up with, in lieu of gender-neutral locker rooms: private changing stalls separated by curtains, much like fitting rooms you might see in a boutique. “We’re really pioneering the whole layout and format,” Rypinski says. “We have to develop that because it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist at 24 Hour Fitness, it doesn’t exist at Equinox, and it’s not something that’s at the Y.”
CORRECTION: This article previously stated the EveryBody is located in Frogtown; it's actually across the river in Cypress Park.