photo: Miki Vargas, Den Design
Nathalie Huerta’s idea to open up a gym in Oakland, California, seemed far-fetched, considering two huge factors: She didn’t have a business plan and she wanted to cater specifically to the LGBTQ community. Five years later, the MBA grad says she wouldn’t have done it any other way because she didn’t just successfully start a small business, but she has built a tight-knit community in the process.

“During a grad school hiatus, I figured I would do personal training through Craigslist, but I was one of too many people on there. So I started thinking of ways to make myself stand out, and the first thing that came to mind was, ‘Well, I’m hella gay,’” says the 30-year-old Anaheim native.

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Huerta was frustrated promoting herself as a “lesbian personal trainer,” since the search results online pulled up porn or Jillian Michaels. She wasn’t interested in working with clients at gyms because it felt uncomfortable with weight rooms dominated by men often staring at women. She figured if she felt frustrated with that environment, then others must be, too. That’s where she came up with the idea to open The Perfect Sidekick (TPS), the first and only LGBTQ gym in the nation. TPS provides a large spectrum of services that cater to the LGBTQ community like non-gender-specific lockers and training tailored for members preparing for gender reassignment surgery.

TPS has become like a second home for Dulce Garcia, a member for over three years now who is glad her money is helping to support a fellow queer Latina. “It’s not just a gym, it’s more like a community space. We’ve watched each other grow in different phases of our lives,” says Garcia.

Garcia loves TPS so much that she drives an hour in traffic to Oakland from San Francisco; even though there’s a gym right across the street from her home. For Garcia, other places felt too much like a fashion show or dating scene.

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“I’m a big girl but I’m not worried about losing inches; I’m worried about how many more pounds I can lift, and that’s thanks to TPS teaching me how to workout,” Garcia adds.

TPS is different. Most gyms do not call their members if they haven’t popped up in in two weeks, let alone help raise funds for fellow gym members’ gender-reassignment surgeries. They definitely don’t drop off meals during surgery recovery, or even make house visits at all. Volunteer community events organizer Shannon Coskran is always looking for creative ways to raise money for the gym and it’s members. Right now, she’s working on Drag Queen Bingo, Queer Fashion Show, and a mixer for new members.

“Everyone at the gym has an experience of being ‘other,’ but that’s what bonds us. We do deal with people not understanding us and discrimination, so to be able to come into a place where we don’t have to hide ourselves and enjoy working out together is what keeps people coming back,” Coskran says.

Truth be told, many big gyms aren’t worried about your holistic well-being — at TPS it’s not just about getting in a good workout. Any transgender or lesbian person has a place in Oakland that doesn’t just challenge them physically but supports them mentally all with a sense of community and fun. TPS is now celebrating its fifth anniversary and is nearly at full capacity with 150 members. The gym’s mission, “To make healthy, happy homos,” seems to be right on track.