Twice a month, CORE fitness studio on Cypress Street in Brookline, undergoes a complete transformation. On those days, trainer Justice Williams hosts his Queer Gym Popup, welcoming bodies and experiences of all kinds to come work out in a safe and motivating space.

Williams is the founder of BodyImage4Justice, a nonprofit that brings the LGBTQ community together with the joint goal of health and wellness. The organization uses workshops, events, political action, and other tools to advocate for the queer and transgender communities in these spaces. Lately, the Queer Gym Popups have been Williams’ primary focus.

A trans person himself, Williams understands the importance of having community support while exercising, especially if you’re going through a transition or discovering a new gender identity. “In these hyper-masculine spaces, how do we rise above that and be our full selves?” says Williams. “Bodies are amazing things, but they’re diverse. We need to walk away from that streamlined ideology that force-feeds an aesthetic.”

Williams creates this safe space by greeting each gym member with positivity and acceptance. He writes inspiring mantras on the gym board and creates workouts that don’t push too hard in sensitive areas. Williams says the program isn’t just about physical well-being, but about mental health as well. He recounts moments when gym-goers have felt the confidence to declare their pronouns for the first time in the supportive community.

A tandem goal of the popups is to educate other facilities about inclusivity. Having gender-neutral bathrooms is a great step, but it’s only the first of many, according to Williams. “We create a model for what other businesses can do in order to embrace diversity,” says Williams. “We’re not only creating these safe spaces, but we’re piloting a model that works. There are other things we can do as an institution to create this sense of community that goes beyond just having inclusive restrooms.” Williams is beginning to have meetings with gyms to discuss healthy, inclusive culture and what gyms can do to foster that.

Although queer bodies are the primary targets for the program, all are welcome. Williams says he’s had straight, cisgender women attend the gym as well to work out without the pressure of catcalls or unwanted male attention. Cisgender, straight men also sometimes attend to learn more about the queer community so they can act as better allies.

No matter who walks through the CORE door, Williams is there to greet them with open arms and health-positive training advice. He says, “That’s a powerful thing when people can be their whole selves and feel safe in this space.”

The next CORE Queer Gym Popups are February 2nd and 16th from 3–6 pm.

By Celina Colby