A lifeguard at the high-end sports club Equinox in Manhattan allegedly left a transgender man humiliated and in tears on August 20 after requesting that he wear a women’s swimsuit to enter the gym’s pool.
Gabi Young, a teacher’s assistant for New York City Public Schools and a pre-medical student, said he was about to enter the gym’s swimming pool at 817 Lexington Avenue on East 63rd Street in Manhattan when an Equinox lifeguard approached him and criticized his outfit — which was a blue swim tank and trunks — for not meeting the facility’s dress code. Moments later, Young said the lifeguard suggested that he wear a women’s one piece.
Young, who has been going to the Equinox gym since 2015 and joined as a member last month, uses the pool as a way to manage their chronic pain. The individual said the incident occurred in front of other gym members following a yoga class at the facility.
“I was embarrassed that she came up to me in front of everyone, actually in front of the people that I did the yoga classes with,” said Young, who uses “he” and “they” pronouns. “I’m being policed for what I’m wearing like I’m supposed to fit into a female box just because I have breasts. ”
“No, they’re men and non-binary people with breasts,” he added. “Why should I fit into a box?”
Young said the lifeguard abruptly stopped him just before he dipped into the pool.
“Excuse me, can I help you?” the lifeguard allegedly said.
“I’m going into the pool,” Young replied.
“You need a bathing suit to go into the pool,” the lifeguard said, according to Young.
Young said he was confused because he had not faced scrutiny for wearing this outfit at the gym’s other locations. The lifeguard then pointed to Young’s outfit and suggested that he wear a “one piece.” When Young asked the lifeguard to clarify her comments, she allegedly said, “a female one piece.”
Young defended his bathing suit, and eventually, the lifeguard allowed him to use the pool.
But, Young, who described feeling shocked, hurt, and humiliated, did not go into the pool and instead opted to leave the facility due to the incident.
Young proceeded to alert the club’s managers about the incident, and they said they would talk to the employee. The club has not responded to Young’s complaint via email, which was obtained by Gay City News.
Young said they struggled to sleep and eat in the aftermath of the encounter, and the following day, he went back to the facility for another gym class — but he was hit with anxiety.
“I’m an emotional mess,” Young said. “I was having panic attacks just to return to that location.”
He added, “I never thought of it before, but now I’m thinking, am I being judged on how I’m dressed going through the door? ”
In a statement, John Gallagher, a spokesperson for Equinox, said the company stands in solidarity with the victim and is reviewing the incident. The club’s Manhattan location told the company that the lifeguard misread the member’s swimwear for street clothes, which are not allowed in the pool.
“The diversity of our members and employees is a hallmark of our business and contributes to the strength of our brand,” Gallagher said in a written statement to Gay City News. “We strive to be supportive of all members and want everyone to be able to enjoy the benefits of membership in the way that maximizes their comfort. Equinox takes the member’s concern very seriously and is reviewing it with club staff.”
Equinox did not respond to Gay City News’ request to review the club’s employee handbook or LGBTQ-inclusion policies. The popular gym chain, which is advertised as an LGBTQ-friendly space, came under fire in 2019 for holding a re-election fundraiser for former President Donald Trump. In response, dozens of queer and transgender members quit the club.
Since then, Young has filed a complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission. While the commission could not comment on this encounter because they have not yet spoken with Young, they urged others to report similar incidents of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
“The New York City Human Rights Law provides strong protections for transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people, including prohibiting discrimination and harassment in accessing facilities in places of public accommodation,” the commission said in a written statement.
Young is not canceling their membership anytime soon, but they are avoiding the gym’s pool for now. They are calling for the gym to implement an LGBTQ-inclusive training for employees and expressing hope that fitness companies can create a safe space for queer and transgender members.
“I do love the community, and I do love the classes,” he said. “That’s why a lot of trans people don’t want to go to gyms…they feel uncomfortable. It’s not welcoming.”
Recently, separate investigations by the New York City Human Rights Commission into YMCA and LA Fitness locations in New York City revealed that trans and non-binary patrons were denied access to gendered bathrooms and locker rooms. The YMCA of Greater New York was slapped with $10,000 in emotional distress damages and managers at both gym facilities were told they must attend a New York City Human Rights Law training and post trans-inclusive bathroom signs.