Gym Spotlight

Portland’s New Body-Positive, Queer-Centric Gym Opens September 2

What’s it like to work out in a space that shuns diet culture? Liberation Barbell wants to find out.

By Tuck Woodstock August 14, 2017

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Liberation Barbell co-owners Christina Cabrales (left) and Lacy Davis.

At long last, Portland is getting its feminist, fat-positive, LGBTQ-friendly barbell gym. 

Having completed a successful $25,000 crowd funding campaign way back in November, Liberation Barbell will open to the public on September 2. Located just off Southeast Foster Road at 80th and Harold, the 4,000-square-foot gym is intended as a hub for “queer people and trans people and fat people and nerds and other weirdos,” according to co-owner Lacy Davis, formerly of Super Strength Health

Together with co-owner Christina Cabrales, Davis hopes to create a workout space unlike any that currently exists—a queer-owned barbell gym for folks who have felt marginalized at mainstream gyms due to their gender, sexual orientation, or body type. 

“As weight lifting gets more popular, I see it being offered to a very specific kind of person—almost a person who already has that kind of fitness,” Davis explains. “So many queer or trans people are reticent to go to the gym because they’re worried they’re going to be harassed, or it’s actually literally not safe.”

To accommodate its transgender and nonbinary clientele, Liberation Barbell offers gender-neutral bathrooms and changing rooms. (“It’s built like a changing room in a mall with individual stalls,” Davis explains.) In most other ways, the gym looks much like any other functional fitness facility: an open-layout space filled with squat racks, kettle bells, medicine balls, dumbbells, and lifting plates. Class offerings will include four or five strength and conditioning classes each weekday (plus one on Saturdays), a weekly “body-positive lifting 101” intro class, and a powerlifting club (taught by Fat Chance Coaching’s Alex Lannon) that meets three times per week.

More notable, perhaps, is what Liberation Barbell won’t offer. As an eating disorder survivor and Health at Every Size proponent, Davis staunchly refuses to glorify weight loss and dieting. As such, Liberation Barbell will eschew scales, weight or fat loss challenges, and even mirrors. In addition, members will be asked to refrain from offering unsolicited advice to other people, and coaches promise to ask for members’ pronouns, rather than assuming their gender. 

But even with all these rules and guidelines in place, Davis acknowledges that her gym will not be some sort of flawless feminist utopia. “All the people who work there are willing and ready to take feedback and acknowledge that we’re not going to be perfect; we’re going to fuck up, but we’re going to try,” she says. “I think a lot of businesses could do well with that kind of policy. When people give feedback, it really is a gift, even if it feels hard.” 

Be among the first to work out at Liberation Barbell at 10 a.m. on September 2, when Davis and Cabrales will coach the gym’s first all-levels class. Capped at 20 participants, the session is free for gym members and $15 for non-members, with all proceeds going to Liberation Barbell’s low-income scholarship fund. If you’d like to become a Liberation Barbell member, you can sign up online for $199 per month. (Hey, who ever said that overthrowing diet culture was cheap?)

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