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Planet Fitness trans debacle shows need for global industry guidelines

Planet Fitness receiving bomb threats over a trans person using the women’s locker room in Alaskan club
Female member posted a video highlighting the situation on social media
The gym responded by cancelling her membership
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Planet Fitness has become the subject of a hate campaign by certain groups of consumers and seen share values slide, in the wake of a trans person having been photographed using the women’s locker room at an Alaskan gym.

The situation has been escalating over the past couple of weeks, since a female member of the club in Fairbanks, Alaska – Patricia Silva – took a photo of a person assigned male at birth and now identifying as female shaving in the women’s locker room.

Silva posted a photo of the individual on social media, along with a video talking about her discomfort with the situation and how a girl of around 12 was sitting nearby looking uncomfortable.

“Planet Fitness is defending the man with the penis in the women’s locker room rather than the girl in the towel,” she said. “This is weird, it’s not good, it’s disturbing. I felt like I was in an unsafe space.”

Silva had her membership revoked for breaking Planet Fitness guidelines of taking photos in locker rooms.

Planet Fitness, which has around 2,400 gyms in the US, was built on the foundations of being a judgement free zone. Its non-discrimination policy states that members and guests may use the gym facilities that best align with their sincere, self-reported gender identity.

The chain saw a US$400m dive in valuation from US$5.3 billion to US$4.9 billion following the row. The share price currently stands at US$62.79, a recovery from US$55.97, but down from US$75.19 in January.

There have also been reports of a number of Planet Fitness clubs receiving bomb threats and an online “go woke, go broke” campaign encouraging people to cancel their memberships

The situation has been further inflamed by Planet Fitness co-founder, Mike Grondahl – who exited the business in 2012 – speaking on the far right, transphobic platform, Libs of TikTok, saying the judgement free policy was simply meant to counter gymtimidation.

He went on to criticise the company, saying: “Had I been in the facility I’d want to go in and take the freaking guy by the neck and throw him out in the parking lot. That’s the way things would have been done,” before advising people to find somewhere else to work out."

This is not the first time Planet Fitness has been embroiled in a controversy about trans issues. A trans person visiting a Planet Fitness with a friend entered a locker room to hang up a coat, causing reported issues with some members last year.

HCM editor, Liz Terry, said: "The health club industry is in the business of making all members, guests, customers and staff feel safe and welcome and we clearly need better solutions to ensure these kinds of situations never occur.

"Once a crisis has escalated in this way, harm is done to all concerned and this is simply not necessary.

"Current industry guidelines focus on outlining the legal position in relation to trans people, but existing legislation fails to take into account the human aspect for all concerned – trans customers, other customers and staff.

"We can do better than this as an industry and go beyond our basic legal requirements, setting out to welcome everyone, regardless of their personal circumstances, ensuring they feel safe, comfortable and at ease, so they will be keen to return and enjoy the huge benefits of exercise and community that our industry offers.

"We encourage all operators to configure their locker rooms to ensure all who use them have an appropriate space to use, so they feel comfortable and crises such as this are avoided. This cannot be left to chance.

"We also call on industry trade associations around the world to embrace this opportunity and promote better ways for operators to ensure the wellbeing of all, as we seek to go beyond our legal obligations.

"It's important that guidance includes advice on staff training, so health club staff are fully equipped to deal with all queries with kindness and confidence.

"We are fortunate that excellent trans awareness training is already widely available.

"The numbers of people in the world undergoing gender reassignment, or identifying their sex in their own individual way is increasing and operators need to be ahead of this and ready with sensible, compassionate and effective solutions."

The spa and wellness industry has embraced a compassionate approach to trans awareness and you can read more about this here.

The Health and Fitness Association (formerly IHRSA), presents the legal position, which you can see here.

UK trade association, UK Active has a legal guidance note on this subject which can be accessed here.

The LIFTS/Escape Your Limits podcast has recently debated the issue and you can listen in here.

The Health and Fitness Association (formerly IHRSA) and Trans-Fitness C.I.C will be talking about their special guidelines relating to this issue in the upcoming issue of HCM. If you would like to contribute, please email [email protected]

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Planet Fitness has become the subject of a hate campaign by certain groups of consumers and seen share values slide, in the wake of a trans person having been photographed using the women’s locker room at an Alaskan gym.