A trans woman was asked to leave the women's changing room at a branch of PureGym after another member had complained about a man in the changing room.
Sarah — whose real name BuzzFeed News is withholding to protect her safety — said she had been a member of PureGym for over a year, and had been using the women's changing room at this particular branch for around two months when the incident took place recently.
After going to the gym to run on the treadmill, which she usually did every other day, Sarah went to the women's changing room, which as a trans woman, she felt was more suitable than the men's, where she would not have felt comfortable.
"Like a lot of people, I tend to try and get in and get out of the locker room, because I go by myself and I’m not really interested in socialising," she told BuzzFeed News.
"I opened my locker — I was gonna start changing — when the manager approached me and she said I had to leave," she continued.
"The manager said that men weren’t allowed in the women’s locker room."
Sarah told them that she wasn't a man, but a transgender woman, but this did not change matters.
"She said 'I’m afraid you have to leave' because someone was made uncomfortable by me being in there."
Staff told Sarah that she was welcome to use their disabled changing room, which was gender-neutral.
"I said I wasn’t disabled, I didn’t want to do that, so I started to leave."
Out in the hallway, where staff took down Sarah's contact details in order to follow up on the incident, the manager asked whether she had undergone gender reassignment surgery.
"I asked if that was the condition on which trans women were allowed in the changing room — that we would have to have had surgery, knowing that a lot of trans people don’t get surgery for so many reasons: because it’s expensive, or because they want to wait, or that they don’t feel like they should get it at all," she explained.
The Equality Act 2010, which is designed to protect trans people from discrimination, states: "you do not need to have undergone any specific treatment or surgery to change from your birth sex to your preferred gender." It goes on to say: "This is because changing your physiological or other gender attributes is a personal process rather than a medical one."
Sarah declined to share such intimate information with staff and, after providing contact details, left.
PureGym has since issued detailed transgender access guidelines titled "Everyone Welcome", which are compliant with the 2004 Gender Recognition Act and seek to determine changing room use on a case-by-case basis.
Sarah said she had chosen PureGym as she believed it to be a trans-inclusive gym. A section of its website entitled "Everyone, Everywhere" states:
"We have created a friendly, supportive place where everybody is welcome, in a judgement free zone.
"We are here to help and support everybody, whoever they are. We have members from all walks of life, shapes and sizes, abilities, experience levels, and all types of goals."
Detail about gender is not stated in information relating to changing rooms on PureGym's website. A list of gym rules, which includes guidance on the use of lockers and courtesy to other members, does not specify any information about gendered use of changing rooms. While a number of PureGym branches offer "ladies only" facilities, the site at which this incident took place is not included.
Throughout the exchange, Sarah said staff seemed unclear as to what PureGym's policy was on gender and changing rooms, but that in this instance, because another member had said they felt uncomfortable, she was not permitted to use the women's changing room.
"I asked if it was the policy that trans women were not allowed in the women’s locker room and [the manager] said that she didn’t know the policy in particular," Sarah continued.
"She just kept saying that I had to leave because someone had reported me. Nowhere in any of this did she tell me that I’d done anything wrong.
"I asked her if it was the official policy that if someone was made uncomfortable because I was trans that I’d have to leave, and she said she didn’t know the policy but I would have to leave."
A spokesperson for PureGym confirmed the incident to BuzzFeed News, and said they hoped they could communicate with Sarah to determine a solution that would allow her to comfortably resume using the gym.
“On this occasion, PureGym staff contacted the member discreetly, following questions from other members, to agree a solution on the appropriate changing facilities,” the spokesperson told us.
“We would still value the opportunity to discuss this matter with the member and agree an appropriate solution.”
While current guidelines were not in place when the incident took place, PureGym's spokesperson said the company always aimed to be inclusive.
“PureGym’s mission is to make fitness accessible to all and ‘Everybody Welcome’ is at the heart of everything we do,” they continued.
“That core principle underpins our clear guidance to staff when supporting transgender access, which is itself based on industry guidelines.
“In addition to male and female changing rooms, our gyms offer separate changing facilities and we support members to use the changing facilities that are best for them and take into consideration other members.
“PureGym has a zero-tolerance policy on any transphobic behaviour from staff or other members.”
Sarah has not since returned to the branch of PureGym where the incident took place, and has not found an alternative gym that she is confident is fully trans-inclusive.
She hoped that her experience would help gym staff and fellow members to understand what it's like to use a gym as a trans person.
“I would want people to realise there is that gap, and you need that training to take into consideration our experiences,” she said.
Sarah also hoped sharing her story would be an act of solidarity with other trans people who have had similar experiences. “I’ve heard from other trans women that they’ve felt ashamed, or humiliated,” she said.
“I guess I just want people to know that if you’re trying to go to the gym and have a workout, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”