Transgender community feels welcome at a St. Louis County gym

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CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — The House of Pain in Chesterfield is more than a gym. It’s also a house of acceptance, diversity, and inclusivity.  

“We’re crushing the limitations that society puts on people,” said gym owner Joe Corbett. “I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman or if you’re transgender or what race you are.”

Corbett has created an environment in an arena you may not expect to be so accepting — the gym.  

“See people for who they are, not the color of their skin or what sex they are or what sex they want to be,” said Corbett. “Why would you hate someone or dislike what someone else is doing that has nothing to do with you?”  

Corbett’s vision for how he operates his gym in Chesterfield and Maryland Heights is what led Ashley Baker to join. 

“They don’t care about your background,” said Baker. “They don’t care about your political beliefs. They don’t care about your gender. They just care that you’re here doing the same thing as everybody else.”  

Baker served 14 years of active service in the Air Force and made the transition from male to female. 

She said there were times she was scared to leave her house after her transition, but she found refuge to continue doing what she loves to do at the gym.    

“You don’t know how people really feel about you until you take a step in that door,” said Baker. “There’s no judgment. They didn’t need a sign to say that, you just know it when you come in that door. Everything else is just left outside.”  

That is exactly what Corbett wants. 

“I invite whoever is watching this to come in and see what we’ve built,” Corbett said. “It’s just a different environment, and I’ve been in a lot of gyms.”

As a business owner and parent, Corbett knows the challenges the transgender community faces. 

“I have a transgender daughter, and so I’ve lived it for a couple of years,” he said. “And I’m guilty of not understanding and that’s what I’ve tried to seek is that understanding.”  

Corbett’s belief that we’re all different is one of the reasons Shaun Hairston chose House of Pain to train when he moved to St. Louis.  He felt welcome at the House of Pain instantly after he introduced himself. 

Hairston said he greeted some of the gym members by saying: “I’m Shaun. I’ve been transitioning for a while, these are my pronouns, this is what I want to be called.”

“Everyone was like, ‘Okay cool. How much do you want on the bar?'” Hairston recalled. “Like nobody missed a beat, you know? It’s about the weights, not about that.”

Hairston said he understands how some people may still be unsure about the transgender community, but he believes there’s room for everyone to learn.  

“We need to come together on what we can agree on and build from there,” Hairston said.  

Corbett said it’s the members who make the gym the welcoming atmosphere that it has become. 

“Just love that’s what we’re called to do,” said Hairston. “I know that may sound corny. That may not be popular, but that’s our opinion. We’re accepting, we’re understanding, and we have no tolerance for any judgment at all.”

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