Gender fury over Virgin Active bathrooms: Mixed reaction to gym’s new transgender policy

Virgin Active. Picture: Leon Lestrade/Independent Media

Virgin Active. Picture: Leon Lestrade/Independent Media

Published Apr 26, 2024


Cape Town - As Virgin Active Club members threatened to cancel their gym memberships over a new “inclusive policy” allowing transgender individuals into the changing room of their choice, LGBTQIA+ advocates said they hoped other workplaces and companies would learn from the move.

The club was drawn into a public row this week over its announcement to allow those who have completed their full transition to access bathrooms that correlate with their changed legal gender.

This led to some club members taking to social media expressing their dissatisfaction with the decision.

A user on X (formerly known as Twitter), said they were not satisfied with the club for allegedly allowing a transgender woman to use the ladies’ rooms at the Claremont branch.

The user said a 50-year-old male, who allegedly identified as a woman, was seen in the women’s restroom at the branch.

Complaints by parents to the club’s management allegedly never addressed allegations that the person still had the physical characteristics of a male.

Virgin Active Claremont on Thursday directed the Cape Argus to a statement posted by the Virgin Active X handle yesterday.

In the statement, Virgin Active said it was committed to creating safe and inclusive spaces for all members.

It maintained that access to change rooms corresponding to one’s gender identity is permitted in line with its values of acceptance and respect.

“To ensure that we achieve this, access needs to correspond to a member’s legal identity.

“We have welcomed members of the transgender community at our clubs and allow those who have completed their full transition to access bathrooms that correlate with their changed legal gender. They cannot access female-only spaces if they are still in transition.

“To ensure that we maintain this policy, members who have completed their transition will need to provide official identification documents reflecting their changed issues to an appropriate authority.

“We also provide special needs or gender-neutral ablutions and facilities at most of our clubs for those who prefer a private space to change,” it said.

LGBTQIA+ activist Amelia Mfiki, who works for a shelter and commented in her personal capacity, applauded the implementation of the all-gender restroom policy by Virgin Active, and hoped other companies and workplaces would follow suit.

“As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, it is good for any place to have these unisex bathrooms.

“Even in my workplace, we do have them to accommodate members of the LGBTQIA+ community, because if I identify myself as female and have to enter male bathrooms, it will create confusion for some and not everyone understands the LGBTQIA+ community.

“We have homophobic people that don’t like our community; it’s worse if you are a trans man or trans woman and if you are against the policies of a gym that is trying by all means to accommodate the LGBTQIA+ community, then you are in the wrong place because this is a free country,” Mfiki said.

In response to those who opposed unisex bathrooms, Sonke Gender Justice co-executive director, Bafana Khumalo, said: “It is unfortunate that there is such a reaction to universal toilets. We think that this is the way to go.”

Khumalo added: “We understand the concern. We are in a violent society where trust levels are very low. This change requires sensitisation to ensure that measures are in place to ensure privacy.

“We note that several private sector companies are moving in this direction in terms of toilets and have not heard of any adverse effects.

“It is our considered view that all enterprises that seek to move in this direction should ensure that there is engagement with all stakeholders to ensure that there is greater understanding,” Khumalo said.