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Planet Fitness accused of harassment; victim says manager demanded to see identification

Planet Fitness markets itself as a “Judgment Free Zone,” but last Wednesday one customer felt very judged.

Robb Livingood believes he was targeted for harassment by a manager of the Morgantown Planet Fitness because he is a transgender person.

The corporate office is aware of the incident and one official told The Dominion Post that staff at the local gym would be reeducated on polices.

Livingood said he was leaving the Morgantown location of the national gym chain on Fort Pierpont Road when his path was blocked by a manager, who insisted he show identification to prove his gender.

“I had my headphones in, I don’t really look like I particularly want to be approached, you know. But the manager stepped into my path of exit and seemed like she wanted my attention,” Livingood said.

He said the manager proceeded to say the staff had been observing him.

“She opened with ‘I see that you use the men’s room exclusively,’ ” Livingood said. “Its distressing to hear someone tell you that they and other people have been watching you go to the bathroom.”

Livingood chose Planet Fitness as his gym in part because he thought the “Judgment Free Zone” the company markets would be helpful during his transition. Up until last week, Livingood found what he was looking for.

“I felt kind of anonymous actually, which is how I prefer it,” he said.

An avid runner, he began to lift weights to help with rehabilitation from a knee injury.

“That changed my life and it made me feel stronger and feel like I could do more with my body. It also helped me feel like I looked more like who I am inside,” he said.

Livingood put a lot of thought into his decision to start using the men’s restroom.

“Because I was socialized female, I’m very attuned to women’s concerns,” he said. “I wanted to wait until I was sure that when I start using the men’s room, I’m going to use it exclusively. That was a concern because I’m also concerned for my own safety.”

“Transgender people are much more likely to be the victims of violence than anyone else in the LGBT community,” said Fairness West Virginia’s executive director Andrew Schneider. “That’s because they are the least understood in our society.”

Fairness West Virginia is a statewide civil rights advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Livingood recently processed the closing of his membership with the same Planet Fitness manager who confronted him and thinks his cancellation played a part in the incident.

“I think that she just saw an easy target. I think she knew very little about him,” said Livingood’s partner Joy Carr.

He tried to deescalate the situation by referencing his imminent departure.

“Do you really want to make a scene over me when I’m going to be gone in a few days?” he said he asked her.

When the manager wouldn’t back down, Livingood went to his car, but returned with his ID in hand. Before showing his ID, he asked the manager once more to reconsider.

“She looked into my membership profile and saw that on the day that I signed up for a membership that I was still legally listed as female on my license,” Livingood said. “She said that she would not permit me into the men’s room unless I show her photo identification and she would insist that I use the women’s facilities.”

The Planet Fitness Code of Ethics document states, in part, “Planet Fitness prohibits discrimination and harassment in the workplace that is based on an individual’s … gender, gender identity, gender expression … etc.”

The Dominion Post reached out to Planet Fitness for comment, and in an email, senior public relations manager Becky Zirlen said the corporation is “working closely with the franchise owner to reeducate the staff on our current policies and protocols.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and Fairness West Virginia have both offered training.

The manager told Livingood that while corporate had the policy of acknowledging customers’ stated gender, regional Planet Fitness had instructed her to follow West Virginia’s law on the matter.

“There is no law barring a transgender person from using whichever bathroom they deem appropriate,” Schneider said.

“While Morgantown does have anti-discrimination laws, the gym falls outside of city limits,” Schneider said.

In her statement, Zirlen also said the franchise manager reached out to personally apologize.

Livingood expressed some skepticism.

“Apology without change is manipulation,” he said. “There has to be some serious changes to address this issue meaningfully.”

For now, Livingood is trying to see the good that can come from this experience.

“For my mental well-being, I have chosen a path of transition,” Livingood said. “I’m not going to be bullied or a victim. I know that there are people who are in less of a position than I am to take on this issue. And while I can, I’m going to do that, if nothing else than to protect other people.”

He is also looking for a new gym.

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