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GYM RATSGAY-BAITING GETS A GOOD WORKOUT AT A LOCAL HEALTH CLUB

The tee shirts and stickers began to appear about five months ago. The tee shirts read "I'm straight" on the front and on the back, "Not bent." The stickers got right to the point: The words "No fags" appeared inside a circle with a slash through it. They began showing up at a branch of one of the largest health clubs in the city, the Beauvais' Fitness and Aerobic Center on Eighth Place south of Camelback. A half dozen men began wearing them. They stuck the stickers on their leather weightlifting belts.

The shirts and stickers appeared to be the work of one of the personal trainers who works out with his clients at the gym, a man named Mark Roundy--although he is better known by his nickname "Purple," because of the color of workout clothes he favors.

It's impossible to verify Roundy's role in their distribution, however, because when asked about the tee shirts and stickers, Purple says things like, "I don't keep track of what everyone at the club does," and, "It sounds like someone is trying to make a deal out of something and I don't see anything here to make a deal out of."

Someone, in fact, was trying to make a deal out of something. A number of people were. In fact, some three dozen of the gay men who belong to the Beauvais' gym were trying to make a deal out of it.

One of them, Rick Correa, heard from his own personal trainer that Purple was the source of the tee shirts. So he approached Purple and told him he thought the shirts and stickers were "inappropriate" and "offensive."

"He kind of laughed it off," says Correa.
Someone else tried to make something out of it--Kirk Baxter, who, as a former board member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a founder of Gay Pride events here and a former executive director of the Arizona AIDS Project, was pretty good at making something out of things.

He and his workout partner, Mark Gebeau, are in the Beauvais' gym five nights a week. They like the place, as do many people serious about body building, because of the high quality of its machines. Baxter wanted to approach Purple, but Gebeau talked him out of it. Instead, Baxter went straight to the top.

He spoke to Matt Beauvais, owner of the Beauvais' Fitness and Aerobic Centers. Beauvais' response, Baxter says, was that Purple and his friends had a right to freedom of speech. Beauvais also said he didn't want to go to bat for the gay men, because he had had to throw gay men out of his club for open displays of affection in the men's locker room. He was also somewhat annoyed that Beauvais' was starting to be known as "the gay gym." It's impossible to get Beauvais' side of this, because Matt Beauvais won't return telephone calls to New Times.

Baxter laughs off Beauvais' claim about open displays of affection in the locker room. "This community is too repressed," he says, meaning Phoenix's gay community. Baxter did say he and Gebeau always hugged each other when they left the gym after their workout at night. He also laughs off Beauvais' claim of having thrown gay men out. "With our own little rumor network," says Baxter, "I can't believe we never heard about it."

Correa, who was in corporate banking for eighteen years and has belonged to health clubs in Seattle and Houston, says he has never seen "homophobia" such as he encountered at Beauvais'. He, too, laughs at what might be described as ingenuousness in thinking gay men are carrying on sexual activity in his gym. "These people are serious when they work out," he says. "This is not a pickup place." He adds wryly, "We have other outlets."

In Beauvais' defense, it should be pointed out that the "I'm straight--Not bent" slogan can refer to a body builder's being steroid-free, although one body builder--a straight football player--says the expression does carry the antigay sentiment along with it.

As far as Beauvais' becoming a gay gym, one of its own aerobics instructors says he has heard it referred to as "Beaugay."

Tom Pardoe, a professional dancer who appeared here in Damn Yankees, teaches four classes a week for Beauvais', including one at the Camelback location. "From six to eight in the evening, there's a large percentage of gay people there," he says, estimating the number at 40 to 50 percent.

What's more, Pardoe points out, "there are a number of gay people on the staff. I'm not the only one."

Another wrinkle to the situation is that a large number of America West employees also work out at Beauvais'--the chairman of the board of the airline is Matt Beauvais' father, and America West employees receive a discount at the gym.

"That's an industry with a high percentage of gay men," Baxter says.
A public relations representative at America West, Mike Mitchell, confirms this bit of common knowledge. "I think that's probably a true statement," he says. "I know many gay people that work at America West."

That means that a fair number of both customers and employees were probably offended by the tee shirts and stickers. Virtually, all the gay men were talking about them. "If we didn't approach them, they'd come up to us and say, `Did you see the stickers?'" Gebeau recalls.

The number of people offended by the tee shirts and stickers makes the gym's reluctance to intervene all the more surprising. The question of economics was uppermost in Baxter's mind when he got on the telephone and started calling gay friends who worked out at the club, some thirty to forty men. "We literally sat down and talked about strategies," he says. "We thought of doing our own tee shirt . . . . If all of a sudden we started to wear tee shirts, they'd see what our real numbers are."

They talked, as they have other times, of starting a gay gym, similar to women-only gyms. They talked about joining different clubs. That's what Rick Correa did. He now works out at the YMCA. "I won't go back," he says. "I won't even let one dollar out of my pocket support that gym."

Baxter and Gebeau are also looking for another gym. They apparently won't have a difficult time finding one that would have handled the tee shirt and sticker situation differently.

Spokesmen for two of the largest health-club chains in Phoenix reacted by saying, "Unbelievable" and, "Oh, how rude" when the situation was described to them.

"To me," says a male fitness director for another Phoenix chain, "whatever your views are on the subject, that's not the proper forum to express them . . . . You can talk to other people in the industry in my position and you'd get the same reaction."

Would he have told the trainers to get the stickers off their weightlifting belts?

"Definitely."
A woman who manages a branch of another large chain agrees. "I'm just appalled that they allowed an employee to wear that." She adds, "The Nineties is customer-service time. Why would you want to offend that customer? They're paying your bills."

The words "No fags" appeared inside a circle with a slash through it.

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Anna Dooling