How Mike Watkins Created an LGBTQ-Inclusive Fitness Community


As a queer Black man, Mike Watkins was over feeling unwelcome in most fitness and wellness spaces. 

So, mere months before the pandemic began, Mike created his own LGBTQIA+ inclusive and body positive space, —where all are welcome to move their bodies and heal. 

Mike shared with us his challenges and the silver lining of training during quarantine, plus his tips on how fitness trainers can create a more inclusive space for their clients. 

Sarah: Can you tell us a little about your entrepreneurial journey, and what drew you to personal training? 

Mike: In January of 2020, I created Festive Fitness & Wellness to give back to my communities in a way that was authentic to my intersectional identities as a queer Black man. Being celebrated for individuality, personality, and creativity is what drew me to personal training. 

S: It seems like your personal identity and lived experiences are integral to the core of your business’ mission. Can you speak more to how that shows up in how you run the business and create an inclusive and motivating experience for your clients? 

M: My personal mission is to empower my communities through fitness, health, and wellness. 

In the past, I was made to feel unwelcome in so many fitness and wellness spaces because of my identities and/or progressive beliefs, and I hated every second of it. The backbone of Festive Fitness & Wellness is the idea that everyone should feel comfortable enough to move their bodies in a way that feels good to them. 

In terms of motivating my clients, I’m truly just being myself and genuinely rooting for their success, wherever they are in their fitness journey. 

S: What advice do you have for other fitness entrepreneurs on how to make their spaces more inclusive and welcoming to everyone? 

M: For starters, the work is never over. I am constantly checking-in to make sure that folx who choose to work with me feel supported and included. 

Also, I talk to other fitness entrepreneurs and see what works for them and what doesn’t. I learned a lot of what I know about inclusive fitness spaces from other entrepreneurs, like Non-normative Body Club & Decolonizing Fitness. 

S: Let’s talk about how the pandemic has affected your business. What have been some of your biggest challenges? And successes? 

M: My biggest challenge during the pandemic has been adapting to the virtual instructing platform. Doing an online class from my home is much different than in-person. Keeping up the energy and motivation while twerking and working out can be exhausting for 45 minutes, but I love every second of it. I’m grateful to be in a place where I can heal others through movement. 

The biggest success during the pandemic has been the ability for Festive Fitness & Wellness to reach people from all over the country. It’s something I wouldn’t have been able to do prior to moving to an online platform. 

S: If you pivoted online during quarantine, have you since started offering services in person again? If so, how have you been balancing those with online and offline? 

M: I’ve started some outdoor private training sessions with clients from my backyard. Masks are required, and social distancing guidelines are followed. I’ve balanced it out by sticking to weekly routines and not having more than two in-person sessions a day, which helps to maximize time for online sessions. 

S: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other Black and/or queer fitness entrepreneurs? 

M: My advice would be:

  1. Set realistic goals and expectations (daily, weekly, monthly). 

  2. Have a team of chosen family and friends around you. You’re gonna need them even if it’s for them to listen to you vent.

  3. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. But even more importantly, don’t be afraid to accept help when it is being offered. I haven’t made it to this point alone, and I’m so grateful to my loved ones for supporting me. 

  4. Last, but certainly not least: Stay festive! 

fitness, acuity customers, independent business owners, covid-19, pivoting online