CHICAGO (WLS) -- A local business owner has received a national honor for his contributions to the Chicagoland LGBTQ+ community.
Diego Cevallos-Garzon was named one of this year's "Out100" by Out Magazine for creating an inclusive, safe space with his gym "Strong Hands." The honor is awarded annually to a hundred "influential and inspirational" LGBTQ personalities to celebrate their accomplishments. Cevallos-Garzon formally received the honor at an event in Los Angeles, along with Robin Roberts, Gio Benitez and Chad Matthew, the President of ABC owned stations. The award was also celebrated with a local celebration at the Kit Kat Lounge in the Northalsted neighborhood.
"Strong hands is not just a gym, it's a community," Cevallos-Garzon said. "I did establish this for our community to come and feel safe."
The gym opened in 2019 just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Cevallos-Garzon was determined to pursue his dream and make sure LGBTQ plus people had a welcoming place to work out.
"We don't have enough resources for the non-binary and trans community, one being self- defense classes and since I had the means and I have the resources I wanted to create that," Cevallos-Garzon said.
Cevallos-Garzon said the self-defense program is often utilized by people in the transgender community who may be targets of hate crimes, but the classes are open to anyone.
Lisa Marie, whose daughter is transgender, said her daughter would not feel comfortable walking into a traditional gym. With Strong Hands, she now has a place to work out and socialize.
"She found the safe space," Marie said. "And Diego takes a lot of measures to make sure, especially as a mom, I'm always a little nervous. She's a minor, she's 16 now but he has the darkened windows."
Cevallos-Garzon grew up in Hialeah, Florida near Miami and Quad Cities, Iowa. He came to Chicago when he was 18 years old.
"I was kinda going down the wrong path as far as crime and fighting and things like that as a youth," Cevallos-Garzon said. "It was more because I was really angry, and the household that I grew up in was very tough and I wasn't accepted because of my sexuality, because of my religion that we grew up in as a child, growing up in an Afro Latino family was not easy as well."
He said boxing, working out and his dream of opening this gym kept him on the right track.
For one gym member Lee Hartley, the gym has provided a safe space to exercise comfortably.
"I identify as non-binary and so when I first moved to Chicago two years ago, one of the first things I was looking for was a gym, and it had kickboxing ... so I was like jackpot, yes," Hartley said.
Another customer, Harrison Mackler, echoed a similar feeling of comfort.
"I not only get the best trainer there is, but also do it in a space where I can feel completely comfortable being myself," Mackler said.
Cevallos-Garzon recently opened a second space, in a Loop apartment complex where clients can train one- on -one with him or his head trainer.
"This is a place not just for me, not just for my clients but also my trainers and everyone, without them I wouldn't be here," Cevallos-Garzon said.
Cevallos-Garzon said he hopes to see more LGBTQ friendly gyms like his nationwide.
You can find the "Out 100" edition of the OUT magazine on newsstands and at https://www.out.com/out100/2023.
You can also watch the Out100 TV Special with all of the honorees on Saturday, Dec. 9 at 11 p.m. on ABC7.