GLAAD speaks with celebrity fitness trainer, motivational speaker and LGBT activist Shawnee Harkins

As the conversation about LGBT athletes across all disciplines and levels gains momentum, GLAAD speaks with a celebrity trainer, motivational speaker and LGBT activist, Shawnee Harkins about her involvement in the movement. Her story began early on when as a teenager, she faced an almost fatal car and rollerblading collision. An accident that could break many, gave Shawnee the motivation to pursue her dreams and give back to the community. By following her passion, she accomplished a lot, from joining "The Dr. Phil Show" and the show's "The Ultimate Weight Loss Race" to joining Jillian Michaels as her Master Trainer to launch Michaels’ newest fitness program, “BodyShred.” But although her career as a trainer keeps her busy, Shawnee continues to be a great leader in the LGBT sports and fitness movement by becoming an Ambassador for Athlete Ally.

GLAAD: When athletes come out, do you think that media focuses too much attention on the fact that they are LGBT rather than their accomplishments as sports figures?
Shawnee: I can see how there could be an argument for each side, however I tend to operate from the glass is half full. We have come such a long way in the LGBT community, thanks to our brothers and sisters whom have fought tirelessly for equal rights, both in and out of the sports industry, so I think we are moving in a positive direction when the media highlights an accomplished sports figure. We don't want nor need the media to beat the thing to death. LGBT sports figures simply want the same basic need and rights as everyone else; to be loved and to love. The media has a responsibility to focus on an athlete's accomplishment first and foremost and hopefully down the road, our basic need will be viewed and treated just as simple as everyone else's.

GLAAD:  What do you think could increase the visibility of LGBT athletes?
Shawnee:  There are wonderful growing organizations such as Athlete Ally that support and provide the platform for leaders of LGBT sports figures. It is a privilege for me to be an ambassador of Athlete Ally. Athletes are role models and through social media, their fans are able to connect with them on a personal level - this is one of the highest forms of visibility in my opinion. If an athlete is willing to share a piece of their personal life, I think this is one of the most impactful ways to do so. I say, let your light shine!

GLAAD: As a teenager, you faced a huge obstacle when you collided with a suburban, while rollerblading. How did that accident effect your dedication to give back to the community and help you inspire others to face their own obstacles?
Shawnee: After experiencing tragedy vs. triumph, triumph won and it became my mission to give back to my community. We all have a great purpose in this life, it so happened I recognized mine through my journey as a teenager. When you fall, you get back up matter how many times you fall, you always get back up. This is the inspiration and motivation behind my training philosophy, my training style and the message I convey as a motivational speaker. By sharing my story and the lessons I've learned, I hope to teach others to persevere through their challenges and obstacles and that no one or circumstance can keep you from your destiny.Photo credit Kim Harper

GLAAD: You recently partnered with Jillian Michaels as one of her trainers, can you tell me more about that?
Shawnee: Absolutely! I'm excited that Jillian has created a scientific, metabolic training approach to achieve a strong, sexy, shredded body, thus BODYSHRED ™ was born from this philosophy. My role in working within the new BODYSHRED ™ organization is in the capacity of a Master Trainer, an educator to certify fitness professionals to become BODYSHRED ™ instructors. Jillian and her team have hand selected top dogs in the fitness industry as Master Trainers with an extensive master trainer program to ensure we deliver all the bells and whistles to our promising instructors!

GLAAD:  Do you think that being such a dedicated fitness guru and helping people change their lives inspired you to advocate for LGBT rights?
Shawnee: Without a doubt. My passion for helping all walks of life is one of the reasons I am inspired to advocate for LGBT rights. The LGBT community has provided the platform, and the opportunity to utilize and lend my voice. I am touched every time, I receive communication from someone that was positively affected from simply being open and honest.

GLAAD: How do you think we could improve the conversation about out female sports figures?
Shawnee: For starters, I'm pleased we actually have open dialogue within the media on this topic. As long as society and the media continue to provide a comfortable environment, our out female sports figures will continue to be apart of the conversation. People are affected by what they see and experience. Female athletes are present day role models and with being open, it just continues to break down past barriers. At the end of the day, LGBT athletes should receive support within the sports industry.

GLAAD: Recently you have been working on some new exciting projects, would you mind sharing?
Shawnee: This year has been rather fruitful in each area of my life. Dreams that I envisioned in my career are coming to fruition. First and foremost, I am a motivator and that flows into my teachings as a motivational speaker and into my practice as a personal trainer. Every project, I am apart of, you can be sure the essence of me always follows!
I am excited to announce I will begin my speaking tour with Preps365, a motivational development speaking conference for career oriented athletes, ages 16-23. Our mission is to inspire and motivate these kids to invest and charge after their dreams, no matter the odds they may come up against. All of our guest speakers are accomplished pro's in the sports and fitness industry. I will speak on the topic, "Overcoming Adversity" through mental and physical strength. It is my intention to set our athletes up for success through listening to my story and sharing with them the "moment", I discovered how powerful the mind really is. Our minds have the power to manipulate our bodies into ACTION.

We launch our first conference on Tuesday, Aug. 19th. website will continue to update our tour schedule and we invite sports organizations, athletic directors and coaches to contact us to have Preps365 on campus. We have invited the media to attend and hope to have their support.
At our kickoff conference, I will also speak openly and publicly for the first time of my most recent journey of perseverance. Through sharing one of the greatest challenges of my life, I want to impart upon others that setbacks are not failures. They are a set up for a comeback. I look forward to taking the stage, telling my story and motivating the audience!

As I mentioned, I'm excited to work within BODYSHRED ™ as a Master Trainer! It's thrilling to launch a new fitness program that you believe in and know whole heartedly it will benefit the masses. Every time, someone walks up to me and shares their experience with taking the 30 minute fitness class for the first time, I can't help, but do what is natural for me and give them a giant size hug! BODYSHRED ™ as a class, fitness program and organization is like one big family! My goal is to begin teaching the instructor workshops this winter. I invite all fitness enthusiasts to check out our program!
My fitness apparel line, Sweatburns ™ is launching Jan. 2015! I've always wanted to bring fashion and fitness together, bringing style and flavor to high quality workout apparel. Sweatburns ™ is the embodiment of an intense workout, sport or fitness activity. It's the drops of hard work dripping down your face. It's the actual "sweat burn" you feel upon your skin when you've pushed your mind and body to the max! Sweatburns ™ symbolizes dedication, commitment, pushing through and demolishing your goal! Sweatburns ™ was born in my training session with my boy, Mike Galvao.

It's been a lot of fun speaking with you, Agata and seeing your dedication to the LGBT community! I hope that GLAAD continues to strive for excellence in sharing LGBT stories and instituting equality for our community. I am privileged to lend my voice.

Make sure to follow Shawnee on Twitter and visit her website.

photo credit: Kim Harper, make up to Tre' Major