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LGBTQ Self-Defense Class Focuses On Empowerment

Marie Miclot
Grappling Fight Team Pittsburgh/True Believer

On the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, which began the movement for LGBTQ equality, local trainers will host a self-defense class for people who identify across the spectrum. 

The queer martial arts community is growing in Pittsburgh and people want to learn how to defend themselves, according to Samantha Civitate, the event co-organizer and director of Best Buddies Pittsburgh.

“Stonewall was kind of birthed out of violence, unfortunately, towards the queer community,” Civitate said. “And the response to that was also violence. So I think it’s important for all queer people and all peopel of the LGBTQ spectrum to be able to defend themselves.”

The two-and-a-half hour class will teach Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves, which focus on ground fighting and defense maneuvers. Co-organizer Nica Ross is a blue belt in the art, and said there will be contact during the training, but all activities are voluntary and people can step away if they feel uncomfortable.

“We’re taking a tactic toward self-defense for this specific class that is trauma-informed and not meant to trigger people,” Ross said. 

Participants will learn how to break grips and defend against strikes, and there will be an open mat session where people can practice the new moves. The class is meant to be an empowering experience, Ross said, and will not include discussion about past violence or recent attacks against LGBTQ people.


The growing queer martial arts community excites Civitate, who has been training Brazilian jiu-jitsu for about a year. She said it’s powerful to see people being out on the mats and being themselves in a field that has historically been pretty closed-minded. 

“I really, really do feel confident walking on the street being able to protect myself; being able to get away from a bad situation,” Civitate said, “and also being able to protect my partner and protect my friends when we're out. I feel so much more aware since I started training.”

The free class is hosted by True Believe Jiu Jitsu, GFTeam Pittsburgh and Triangles Everywhere LGBTQIA+ BJJ Group on Sunday, June 30 at Sitkiatnin Muay Thai Academy in Squirrel Hill, from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.