SoulCycle and Equinox Fitness Owner Hosts Trump Fundraiser; Celebs Call for Boycott

by Sam Cronin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday August 12, 2019

Billionaire Stephen Ross
Billionaire Stephen Ross  (Source:Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press, File)

Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins and chairman of the Related Companies which oversees fitness giants Equinox, SoulCycle, and Blink Fitness, has stirred controversy for those brands by organizing an elaborate fundraiser for Trump's reelection campaign last Friday.

The fundraiser, as reported by the Washington Post, took place "at the Southampton home of a New York real estate developer who owns the Miami Dolphins, and another [follow-up reception] at a 17,000-square-foot Bridgehampton mansion that was once rented out to Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

The price of entry to the events ranges from $5,600 to $250,000, according to invitations obtained by The Washington Post, with the costliest tickets offering the greatest access to Trump."

The Post reports that paying for the highest, $250,000 ticket includes lunch, a photo and a private roundtable with the president.

Many high profile customers of Equinox and SoulCycle, including Billy Eichner and Crissy Teigen, took to Twitter to voice their concerns, and in some cases, to call for boycotts of the high-end fitness brands.

In response, the Cut reports that Equinox held "a phone-in meeting for its sales and club-level management teams as an attempt to assuage concerns."

Company executives Scott Rosen (Equinox president) and Judy Turchin (COO) led the call, beginning by saying: "None of our profits ... no money's been distributed to him. No money is going to reelect Donald Trump," Rosen says. "We define who we are. We are Equinox, he is not, which is the hashtag some of you have been using. We live our values."

In the meeting, employees reportedly raised questions about how the controversy would affect them, specifically those who work on commission. There were fears that the calls for boycotts would affect the amount of money those employees would make.

In response, Turchin said: "What we have always done and will do in this instance is look out for our employees, and that means understanding the impact, discussing the impact, and then doing the right thing. I'm sorry for those of you that are dealing with members who are angry and unhappy, but you're going to also get people who fundamentally believe in what we do, and if you continue to believe in that, which I hope you do, you will be able to continue to do your job in a way that allows us to change lives."

Later in the call, after an employee expressed disgust at Ross' decision to organize the fundraiser, Rosen went on to agree that Ross had made a mistake, saying: "I will tell you one thing: He's actually a very good guy, he's making a huge mistake here. He actually doesn't agree with a lot of what Donald Trump says, and I actually think he voted for Hillary. Not that it matters, because he's maybe made a stupid move here and it's not us. We define us.

The Advocate reports that: "Historically, Equinox has branded itself as an LGBTQ ally, partnering with the House Ballroom community and supporting charities like House Lives Matter to assist marginalized people. However, the news of Ross's fundraising for Trump — whose administration has actively worked to roll back LGBTQ rights — will likely overshadow any such efforts."

Former California state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, who is running for a City Council seat in a district that includes the downtown area where the fundraiser was held, said Ross is "dancing with the devil" by helping raise money for Trump. According to LA Times, de Leon said: "Raising money on both sides of the aisle is par for the course among the wealthy. But raising money for a billionaire president who embraces bigotry and white nationalism is beyond the pale -- especially for the city with the largest Latino population in the nation."

In response to the news, the brands have released a public statement meant to assuage concerns:
"Neither Equinox nor SoulCycle [which is also under the umbrella company] have anything to do with the event later this week and do not support it. As is consistent with our policies, no company profits are used to fund politicians. We are committed to all our members and the communities we live in. We believe in tolerance and equality, and will always stay true to those values. Mr. Ross is a passive investor and is not involved in the management of either business."

After the controversy broke, Out Magazine posted an opinion piece questioning the impact boycotts may have on affecting change.

"But when it comes down to it, are we really surprised that a brand like Equinox, which prides itself on the exclusivity of capitalism and the beauty standards that come with it, is owned by a Trump supporter? Does boycotting these brands result in any real change, if the alternates might be just as complicit in this system, for all we know? Doesn't it feel like just yesterday we were boycotting Uber only to give our money to the Trump-supporting Peter Theil-owned Lyft? Is there any ethical consumption under capitalism?? Just a few questions for your Wednesday morning."