When news broke this week that the billionaire who owns the parent company of luxury gym Equinox and fitness company SoulCycle was hosting a fundraiser for President Trump, the fitness community — and more specifically, the LGBTQ community — did not take to it kindly.
Calls for boycotts and gym membership cancellations spread online, and on Friday afternoon — the day of the fundraiser — dozens of protesters gathered outside the gym’s West Hollywood branch, holding signs that read “SoulCycle has no soul” and “Equinox supports a white supremacist.” Cars inching along a congested Sunset Boulevard honked a cacophony of support.
John Wooden, who said he had been an Equinox member for more than 15 years, stood with more than two dozen others, chanting against Trump and his benefactor Stephen Ross. Wooden had marked a red line over the company’s name on his gray Equinox baseball cap.
Quitting the gym was a hard decision, he said, but Wooden thinks Ross made a mistake in supporting Trump’s reelection effort. And knowing his own money went to Ross? “It’s an icky feeling,” said the 55-year-old interior designer.
“This is not Republican or Democrat. Trump is a problem for the country, for the world, for humanity, for children.”
Ross, founder and chairman of the Related Cos., parent company of Equinox and SoulCycle, held the fundraiser to benefit Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee. Ross, a real estate developer, also owns the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
Ross and his wife, jewelry designer Kara Ross, hosted Trump and donors at their home in Southampton, N.Y.; tickets cost up to $250,000, according to the Washington Post, which first reported the event. A second fundraiser followed at the home of New York real estate developer Joe Farrell.
Both the luxury gym and indoor-cycling company have branded themselves as LGBTQ-friendly, and many customers have expressed feeling a sense of betrayal at the news, citing Trump administration policies that have negatively affected the community, including the ban on transgender individuals in the military, and ending Obama-era healthcare and workplace protections for the transgender community. Others cited Trump’s rants against immigrants and people of color who have criticized him.
Equinox and SoulCycle put out statements disavowing the Ross fundraiser and called Ross a “passive investor.”
Equinox customers were not buying it. Actor Kirk Acevedo was one of many tweeting about canceling his membership and calling on his friends to do the same.
“Hey @Equinox I’ve been a member at Equinox for over 14years & I’m shocked 2 hear my membership dues are going to fund a President who is a racist,” he wrote. He followed it with another tweet, calling it the #EquinoxExodus.
Gonzalo Garcia, who organized the West Hollywood protest with his friend Adam Bass, said he is not a member of the gym because of its high cost but wanted to take a stand. He said that as a gay man of color, he felt a need to act.
Garcia, 39, said the number of people who showed up was a happy surprise. He had been hoping that Ross would cancel his fundraiser, but now he hopes Ross will support candidates who stand for equality.
“He should put his money where his mouth is,” he said.
Garcia said his parents faced discrimination after immigrating to the U.S. from Cuba in 1970. That same discrimination against immigrants and people of color is still rampant today and Trump’s words have helped fuel it, Garcia said.
“We just cannot support a president that creates that rhetoric and tone in this country,” he said. “I’ve been angry and infuriated for a few years now, and it’s gotten to a point — it’s a tipping point for me where I have to do something.”
In recent years, aided by the reach of social media, customer backlash to news of companies financially supporting politicians has moved like fire, igniting outrage.
Fast-food chain In-N-Out caught some heat after it was reported that the company donated $25,000 to the California Republican Party last year. LGBTQ advocates have long expressed disapproval of fast-food company Chick-fil-A donating to anti-gay groups, which the company has said is inaccurate.
But it’s one thing for people to change one aspect of their eating habits and another to change their lifestyle based on the political beliefs of company executives, said Carrie Giddins Pergram, who teaches political communications and writing at American University.
“When it gets hard for people to make changes based on what they believe, I think people are less willing to do it,” she said.
Celebrities such as Billy Eichner and Chrissy Teigen tweeted Wednesday about canceling their memberships to Equinox, with Teigen inviting her followers to join her “at the library” to work out. Someone began an online petition that same day, urging Equinox to “end its support of Donald Trump.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Ross said he has always been “an active participant in the democratic process.”
“I have known Donald Trump for 40 years, and while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions,” the statement said.
Ross said he would “ continue to be an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability, and I have and will continue to support leaders on both sides of the aisle to address these challenges .”
Ross is a longtime political donor to both Democrats and Republicans. Most recently, he donated thousands to the Republican National Committee, the Democratic Party of Virginia, and candidates in New York and Florida, according to Federal Election Commission data.
On Friday, before leaving for New York, Trump called Ross a “great friend” and said, “The controversy makes Steve Ross hotter.”
“And I understand the fundraiser was totally sold out and it’s very successful,” Trump said, adding that the events were expected to bring in $11 million to $12 million.
Ronna McDaniel, Republican National Committee chairwoman, taunted the president’s critics in an afternoon tweet, saying Trump “raised $12M today, $2M more than originally expected.”
In West Hollywood, protesters noticed Equinox members peering out at them from the second-story window and beckoned for them to come down and join their effort.
Sitting nearby as protesters out-shouted a Trump supporter, Lindsay Staloff-Peterson wore a black shirt that simply read “Equinox.” Staloff-Peterson, 44, said gym staffers once saved her when she suffered a rare form of heart failure. On Friday, she had just finished up a yoga session and decided to be there as a silent supporter of the company.
“They saved my life,” she said of the staff. She doesn’t support Ross’ political views or how he spends his money, but she said she will defend the company.
“It’s freedom of speech,” she said. “We live in America.”
Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.