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Word of a campaign fundraiser for President Donald Trump on Friday at the Hamptons home of billionaire Stephen Ross (chairman and majority owner of The Related Companies, an umbrella to Equinox Fitness, which also owns the SoulCycle brand) has left some employees and frequenters of the upscale fitness clubs in a political and “moral” dilemma — pitting a favorite gym against personal politics. (On the other hand, the Clinton Presidential campaign held an event at the Soul Cycle studio in TriBeCa in 2016 that was attended by Chelsea Clinton.)
News of the Trump fundraiser, which guests will pay up to $250,000 to attend, first broke Tuesday; since then, social media has lit up with Hollywood stars Billy Eichner, Chrissy Teigen, Queer Eye‘s Jonathan Van Ness, director Zack Bornstein and A-list Hollywood stylist-activist Karla Welch among those vowing to cancel memberships. A staffer at Equinox reported to a THR source that the gym was “overwhelmed” by the number of clients exiting. Competitive gyms jumped on the opportunity to promote their inclusive policies.
Welch (whose clients include everyone from Justin Bieber and Tracee Ellis Ross to Elisabeth Moss and Megan Rapinoe) posted a series of videos on Instagram Stories, announcing that she has canceled her Soul Cycle membership.
“Hey guys, I’m just having a good DM with my friend [star makeup artist] Rachel Goodwin and we’re talking about Soul Cycle. And here’s the thing. That’s more important than a vote at the ballot booth. They’re both important but we vote with our dollars every day. And you know, I looove going to Soul Cycle. But who fucking cares? Because the action of not going and not supporting a business and an owner who supports racism is far greater than my bike ride. And it’s a kind of an action that anyone can take. Know where your dollars go. Support businesses that support the values you live by.”
She continued with a text post on Instagram Stories that read: “Also all the peeps saying, ‘Yah, you’re not doing Soul Cycle,’ check your own selves and political actions. I mean this in a positive way. It’s easy to CALL OUT people to stop stuff when it doesn’t affect you but make sure you’re walking that talk.”
Soul Cycle’s biggest competitor, Flywheel Sports (the studio of choice for Sofia Vergara, Jimmy Fallon and, ironically, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner), posted a general message of Inclusivity: “All welcome and always free shoes” alongside an image of a model wearing a tank top that reads, “All sizes, All colors, All levels, All faiths, All genders, All styles, All welcome, Flywheel.”
The California-based spin studio Cycle House (where Jessica Alba, Jamie Chung and Shay Mitchell have worked out) reposted a general “Home to All” message, stating the company’s inclusive policies and adding, “We know there’s a lot going on and we’ve been inundated with questions. We can only speak to who WE are.” And Exhale fitness studio and spa in Santa Monica posted: “At Exhale we achieve more together than alone. We operate from positive energy. We welcome all.”
Gwyneth Paltrow’s longtime trainer Tracy Anderson went the extra mile, stating that she will donate a percentage of weekend earnings from her business to three nonprofits: “Look what you made me do,” she posted on Instagram, along with a signed note stating: “Feeling heated? So are my studios. Join us in Hamptons, New York City and Los Angeles locations this weekend. We’ll be donating 20 percent of class revenue across The Human Rights Campaign, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Martin Luther King Foundation on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
The fitness studio HIIT House LA on South Fairfax Avenue also made a statement on Instagram Stories: “Where you are investing your time & money MATTERS…. As an LGBTQ and female co-owned and operated business, we want to extend a discount to any and all who are looking to drop the bigotry and commit to something that commits to them.… Your choices make all the difference. We cannot stay complacent.”
Kinsey Diment, a co-owner of the gym, said that since Tuesday she has received an onslaught of messages from members of Equinox “looking to transfer to a gym that is supportive of who they are at the base.” Among them were a couple of trainers at Equinox who are caught in a “catch-22 because the job is their main source of income so they are struggling with their own moral dilemma in this situation and living in L.A. isn’t cheap.”
Assuming some people are locked in contracts, HIIT House LA is offering one free week and then a discounted rate of 40 dollars less per month to help “ease the blow,” says Diment, adding that several other small gyms in the neighborhood are offering similar incentives. “There are so many gym options that will give you just as many results in your fitness goals as an Equinox, but without the corporate mystery of where your money’s actually going. Smaller gyms are more transparent. It has been so inspiring to watch the whole community rally around this event and come together and provide options for people when their other options fell out from under them.”
Other fitness businesses have also been getting in on the action. A New York City-based fitness studio offered new clients who recently canceled Equinox memberships two free weeks of unlimited classes. New York Sports Club offered customers a free workout Friday, the day of the planned fundraiser. Other businesses such as New York City locally owned studio Five Points Academy and Jersey City, N.J., based cycling studio Core Indoor Cycling also offered free classes for recently canceled Equinox and SoulCycle memberships.
On Friday night, actress Mandy Moore tweeted “Hey @equinox and @soulcycle wanna make it right? Here’s a start: match every dollar raised by Ross and donate from your corporate profits to LGBTQ, migrants rights and women’s rights organizations. We want receipts.”
SoulCycle responded, saying, “Hi. We 1000% understand why you are calling for more action. And we agree. We’re inviting our instructor community of over 350 amazing individuals to hold a community ride of their choosing.”
A statement posted on Instagram by Equinox Fitness attempted to distance its upscale fitness establishments from the fundraiser, saying that “Equinox and SoulCycle have nothing to do with this event and do not support it” and that “no company profits are used to fund politicians.” It further said that “Mr. Ross is a passive investor and is not involved in the management of either business.”
The post has drawn over 6,000 comments. Welch was among them, saying, “Mr. Ross says he supports and believes in racial equality. With zero due respect, Mr. Ross, you wouldn’t host a re-election event for a RACIST if you did.”
Kevin Harter, group vp integrated marketing at Bloomingdale’s, posted, “Mr. Ross is still profiting off our dues. After 19 years @equinox might be time to take my money elsewhere.”
Additional reporting by Neha Joy and Fiona Moriarty-McLaughlin.
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