Stephen Ross, the billionaire investor behind SoulCycle and Equinox gym, is under fire for planning to host a fundraiser for President Donald Trump in the Hamptons.
The fundraiser is scheduled for Aug. 9 in Southampton, New York, with top tickets selling for $250,000, which includes a meeting with the president.
Ross is chairman of The Related Companies, a real estate firm that owns Equinox, SoulCycle and Pure Yoga and is behind the Hudson Yards development on the west side of Manhattan.
Ross is also the owner of NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Equinox and SoulCycle are popular with the LGBTQ community and soon after the news broke, activists were calling for a boycott of the brands. Equinox itself touts its “clubs” as LGBTQ friendly and has a significant presence in LGBTQ pride parades around the country.
“This Pride, we’re celebrating life with one of the most powerful forms of movement — voguing,” says Equinox’s “Powered by Pride” website, which said the company raised $20,000 for a New York City Ballroom charity, and even posted a #PoweredByPride Equinox playlist on Spotify.
In a post on Instagram, Equinox acknowledged that “many members raised their concerns about a political fundraiser taking place later this week."
“We want to let you know that Equinox and SoulCycle have nothing to do with the event and do not support it,” Equinox wrote, claiming that “no company profits are used to fund politicians.”
“Mr. Ross is a passive investor and is not involved with the management of the business,” the statement continued.
Actor Wilson Cruz created a Change.org petition calling on Ross to cancel the fundraiser or face additional cancellations.
“We believed that we were supporting a company that was inclusive, accepting and celebrating our diversity and supporting our physical and mental health as a community,” Cruz wrote. “We joined this gym because we believed it shared our values. We believed it was a safe space for people like us.”
“If this fundraiser indeed does take place we will be looking for another gym to give our money to and we will be calling on our networks of LGBTQ and POC friends to do the same,” Cruz wrote.
Kenny Stills, a Dolphins wide receiver, criticized the fundraiser, saying it was at odds with the mission of a charitable organization founded by Ross. The Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality is a nonprofit that seeks to educate and empower the sports community “to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations.”
“You can’t have a nonprofit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump,” Stills tweeted with a “skeptical” emoji.
Phillippe Reines, who was an adviser to Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state, said on Twitter: “No way to spin this. Boycott @soulcycle & @Equinox.”
Many others took to social media to say that they were canceling their Equinox membership, though others noted that it is difficult to get out of onerous contracts that allow few reasons for cancellation.
The actor and comedian Billy Eichner tweeted that he had canceled his membership. “There are a handful of billionaires who own everything and many support Trump,” Eichner wrote. “Practically speaking, it’s probably impossible to completely avoid them. But considering @Equinox’s clientele and how they’ve pandered to us, this one feels particularly hypocritical and shameful.”
New York Sports Clubs, a competitor, offered free admission to its gyms on Friday: "This Friday, August 9th we're not doing anything in Southampton," NYSC tweeted. "Come work out with us."
Ross issued a statement on Wednesday defending his political activism and gave no indication he would cancel the fundraiser.
"While some prefer to sit outside of the process and criticize, I prefer to engage directly and support the things I deeply care about," Ross said in the statement.
"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," Ross said. "I have been, and will 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."
According to The Washington Post, the event will be attended by Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, as well as Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.