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SoulCycle Tries To Spin Trump Fundraiser Fallout By Offering Free 'Social Justice' Rides

Dashed Arrow Original photo of Stephen Ross by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

The management teams of Equinox and SoulCycle are still scrambling to mitigate the fallout from the news that billionaire owner and Hudson Yards developer Stephen Ross would be hosting a $100K+/plate Donald Trump fundraiser at his Hamptons home today. Although both companies tried to distance themselves from Ross, a #BoycottEquinox protest quickly gained traction on social media this week. Today, SoulCycle’s chief executive officer tried to get customers back on their side by offering free “social justice” rides to customers for causes hand-picked by instructors.

In an email to SoulCycle customers today, CEO Melanie Whelan said the company's 350+ instructors will be invited to teach a community ride for "whatever cause is true in their heart." The rides will be free to cyclists, instructors will be paid, and company will put up the money that would have been generated by the classes, with 100 percent of proceeds going to "social justice causes" selected by the employees.

"We've spent 13 years building a community based on diversity, inclusion, acceptance and love. We know who we are, we know what we believe, and we deliver on those values every day," said Whelan, who referred to this as a "difficult" week. "This is about our values. So today, we are responding in the best way we know how—with diversity, inclusion, acceptance, and love. This is not the only answer. But it’s our answer for today, so our community can start to heal."

Equinox and SoulCycle put out statements on Wednesday trying to distance themselves from Ross by noting neither companies supports the Trump fundraising event, "no company profits are used to fund politicians" and saying Ross is a "passive investor and is not involved with the management of either business." The "passive investor" phrase rubbed some the wrong way.

Ross also released a statement in an attempt to quell some of the outrage, and clarify how he does not agree with everything Trump does...but he does agree with just enough to throw a pricey fundraiser for the man.

"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."

This of course has not stopped people from cancelling their memberships, and instructors and "fitness influencers" from rejecting the companies.

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Hello, My name is Jimmy Burgio and I have worked for Equinox and Pure Yoga, a luxury yoga brand owned by Equinox, since 2014. I was a Managing Teacher for Pure Yoga and have continued to work for Pure Yoga and Equinox as a yoga teacher both in New York City and Chicago. I am a Mexican, gay American and the very real reality is that these are two of the most targeted and vilified demographics by the Trump administration today. I have dedicated my life to facilitating authentic yoga and meditation practices so that my students might grow, wake up, and be a shining example of the incredible force that love and our shared humanity can be in this world. If you have ever consumed these teachings- if you’ve ever been impacted by a yoga class of mine, or have been helped by a person of color or a queer person, I’m asking for your help today. The recent news that Stephen Ross, chairman of Related Companies (Equinox’s parent company), will be hosting a fundraiser this weekend which seeks to get Trump reelected is alarming and unacceptable. It has been my very real experience that SoulCycle, Equinox, and Pure Yoga are businesses that have been built on the backs of queer people and people of color. By raising money for an administration that actively seeks to harm and perpetuate violence against LGBTQA+ people and people of color, Ross has left me with no choice but to leave my position as a yoga teacher for Equinox. I can no longer walk into Equinox gyms and continue to work for a company whose owner supports Donald Trump and an administration built on hate. Equinox, Pure Yoga, and SoulCyle are luxury brands that market themselves as companies founded on wellness and inclusivity, that cater to wealthy clients. As a consumer or member, I’m asking you to leverage your privilege today for the forces of good. If you are a member at any of these brands I urge you to cancel your membership and to write the management at these businesses to express your outrage, and for you to use this instance as a way to continue to consciously amplify and support the marginalized people in your life for whom this administration actively seeks to create a hostile environment.

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One of the funnier reports on the SoulCycle exodus came from the NY Times, who staked out at a SoulCycle studio in Water Mill yesterday, near where Ross's fundraiser was held. They came across a lot of people torn about the association, and a few people who adamantly didn't care:

In the parking lot after class, the feel-good endorphins turned to agitated adrenaline as some riders realized a reporter was present. “Are you here to ruin people’s day?” shouted one woman wearing a baseball cap with the word “LOVE” written in rainbow letters. Her friend called out, “I love you, SoulCycle!”

Jared Epstein, who lives in New York City and Water Mill, was circumspect. “All Americans are entitled to their own opinions and their own political views,” he said, calling Mr. Ross “a great human being."

“What about the Democrats and the liberals?” he added. “More hate spews from them.”

Cody Lyon wrote for Crain's about the struggle people are feeling about whether or not to boycott the companies, in a complicated capitalist society in which everything is intertwined:

Also, some might say it would be impossible to truly be a partisan consumer purist—only supporting entities that are funded by politically like-minded investors—in our complicated capitalist society.

But to ignore Ross' arrogance and condescension in thinking the clientele at his New York City and Los Angeles gyms would not be furious about his efforts to help Trump carry out another four years of his destructive presidency warrants protest. Ross probably figured that the news of the fundraiser wouldn't garner any headlines. But it did, and now New Yorkers who know the facts have to put their money where their politics—and dare I say ethics and morals—are. For now, Equinox is a stained brand.

Because Donald Trump foments virulent nationalism and anti-immigrant fervor, is beholden to the gun lobby, and has done next to nothing to forward LGBT rights, it would make me literally nauseous to think I've ever knowingly contributed to any entity that's played a role in enabling his trajectory to power. For me, this really is a moment of truth.

Trevor Noah also devoted a segment to the controversy. "If you’re hosting a fundraiser for Donald Trump, I don’t know if you can call yourself a ‘champion’ of racial equality and inclusion. You’re not a champion. You can call yourself a contender of racial equality. You can call yourself a part-time participant of racial equality. You can call yourself a dabbler of racial equality. Not a champion!"

On a related note, NYC Councilmember Keith Powers said that in light of the problems people were having cancelling their memberships with both companies, he was planning on drafting legislation "that would make it easier to cancel memberships at businesses, like gyms or fitness clubs." (A similar bill was proposed in 2017.)

Supporters of Ross, as well as other businesspeople angry at Representative Joaquin Castro for tweeting out a list of donors to Trump's re-election campaign, have pushed back at the backlash, arguing that publicly disclosing donors leads to harassment of Republicans. As Richard Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine told the Times, there is little evidence that the backlash against donors crosses that line.

"If we see that people whose donations are highlighted publicly are being harassed, that’s a reason to be concerned," Hasen said. "If the concern is someone will have a nasty tweet sent to them because of them being named by [Representative Joaquin] Castro, well, welcome to the real world."

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