Gold's Gym is facing a backlash from LGBT activists over its CEO's $2 million donation to American Crossroads, the conservative political group affiliated with former Bush adviser Karl Rove, and its four franchises in the San Francisco Bay Area are now leaving the brand over the controversy.
On Monday, Don Dickerson, the director of operations for Gold's Gym Bay Area, distributed a message through its Facebook page saying that it will be leaving the Gold's Gym brand:
We were as surprised by [CEO] Mr. [Robert] Rowling's action as anyone but because our company believes in and lives up to the ideals of equality for all we are going to take the following actions:
1: Our contractual obligation with Gold's Gym expires on September 15th, 2012 and on or prior to that date (our legal counsel is reviewing our options) we will leave the Gold's Gym brand. It is a major initiative to create a new brand and leave Gold's Gym which has been our identity for over 20 years but we will begin that process today.
2: For every dollar we pay Gold's Gym in franchise fees we will donate an equal or greater amount to LGBT charities. While we donate much more than this to charities and community groups that support the LGBT community we want to make a commitment to match or exceed this amount until our relationship with Gold's Gym can be severed.
3: Our management and staff will continue to support LGBT causes in every way possible and we will use our business as a platform to fight for change and equality for everyone. We have always taken great pride in being a leader in the LGBT community and we will continue to.
Gold's Gym is run by TRT Holdings, headed by billionaire and major Republican donor Robert Rowling.
The site Change.org launched a petition demanding that Gold's Gym stop supporting anti-gay politicians, and it already has nearly 2,000 signatures.
"Using both his corporate and personal bank accounts, Rowling has given upwards of $2 million to Karl Rove's new organization, American Crossroads," reads the petition. "In turn, that money has been used to support some of the most virulently anti-gay politicians in the country. ... Meanwhile, Gold's Gym, a company which continues to make Robert Rowling a very rich man, markets and caters to LGBT customers. Should company executives really be giving money to candidates, from corporate accounts no less, who want to take away civil rights for LGBT Americans?"
Gold's Gym Hollywood, Los Angeles, issued a statement stressing that it "has been locally owned and operated for over twenty years and is NOT owned or operated by TRT. ... While certainly the happenings reported recently are disappointing, disheartening, and inconsistent with our beliefs, Gold's Gym Hollywood has always acted independently with our only responsibilities and allegiances to our members and the communities we serve."
The controversy is reminiscent of the pressure that Target received after its CEO donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a Republican-friendly group that had given money to a Republican candidate who opposes marriage equality. The company had traditionally been known for its LGBT-friendly policies and sponsorships of events.
The Huffington Post contacted Gold's Gym's headquarters but did not receive a reply. We also contacted the downtown DC Gold's Gym, which said it would not be making a statement and referred us to a corporate phone number.
UPDATE, 7:41 p.m.: The Huffington Post received a statement from Gold's Gym International:
For more than 45 years, Gold's Gym has been welcoming and accepting of members from all walks of life. Diversity is a core part of the Gold's Gym tradition and we have a zero tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind. We are proud to have a large and dedicated base of LGBT members in our gyms...and value our strong ties with the LGBT community. In addition, we are proud of our employees and franchisees around the world who are part of the LGBT community and who go to work every day to help people achieve their fitness goals.
Gold's Gym did not make a donation to American Crossroads (or any other political organization) and in no way supports anti-gay causes. Quite the contrary, the Gold's Gym family has been strong supporters of the LGBT community over the years. This includes supporting PRIDE events, sponsoring LGBT media outlets and donating to various LGBT charities in the communities we serve.
Gold's Gym is a non-political organization and our member's dues are not used to fund political candidates. Bob Rowling, the CEO of our ownership group, TRT Holdings, made a private donation completely independent from (and not on behalf of) Gold's Gym.
It is important to note that most Gold's Gyms around the country are independently owned and operated by franchisees. They are hard working small business owners who embrace and accept members from all walks of life.
We hope that our friends and long time members of the LBGT community understand that our sole purpose as an organization is to help people reach their fitness goals. Tens of thousands of dedicated employees go to work every day across the country for this very reason. They will continue to do so for the LGBT community and all of the other diverse communities we serve.
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