A group of San Francisco Bay Area Gold's Gym franchises has relinquished affiliation with its parent company in protest against the CEO's substantial 2010 donation to a conservative organization with anti-LGBT ties. The franchise group is now called Fitness SF.
The group is privately owned and includes four gyms located in Oakland, Marin and San Francisco's SoMa and Castro Districts, and has long been a pillar of the LGBT community. The group regularly donates to LGBT organizations, and the Castro location often participates in the San Francisco Pride Parade.
The Huffington Post reported on the donation and the backlash in 2010 when Gold's Gym CEO Robert Rowling gave $2 million to American Crossroads, a conservative political group founded by former Bush advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.
At the time, Gold's Gym Bay Area Director of Operations Don Dickerson released a response to the news on the company's Facebook page, condemning the move and vowing to sever ties when the group's contract expired:
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.
After the 2010 backlash, Gold's Gym quickly sent HuffPost a statement:
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.
Nevertheless, Gold's Gym Bay Area and LGBT activists were unmoved. A Change.org petition condemning the donation noted that money gained from Gold's Gym was funding Rowling's donation.
"Using both his corporate and personal bank accounts, Rowling has given upwards of $2 million to Karl Rove's new organization, American Crossroads," stated the petition. "In turn, that money has been used to support some of the most virulently anti-gay politicians in the country."
The petition soon gained nearly 10,000 signatures.
Now that the September 2012 deadline has approached, Dickerson and Gold's Gym Bay Area have kept to their word, changing the company's name and branding, and severing all ties with Gold's Gym.
"Very rarely in a situation like this does a business stand up and actually take a position on the matter, which is why I think people have been so happy that we've taken this course of action," said Dickerson to CBS. "Our company has worked for over twenty years to support our LGBT staff, members and community in everyway possible and we will continue to."