Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: SoulCycle is expensive ($36 per class). It is elitist—though it offers a scholarship program to underserved teens, its studios crop up only in exclusive zip codes. It is more than a little cult-y, screaming with woo-woo mantras by candlelight. And as my brother has been quick to remind me, its clients are technically riding a bike to nowhere.
And yet in spite of all of this, slightly embarrassed though I may be to admit it, for the past seven years, I have loved SoulCycle. A dance party on a bike to Rihanna’s “Diamonds” was a form of exercise I could actually tolerate. I found instructors who are endlessly motivational, kind, funny human beings. My favorite, Sue Molnar, continued teaching while battling breast cancer. SoulCycle made me feel good; it helped keep me healthy through two pregnancies, and it cleared my head during difficult times, including the political turmoil of the last two-plus years.
But on Wednesday morning, I went to my last class for the foreseeable future, after The Washington Post reported billionaire Stephen Ross, chairman and founder of Related Companies, which owns SoulCycle and Equinox, would be hosting a lavish fundraiser for President Trump in the Hamptons on Friday, with tickets as high as $250,000 per person for an audience with the president?—the same president responsible for white supremacy including, but not limited to, detaining migrant children at the border and telling female congresswomen of color to “go back” where they came from.
A boycott quickly launched, with the likes of Chrissy Teigen and Billy Eichner announcing they were canceling their subscriptions—“Hey @Equinox - what’s your policy for canceling memberships once a member finds out your owner is enabling racism and mass murder?” Eichner tweeted. An out gay man, The Lion King actor also referenced the fact that the luxury gym (like SoulCycle) had engaged in enthusiastic rainbow-flag-waving Pride initiatives, even as Ross supports a president whose policies have been squarely anti-LGBTQ: “There are a handful of billionaires who own everything and many support Trump. 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.”
Shannon Coulter, founder of the #GrabYourWallet initiative that has mobilized consumers to boycott brands that support Trump, including Ivanka Trump’s now-departed fashion and accessories brand, added Soul and Equinox to her ongoing list of companies to avoid, along with other Related- and Ross-owned brands/properties: PURE Yoga, Blink Fitness, The Yorkville Club, and Hudson Yard. It’s been noted that Related is also a major investor in Momofuku restaurants, Milk Bar, the Resy app, Bluestone Lane, and &pizza. Related evidently tried to prevent the public from viewing this list by blocking the “brands” section of its website, as pointed out by New York’s Matthew Schneier. Too late, Related: we know you. I hope those boycotting will be boycotting all of the Related brands, snarky critics argued online. Thank you. Yes, I will.
As much as it pained me, as much as I briefly attempted the mental gymnastics to justify continuing, I knew almost instantly that I would be giving up SoulCycle before I allowed another dime to funnel to a Trump supporter so ardent. Of course, that Ross is a Republican is nothing new, people pointed out. But the fact that he is actively shoring up what is poised to become millions of dollars for a racist, misogynistic, and homophobic Republican is distinctive, and it runs counter to what SoulCycle has sold as its rah-rah ethos of empowerment and inclusivity—if not in socioeconomic terms, at least in terms of sexuality and gender. It’s a space powered by women and the LGBTQ community, both of which are perennial targets of the president.
Proverbially “voting with your wallet” has rightfully become another form of activism against a president who demands resistance: Look no further than Wayfair’s own employees walking out over the company’s sale of beds to border detention centers. Or Kenny Stills, a player on the Miami Dolphins, a team owned by Ross, calling out the hypocrisy of RISE, Ross’s “Initiative in Sports for Equality,” a non-profit that claims to “eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice, and improve race relations.”
“You can’t have a non-profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump,” Stills tweeted.
Ross attempted to clarify his stance in a statement—released via iPhone voice notes, sigh—saying he “strongly” disagrees with Trump on some issues and proclaiming himself “an outspoken champion” of racial equality and inclusion. Note to Ross: There is no distinction. Supporting Trump is supporting both his white supremacy and the tax cut that will help you hold on to more of your fortune. It’s clear Coulter and co. aren’t the only ones voting with their wallets.
I do consider the unintended consequences of the boycott—how it could impact the many non-billionaire employees in gyms and studios. “I love the company I work for and the community within it. One man does not speak for a whole company,” one Equinox manager in New York shared on Facebook yesterday. An instructor similarly argued that “demonizing Equinox itself for the choice one man made without Equinox’s input is unfair.” Still, just like Ross can’t cherrypick which of Trump policies he is ultimately funding, I can’t earmark SoulCycle dollars for the studio maintenance staff over its owner.
SoulCycle attempted to downplay Ross’s role in an ill-advised, disingenuous statement that called him a “passive investor.” But while he may not be involved in day-to-day decisions, and SoulCycle may not have known a bit about the Hamptons fundraiser at his home, Ross’s position is hardly passive. He benefits from Soul’s bottom line. That is impossible to ignore, and for me, it’s impossible to support.