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Billionaire owner of SoulCycle, Miami Dolphins faces backlash over Trump fundraiser

Billionaire Stephen M. Ross, shown May 20 in New York, is scheduled to host a fundraiser for President Trump at his Hamptons home. (Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

News of an upcoming fundraiser for President Trump at the swanky Hamptons home of billionaire Stephen Ross drew swift backlash Wednesday from prominent customers of Ross’s luxury fitness brands and a player for the Miami Dolphins, the National Football League franchise Ross owns.

Some high-profile LGBTQ activists and celebrities took to social media to call for a boycott of Equinox Fitness clubs and SoulCycle over the fundraiser, which was organized to support Trump’s reelection and comes with a price tag as high as $250,000 for an audience with the president.

“Hey @Equinox - what’s your policy for canceling memberships once a member finds out your owner is enabling racism and mass murder?” comedian Billy Eichner tweeted Wednesday afternoon. He followed up later with a tweet saying he had canceled his membership.

The scheduled fundraiser also caught the attention of Miami Dolphins wide receiver and Trump critic Kenny Stills. In a tweet, Stills questioned how Ross could justify his support for Trump when his nonprofit organization, Ross Initiative for Sports Equality, aspires as part of its mission to end racial discrimination.

“You can’t have a non profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump,” Stills tweeted.

Ross, a New York real estate developer, is the chairman and founder of the Related Companies, which encompasses fitness, restaurant and lifestyle brands such as Equinox, SoulCycle, Pure Yoga, &pizza, Bluestone Lane Coffee and Momofuku. He has given heavily over the years to Republican candidates and committees.

In a statement Wednesday to The Washington Post, Ross said he has known Trump for 40 years and that he has “never been bashful about expressing” opinions about issues on which he disagrees with Trump.

Ross said he is “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.”

In a joint statement Wednesday, Equinox and SoulCycle said they do not support the fundraiser and played down Ross’s role with the brands.

“As is consistent with our policies, no company profits are used to fund politicians,” the companies said. “We are committed to all our members and the communities we live in. We believe in tolerance and equality, and will always stay true to those values. Mr. Ross is a passive investor and is not involved in the management of either business.”

SoulCyle also issued its own statement, saying it “in no way endorses the political fundraising event being held later this week.”

Equinox has publicly branded itself as an LGBTQ-friendly company, and Pure Yoga is popular in the LGBTQ community.

“We joined this gym because we believed it shared our values. We believed it was a safe space for people like us,” reads a petition calling on Ross to cancel the fundraiser. “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.”

The fundraiser comes amid heightened attention to Trump’s rhetoric on minorities and immigrants. Trump faced protests Wednesday during visits to El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, in the wake of mass shootings in those cities.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump pledged to be a “real friend” of gay, lesbian and transgender Americans, and he has cast himself as a pro-LGBTQ president. But his administration has rolled back multiple protections for the gay community. His administration reinstated the ban on transgender troops and opposed federal LGBTQ nondiscrimination bills.

Stills’s reaction to the planned Trump fundraiser could be the latest hurdle for the NFL, which is grappling with its stance toward social issues and its attitude toward a president who has harshly criticized peacefully demonstrating players and called for their firing.

Stills, an ally of political activist and former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, has protested racial injustice and economic inequality by kneeling during the national anthem the past three seasons.

The Washington Post on Tuesday first reported the plans for the Friday fundraiser scheduled to take place at the Southampton home of Ross and his wife, Kara, a jewelry designer.

Several senior members of the administration, party and campaign are scheduled to appear, as are some Trump family members, according to invitations obtained by The Post.

But the biggest draw will be Trump. For a $100,000 donation, attendees get a photo with the president in addition to lunch. The costliest $250,000 package includes lunch, a photo and a private roundtable discussion with Trump, the invites show.

Another fundraiser is scheduled for Friday at the Bridgehampton home of Joe Farrell, a New York real estate developer. Tickets for that event are priced at $5,600 per couple to $35,000 per couple.

Money raised at the two fundraisers in the Hamptons will go toward Trump Victory, a fundraising committee for the Trump 2020 campaign and the Republican National Committee.

On Wednesday, Equinox, its affiliated luxury fitness brands SoulCycle and Pure Yoga, and parent company the Related Companies were added to the #GrabYourWallet list, an online effort to boycott retailers that carry products by the Trump family business or otherwise support Trump.

Jacob Bogage contributed to this report.