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Gold's Gym Franchises Threaten Split Over Owner's Actions

By L.K. Regan

American Crossroads is a conservative organization spending millions to elect anti-gay candidates. It has received substantial donations from Robert Rowling, the owner of the Gold's Gym chain. How substantial? Two million dollars. Now, some Gold's Gym franchises are looking to distance themselves from that connection. There's a simple way to join them in protest.

Rowling is a longtime contributor to Republican causes and candidates; he is also the CEO of TRT Holdings, the Dallas-based company that owns Gold's Gym. After it was revealed that he had donated two million dollars to American Crossroads, gay media outlets began circulating a petition demanding that Rowling explain his actions. This petition, which quickly gained several thousand signatures, demands, "I'd like an official response from Gold's Gym about the anti-gay political donations of one of its senior executives. This type of corporate activity is unacceptable, and it's a huge disservice to your LGBT customers."

In reply, Gold's Gym International told the Huffington Post last night, "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." Their statement goes on to point out that, "most Gold's Gyms around the country are independently owned and operated by franchisees."

Two of those franchises are ready to disown the mother-ship over Rowling's behavior. Don Dickerson, the director of Gold's Gym Bay Area, located in San Francisco, distributed a message via his Facebook page, and another via email to gym members, saying that his franchise was ready to abandon the Gold's brand on or before Sept. 15, 2012, when his contract expires. He also said, "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."

The Advocate also reports that the owners of Gold's Gym Hollywood issued a statement to say that, "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."

While gay-friendly franchises should not be punished, Gold's Gym as a corporate entity needs to hear the message. Complain to your gym. Sign the petition. Use your muscle.