How an inclusive gym brand became a battlefield over LGBTQ rights

John Hart-Battles, a 17-year-old high school junior in Oklahoma, joined Planet Fitness last June to stay fit as a member of his school’s color guard team. As a young gay man, he liked Planet Fitness’s focus on inclusivity, an approach that turned it into one of the leading fitness brands in the United States. He started going twice a week.

But for the past few weeks, he, like many LGBTQ Planet Fitness patrons and employees, has been shunned, as at least 54 bomb threats have been made at Planet Fitness locations across the country, forcing many to be evacuated. “It’s one of my worst fears, to be committed a hate crime, especially in the locker room,” Hart-Battles said, calling the attacks on Planet Fitness “very disturbing.”

Local police and the FBI say they have not yet determined who is behind the threats, which in some cases have led to the evacuation of not only Planet Fitness locations but also nearby businesses.

But the pattern is familiar to LGBTQ activists, who link the wave of threats to far-right influencer Chaya Raichik, who runs the social media account @libsoftiktok. He has made Planet Fitness the subject of critical posts since early March when Planet Fitness canceled the membership of a woman in Alaska who complained about “a man shaving in the women’s bathroom.” And posted a photo of the man online.

Although the threats and withdrawals directly affected only a few of the chain’s 2,600 locations in the United States, the attacks have created fear and anxiety among LGBTQ people across the country, some of whom said they now Very looking forward to using our local planet. Step foot into the fitness or locker room.

“Our gender identity non-discrimination policy states that members and guests may use gym facilities that align with their honest, self-reported gender identity,” a Planet Fitness spokesperson said in a statement after the Alaska incident. The best match.” “The member who posted on social media violated our mobile device policy, which prohibits taking photographs of individuals in the locker room, which resulted in their membership being terminated.”

Raichik, who operates the Lib of TikTok accounts on X and Instagram, declined to comment for this story. He has previously denied responsibility for threats made against businesses, schools and hospitals that have been criticized for their LGBTQ inclusive policies.

Following the Alaska incident, Raichick criticized Planet Fitness’s trans-inclusive policies and encouraged her more than 3 million followers to boycott the chain. She has posted dozens of times since then, encouraging followers to protest the gym in an effort to “take back our country” and documenting updates in a thread she titled “Planet Fitness Bloodbath Mega Thread” Is.

At the end of March, he posted a video interview with Michael Grondahl, co-founder and former CEO of Planet Fitness, who left the company in 2013. “I want to go out there and grab that guy by the neck and throw him out into the parking lot,” Grondahl said. in an interview. “That’s the way things would have been done a long time ago.”

Violent threats have been made in the past following Raichik’s tweets, including dozens of bomb threats against LGBTQ pride events. Children’s hospitals that provide gender-affirming care, Drag Queen Story Hour, and at least two dozen public schools and libraries. Schools in California, Colorado and Oklahoma have canceled classes and evacuated students after the TikTok ban posts about them, Raichik recently compared her Planet Fitness post to the controversy last year when Anheuser-Busch paid a trans influencer to promote a beer brand in an Instagram post. “This may be the most successful boycott since Bud Light,” he said.

Planet Fitness’s stock price has fallen more than 7.5 percent since the incident in Alaska, but it’s unclear how much, if any, of that is due to Raichik’s call for a boycott. Its value has fallen by more than 20 percent over the past year, which has been a tumultuous period Top level business and scam Before this controversy.

Planet Fitness declined to say how many locations were at risk. non-profit media watchdog Media Matters lists the attacks In its ongoing efforts to document anti-LGBTQ+ hate online, and that tabulation has been confirmed by police departments and local news accounts. “We are working closely with local and federal authorities to investigate these threats and will continue to take action to ensure the safety of our members and employees,” a Planet Fitness spokesperson told The Washington Post.

Bomb threat and evacuation

54 incidents are national in nature: According to the tabulation, seven Planet Fitness locations have been targeted in Virginia, and at least two in Maryland. In Fargo, N.D., two locations were evacuated, and a franchise manager explained to police that “this is happening at their other locations across the country” since the incident in Alaska, a police report shows. .

On Friday, a bomb threat at a Planet Fitness location in Charlottesville led to a nearby road being closed to traffic during rush hour, police said, This was at least the second threat in the same location. A Planet Fitness employee who called the location immediately after the incident said he “wasn’t allowed to say anything.”

“It’s not just Planet Fitness businesses that are being disrupted; Many of these locations are in plazas with multiple businesses, said Lt. Nicholas Rankin of the Norwich Police Department in Connecticut. “We didn’t just evacuate Planet Fitness. We were forced to evacuate the Big Lots department store and a health care facility.

A transgender Planet Fitness employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her safety, told The Post that she initially heard about the campaign when a member called the club “screaming and disgusting transphobic bullshit.” .

“They were yelling about pedophiles, calling me a pedophile. I was treated unfairly on the phone. They went straight into talking about the men’s and women’s locker rooms, everything you see in the comments online, but were directed at me personally,” the employee said. “I don’t feel comfortable going to the bathroom at my job anymore.”

Grondal said he and Raichik deserve no blame for so many threats. “Number one, nothing happened,” Grondahl said. “It’s a bomb threat, I mean, it’s crazy people doing what crazy people do… I haven’t seen any violence toward anyone.”

In Grondahl, the founder of Planet Fitness, who built the brand on inclusivity, Raichik has found an unexpected ally. Grondahl and his brother, Mark, bought their first gym in the early 1990s and incorporated it into a fitness empire they branded as a “judgment-free zone” because everyone was welcome – except bodybuilders who were banned from the industry. had already provided the service.

The Grondahl brothers cut membership fees drastically; Created a “lunk alarm”, a siren that would sound if the lifter grunted too loudly; and hosted a monthly pizza night. All of those measures were meant to make the gym feel like, as stated in the company’s stock filing, a place “where anyone – and we mean anyone – can feel like they belong there.” the pitch worked, the chain includes millions of members. The company’s market capitalization now exceeds $5 billion.

Grondahl said his downfall at the company began with the rise of an executive with a controversial criminal past. According to his LinkedIn profile, Richard Moore started as chief administrative officer and general counsel of Planet Fitness in 2012. Twelve years earlier, Moore, then a North Carolina assemblyman, had been convicted of “felony murder.”[s] For allegedly engaging in oral sex with three former students at the high school where he taught, court records show. The youngest of the alumni was 16, the age of consent in North Carolina.

Moore pleaded guilty to one felony count of crimes against nature and two misdemeanor counts of attempted crimes against nature. that has been the law Challenged to potentially criminalizing same-sex marriage, In a later letter to the Massachusetts Bar, which allowed Moore to be licensed as an attorney, Moore acknowledged that the relationship was “inappropriate”.

Moore said in a statement to The Post: “Looking back, I regret the choices I made in my early 20s; However, no underage persons were involved and all contact was consensual.

When asked about the former general counsel, a spokesperson said, “Richard Moore has not worked at Planet Fitness in approximately seven years and has no involvement with the company.”

According to Grondahl, the main reason for his exit from the company was the conflict with Moore. He stepped down as CEO in late 2012 and left the company’s board the following year, he said, and he was paid about $140 million for his shares. In his interview with Raichik, Grondahl said he was “shown the door” when he tried to raise concerns about Moore’s past.

According to Grondahl’s own account, drug abuse played a role. He told The Post that as CEO, he was sedated daily by Ambien, other prescription drugs and alcohol — and that he believes the signature on his severance agreement was forged while he was impaired.

Planet Fitness denies that claim. Since his departure, a company spokesperson said, the former CEO “has had no involvement with the company or any input into Planet Fitness’s operations, strategy, performance or culture.”

A reporter from The Post visited Grondahl’s mansion in Jupiter, Florida last year. Grondahl was in full war room mode, deploying a team of lawyers and investigators to prove his allegations. Grondahl recently told The Post that he has spent about $100,000 a month over the past year trying to build a case, but his planned lawsuit has not been filed.

Then there was the bathroom incident at Planet Fitness in Alaska. Grondahl’s team reached out to conservative news outlets, although there are indications that they were wary of broadcasting Grondahl’s claims. Grondal said that Fox News arranged for Jesse Waters to interview him, but then canceled. And according to Grondahl, a Newsmax interview aired, but was edited to remove inflammatory comments related to Moore. (A Fox News spokesperson declined to comment; Newsmax did not respond to a request for comment.)

But Raichik aired a mostly unedited interview with Grondahl. Grondahl, accompanied by her lawyer, alleged that the company harbored sexual predators and that it was “devastating” to see the welcoming philosophy she coined now being made to include trans people. “Fast forward to what’s happening today and ‘judgment-free zones’ mean that if you’re a man, you can use the woman’s locker room,” Grondahl said. “Absolutely crazy.”

Meanwhile, Raichik has continued to post. Last week, he lambasted the company’s new CEO Colleen Keating for signing “…CEO Action Pledge for Diversity and InclusionWhich supports inclusive workplaces, claiming that the company stands by its “conscious policies”.

Haley Zeppel, an LGBTQ Planet Fitness member in Atlanta, said she hopes the company can publicly support the trans community and not succumb to pressure online. “If they’re prioritizing safety,” Zeppel said, “I think they should take into account who is doing the aggression, and not make it seem like it’s trans people.”