Tuesday, January 26, 2010

NZ gym chains says ‘soya’

A New Zealand gym chain, Club Physical, has apologised for their latest newsletter. It included an item in its “Yogurt Guy” section about soy milk “turning” boys gay and a link to the biggest, wingnuttiest wingnut site in America. The newsletter said:

“Soy is making kids ‘gay’”

“Personally, I enjoy any food that is supposed to build health and soy is one of them. Thanks to my wife there are usually a couple of cartons of soy milk in the fridge. So I was intrigued by this article by Jim Rutz and would be interested in your thoughts.”

The “article” is pseudoscience nonsense spread by a far-right christianist as part of an anti-gay agenda. Paul Richards, who owns the chain with his wife Tina, wrote the mention in the newsletter. In his defence, he told GayNZ.com:

"I have written this newsletter every week for over five years and there is hardly ever any feedback. I was on a tight deadline and in the back of my mind I realised it might provoke comment. I'm afraid I didn't put enough thought into it."

So, is that the case? Or is he trying to cover his corporate arse? Twitter can help us work it out.

On January 19th at 4:13pm, they posted on Twitter “A feature of the PHYSICAL e-newsletter today: Soy is making kids 'gay' http://bit.ly/z9DxA - Any opinions and comments?” They got some. About 15 minutes later, a reply: “(it was posted 2006) No references to support his claims?!?! Research in 2000??? What research? Provide sources.. #fail” At this point, Richards noticed the problem: “I agree, very dated research and article by an unqualified writer.”

Early the following morning, another response: “what a homophobic crazyass. Personally I don't recommend soy but that guy is using it to spread fear and narrowmindedness!” at around midday, another: “@clubphysical publish link to discredited article claiming "soy makes boys gay". Terrible business decision guys. Who's brilliant idea?”

A couple hours later, Richards responds: “We thought it would be a challenging & intriguing subject/article to ask for opinions on. So we asked for feedback. That’s all.” This is after acknowledging the information was “very dated research and article by an unqualified writer”.

At 4:20PM on January 24, Richards repeats the request for comments, saying the newsletter “has caused a bit of a media scrum here this morning”. At 5:35PM, a reply: “Refuted pseudoscience. Expected better. This will confuse readers as to your reliability as a health information source.” Clearly shifting gears, Richards responds at 6:22PM: “What [e-newsletter] readers can expect to be supplied with is the present diverse variety of health research and sources available.” Including “very dated research and article by an unqualified writer”? Four minutes later, Richards adds: “Anything less would be biased. The aim; encouraging readers to create their individual health consciousness and lifestyle.” Biased? Because linking to a quack article from an anti-gay christianist on the leading wingnut site wouldn’t be considered “biased”, would it?

Richards spoke with GayNZ.com on January 25, saying "In hindsight I wouldn't do that again." He also claimed not to know who the author was and didn’t check him out or the site. This last claim is clearly dubious: That site is filled with screaming far-right ads and provocative extremist story titles.

About an hour before he spoke with GayNZ.com, he spoke with RadioNZ. Said GayNZ: “Radio New Zealand yesterday reported Paul Richards saying that those who are offended by the linked article's content need to get over it and that anyone who cancels their membership because of it is small-minded.”

It looks like Richards was exercising damage-control to GayNZ.com, while his true feelings we showing in his defensive Tweets and in the belligerent tone he took on the radio (an attitude that would’ve played well with the usual talkback radio audience).

So, is Paul Richards evil or just stupid? I suspect that he may simply have not seen that that the article was nonsense because it fit in with his worldview (the Richards are members of the fundamentalist Life Church, though Paul claims that has no bearing). He was smart enough to realise that he’d angered a significant portion of his customers by promoting homophobic nonsense, but still felt compelled to defend his actions and the article, especially because the folks who were offended were unlikely to see his defence.

Paul Richards has every right to his religious views. He even has the right to promote those views, no matter how outrageous and stupid they are, in his company newsletter. But he has no right to expect fair-minded people to support him in those endeavours.

Bottom line: If I was looking for a gym to join, it absolutely would not be Club Physical. I just wouldn’t want to take the chance that my money would go to support those who would work against me.


epilonious said...

I give this a big shrug.

Probably found it far removed from the original publishing source and thought it would drum up comments... and it did, and a flamewar ensued, and everyone looked bad.

In the meantime, I am saddened to see you subscribing to the "I'm going to boycott [store] because it's run by someone I perceive to be a jerk who doesn't like me and might spend money on causes I don't support". It's the same line of thinking that says it's okay to fire/demote someone based on political/religious beliefs.

I could understand the "if he uses a pseudoscience article, he won't be good at suggesting supplements" but the idea that he doesn't know how to run a gym or train people because he's maybe believed a dumb article enough to put it in a newsletter nobody really cared about... pleh.

Arthur Schenck said...

No, he found it ON the original publishing source—the viscously anti-gay wingnut site is, as far as I can tell, the only place it's ever been published apart from the christianist's own site, possibly also printed by his church, and probably re-posting on other rightwing sites.

He claims, much as you suggest, that he picked it to get comments, and tried to get people to believe that he really didn't pay any attention to it. That's a disingenuous claim, for the reasons I set out in the post.

I disagree with your second point. It's irrelevant whether I think he's a jerk (and I never said). Instead, given the preponderance of evidence, it seems likely that any money given to him would find its way to anti-gay causes or efforts, probably indirectly through his church. The issue for me isn't just that they don't like me or they might spend money on some small cause I don't support, but that they could spend my money against ME.

I assert that I have every right not to participate in my own oppression, and because of that, I don't patronise businesses or organisations where my money is likely to go to organisations working against my human and civil rights.

Plenty of others who agree with them—or don't care—patronise those businesses and organisations, so they continue on—just without my money.

You're right that his actions suggest that he wouldn't be good at providing health/nutrition advice. I didn't say that he or his franchisees couldn't run a gym—clearly they can (though I wonder about the common sense of someone who would deliberately piss-off customers). However, for me neither has any relevance to my purchasing decisions: Given a choice, I simply won't patronise businesses who do or are likely to work against me.

This is not "the same line of thinking that says it's okay to fire/demote someone based on political/religious beliefs." If anything, it would be similar to refusing to hire someone in the first place (which most private businesses do to some degree). In any case, you're ignoring the power relationship in an employer/employee relationship.

As it happens, I'm not in the market for any gym, so my opinion is irrelevant. Also, I'm generally more inclined to engage in "buycotts" (seeking out and choosing to spend money with businesses that spend money in support of me and my rights). But there are businesses that I avoid because of their anti-gay stance (or that their money will go to support those who are anti-gay) and I will absolutely continue to do so.

d said...

Personally, I believe businesses should just stick to running their business. So when one goes off-track and starts acting out in the political/religious arena, I don't buy their products anymore.

In this case, I used to be a member of Club Physical. It's a shitty, stinky gym with outdated or broken machines and no air conditioning (at least the branch I went to). I left a couple years ago when an exercise instructor made a fellow classmate cry and the front desk people were not only indifferent, but completely unsurprised. Glad I left!