Gay club owner faces backlash over nearly $10,000 in Republican Party donations

An LGBTQ+ flag waving above a market in Ohio.

The new owner of two historically pro-LGBTQ+ bars has come under fire for making a number of donations to the Republican Party, totalling nearly $10,000.

A former employee of The Union Cafe and Axis Nightclub, two LGBTQ-friendly establishments in Columbus, Ohio, called out new owner Michael Purdum for contributing thousands of dollars to Republican Party officials.

Nicholas Elkovitch detailed the accusations in a Facebook message on 25 August, following his dismissal after nearly nine years of working in various roles at both establishments, including as restaurant manager, promotions director and entertainment booker.

He said that several other senior members had also been dismissed following Purdum’s purchase of the businesses.

In 2022, Purdum, who owns the Old Bag of Nails restaurant group, purchased Union Cafe and Axis Nightclub.

Alongside allegations that the new owners would turn the pro-LGBTQ+ businesses into “Republican-owned” spaces, the former employee also shared a number of screenshots that detail Purdum’s donations to local and national GOP groups.

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The screengrabs are taken from Open Secret, a research group tracking money in US politics, which has tracked Purdum’s donations of $9,450 to Republican candidates and committees between 2004 and 2021.

Among the donations are a set of payments to Republican Ohio attorney general Dave Yost from 2018 to 2021 totally at least $7,000, as well as $500 to the Republican National Committee in 2012, and $500 to former US speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, in 2011.

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Gingrich has made a number of anti-LGBTQ+ remarks in the past, including a tirade in 2021 in which he claimed president Joe Biden was “attacking” anti-LGBTQ+ pundits by waving Pride flags at embassies.

“They will never be the pro-gay, pro-trans, pro-Black spaces they used to be because it might negatively impact the view of their fish-fry pubs in the suburbs,” Elkovitch wrote.

“What was once a PROUD gay-owned space, is now a Republican-owned space that must ask permission to defend its own community.”

In a statement provided to the Columbus Dispatch, Union Cafe and Axis Nightclub executive manager, Joey Steward, refuted the allegations made against Purdum and the newly acquired businesses.

“The goal since the acquisition of the two venues has been to maintain the business operations and enhance the culture of being a safe and welcoming space for the LGBTQIA+ staff and community.

“One way we have executed this goal is by maintaining staff continuity as evidenced by the leadership team expansion in adherence with our philosophy of promoting existing staff members from within these two venues.”

Responding to the backlash following Elkovitch’s post, the Union Cafe shared a statement on Instagram saying that it wished to “set the record straight”.

“Michael Purdum has made occasional contributions to Republican candidates over the years, all of which were done prior to the purchase and involvement with these two venues,” the statement read.

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“Union Cafe and Axis Nightclub provides donations to LGBTQIA+ organisations, entertainers, and individuals throughout the year.

“Michael Purdum is, and will continue to be, a dedicated ally to our community and is committed to maintaining these venues as safe spaces.”

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