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On Wednesday, the Stonewall Inn, the landmark New York City bar widely regarded as the birthplace of the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement, has banned Anheuser-Busch products, including popular beers like Bud Light, Stella Artois, and Michelob ULTRA, from the bar during NYC Pride weekend in protest of the company’s donations to anti-LGBTQ politicians.
The “pour out” protest saw employees of the Stonewall Inn, as well as community members, emptying bottles of the three beers into the street, as a public show of solidarity with the LGBTQ community. From June 25-27, the historic gay bar will not offer any Anheuser-Busch products to patrons.
Organizers say they are hoping to get the company’s attention to begin conversations about how Anheuser-Busch can demonstrate its purported support for equality, which it regularly touts through a variety of marketing campaigns targeting the LGBTQ community, especially during Pride Month.
“When we found out that corporations that say they support the LGBTQ community are absolutely not supporting us by donating to anti-LGBTQ legislators, we were horrified,” Stonewall Inn co-owner Stacy Lentz told Metro Weekly in an interview. “So we really wanted to step in and use the Stonewall Inn as a platform to kind of call them in, as well as call them out.
“We’re really looking for two things from that to accomplish: to ask them to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ legislators across the country and change the criteria around who they get political donations to, if they say they’re on our side, and asking them to use their lobbying power and the power of the purse to fight for the Equality Act,” Lentz said. “So this ‘pour out’ was an opportunity to bring attention to the fact that they are funding people that are against us while throwing up a rainbow logo and saying that they’re on the side of equality. You can’t have it both ways.”
According to data from the Keep Your Pride campaign, since 2015, Anheuser-Busch has made 48 donations, totaling $35,350, to 29 anti-LGBTQ legislators behind recent bills attacking transgender youth. For example, the company donated $1,000 twice, in 2016 and 2018, to Florida State Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay), one of the co-sponsors of a bill barring transgender athletes from competing in sport based on their gender identity.
Another notable recipient on the list is Tennessee State Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge), the sponsor of bills to bar transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming care and to require businesses that do not segregate their restrooms based on a person’s assigned sex at birth to post dehumanizing signage. Ragan received $500 from the company in 2020.
Maeve Coyle, the spokesperson for the Keep Your Pride Campaign, praised Stonewall’s “pour out.”
“We are absolutely thrilled that Stonewall has chosen to hold Anheuser-Busch accountable. This is a tremendously significant message to companies that you can’t just slap a rainbow on your beer can and think that’s enough,” she said, referring to a process known as “rainbow-washing,” in which larger corporations will decorate their packaging or products with rainbow colors in an effort to signal their alleged support for pro-LGBTQ or progressive causes.
Launched just three weeks ago, at the beginning of June, when the LGBTQ community commemorates the Stonewall Riots, widely viewed as the seminal event in the history of the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement in the United States, Keep Your Pride is intended to hold large corporations that profess to be allies to the LGBTQ community accountable by ensuring their actions match their words, Coyle explained.
“There are a number of these large corporations who change their logos to rainbow colors for Pride Month or even sponsor Pride celebrations. But then they donate to legislators who are sponsoring hateful anti-trans legislation in states across the country. And it’s time for these companies to walk their talk,” she said. “They can’t say that they support the LGBTQ community while taking direct action that harms that same community. And I think this year, in particular, it’s especially important because we’ve seen a sharp uptick in this anti-trans legislation across the country. We need real allies.”
As part of the campaign, Keep Your Pride took publicly available donations given by corporations between 2015 and 2020, and laid a filter over that to target legislators who co-sponsored anti-transgender legislation during the 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions. But even with such a low bar, Keep Your Pride alleges that several major corporations are engaging in double-speak, including, but not limited to, Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Coca-Cola, General Motors, and NBCUniversal.
Asked whether the companies might have been motivated to make donations to certain lawmakers based on their positions on lower taxes or fewer government regulations, Coyle said that whether companies’ support of anti-LGBTQ politicians is intentional or not is somewhat irrelevant if either way, those donations fund people seeking to harm the LGBTQ community.
“I can’t ascribe motivations for companies’ political donations,” Coyle said. “But what I can tell you is that this isn’t difficult. This is an incredibly low bar that we’re talking about here. And there are publicly available resources for everyone. You or I could go check, and these companies could go check, for example, the Freedom For All Americans legislative tracker and see whether they’re donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians before they write a check.
“There is no gray area when it comes to equality. And these legislators are sponsoring legislation that is incredibly hateful and harmful. To the question of whether they’re donating to these politicians based on other issues, I would just say I think that shows you where their priorities lie,” Coyle said. “And so if these companies decide that their bottom line or other priorities are more important than supporting the LGBTQ community, then they can’t call themselves allies.”
Wednesday’s protest isn’t the first time that the historic LGBTQ bar has dedicated itself to standing up for its values. Through its nonprofit arm, The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, Stonewall launched a “Safe Spaces” program, which identifies and certifies entertainment venues, food and beverage locations, stores, businesses, and other public venues as safe spaces for LGBTQ people. Under its criteria for certification, businesses that donate to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers would not qualify for designation as a safe space.
“I think our community was super excited to see Stonewall Inn taking a stand. I think they were really thrilled that we did this, that we use our platform for good,” Lentz said, adding that she hopes the publicity gained by the protest can spark conversations with Anheuser-Busch, as well as other companies with a history of problematic donations.
“We really want to have that conversation with them,” she said. “And if they do get defensive about it, that’s okay. The reality is we wanted to use our platform to take a stand. So, again, this is not [just] a call out. We’re trying to call them in. We would love to have a conversation with them about how they can stop funding anti-LGBT legislators. This is an opportunity for them to make change.
“The goal of this is not to cancel Anheuser-Busch forever. The goal is to bring awareness of this and bring attention to it, and let them know they just can’t do this to our community anymore,” Lentz added.
“In layman’s terms, it stops the hate. Our country, our society in this country, is so polarized. We’ve got to come together to join together. Hate’s gotta stop,” added Stonewall Inn co-owner Kurt Kelly.
Kelly acknowledged that while Stonewall could potentially lose out on some revenue that could be made by selling Anheuser-Busch products, it’s much more important to use Stonewall’s public profile to pressure the company into changing their donation criteria and using their influence to lobby for pro-LGBTQ legislation.
“Yes, we’re definitely putting skin in the game,” Kelly said. “But at the end of the day, we don’t need Anheuser-Busch. Anheuser-Busch needs us.”
But Lentz noted that the burden of holding companies accountable doesn’t rest solely on small business owners, and should be shared by members of the LGBTQ community who can use their individual purchasing power to take a stand and refuse to compromise their values.
“There’s a lot of people who may not own businesses. But I assure you, after seeing this today and realizing that Anheuser-Busch donates to anti-LGBTQ legislators, there are people who, 100%, will no longer drink Bud Light or Stella,” she said.
“I think it’s really important as a community and as consumers to do your research. And I would call out our entire community, not just business owners, to stop buying products from organizations and corporations that are really, truly not on our side and are using the money we’re giving them as consumers to go out and fund hate.”
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