The two-decades-long gay and lesbian boycott of Coors beer will end, it seems, not with a bang or even a whimper, but with the barely audible sound of money changing hands. At least that's the way it looked at a June 2 community meeting called by Christopher Street West, producers of the Los Angeles lesbian and gay pride celebration to discuss ending the boycott.
Gays and lesbians began shunning Coors 20 years ago in coalition with labor, African-American groups and others, in protest over the company's alleged racist and antigay practices and its heavy support of right-wing, anti-gay groups.
At the lightly publicized and sparsely attended West Hollywood meeting only three longtime activists advocated continuing the boycott. Arrayed against them was a succession of speakers, including two bar owners anxious to sell the Colorado brew, the ad director of a local gay magazine that had already sold ad space to Coors, two officials from OutFest, L.A.'s gay and lesbian film festival which had received sponsorship from the brewery and an L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center board member who had arranged Coors sponsorship for a Center fundraiser.
The pro-Coors speakers argued that the company has changed, pointing to the fact that the brewery now has a policy of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation, domestic partner benefits and numerous other "gay-friendly" workplace policies. OutFest executive director Morgan Rumpf gushed that Coors' domestic partner benefits were "amazing." Several suggested that the pro-boycott speakers were "clinging to past hatreds" and argued it was wrong to hold the company responsible for the actions of "individual family members" who support anti-gay causes.
"You're being told lies and half-truths," responded Don Kilhefner, co-founder of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center. The Coors family controls the company, he argued, and pours the money they make from beer sales into "organizations that work day and night to prevent us from having our civil rights. Anybody who says there's no connection between your buying a Coors beer and the money going to those organizations is lying."
A look at publicly available records suggests Kilhefner is right. The Coors family does indeed own all voting stock in the company and at least half, perhaps more, of the nonvoting stock, taking in at least $9.5 million in dividends alone each year. The family, as individuals and through the Coors-dominated Castle Rock Foundation (with William and Peter Coors, who also hold the two top executive slots at the brewery, as president and vice president) continues to be a major conduit of funds to such rabidly antigay groups as the Young America's Foundation and the Free Congress Foundation.
The Free Congress Foundation's chairman is Jeffrey Coors, who runs a spin-off company that sells Coors Brewing Co. much of its cardboard and paper packaging ($145 million worth in 1996). Last year Free Congress joined with other groups to file a court brief in the Hawaii same-sex marriage case arguing that gay marriage would be "repugnant to... the laws of nature and nature's God" and quoting 18th century legal scholar William Blackstone's description of sodomy as "an infamous crime against nature."
But none of that seems to be stopping gay groups from lining up at the Coors gravy train as the company--anxious to get into the gay market after two straight years of declining sales--hands out small dollops of cash to queer groups while maintaining it bears no responsibility for the much larger anti-gay donations being made by the family members who run the company and the foundations those family members control.
Even in San Francisco, one of the last major bastions of resistance, organizers of the drive to build a $2.5 million lesbian and gay community center were ready to accept Coors sponsorship of a fundraiser without bothering to even check with community activists who might object or with experts on the radical right--until this reporter, working on a story for the San Francisco Bay Times, began asking unpleasant questions. Meanwhile, a local bar rag called Hype ran a full-page Coors ad on the back cover of its June issue, while inside it reprinted a story from San Jose's OutNow whose only apparent source was a single Coors employee--and which, not surprisingly, hyped the company's plusses while brushing aside "rumored support for anti-gay causes."
Al Ross, who follows the extreme right for the Center for Democracy Studies, a project of The Nation Institute, affiliated with The Nation magazine, is appalled that so many in the gay community want to reconcile with Coors. "Coors is really bad news," he says, adding that after "40 years of backing fascism and terror" it is absurd to believe the company has had a true change of heart. "You'd have to be deliberately naive to believe that."
One cynic who sat through the L.A. meeting summed it up more bluntly, quoting J.R. Ewing, the sleazebag character from the TV show "Dallas": "Once you give up integrity, the rest is a piece of cake."
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