Over 50 years after the Stonewall uprising of June 1969, the Stonewall Inn still serves as a battle ground in the fight for equality. On the morning of June 23, frothy pours of beer flowed down Christopher Street as Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly, co-owners of the historic gay bar, were joined by community members as they dumped out cases of beer in protest.
The beers — Bud Light, Michelob ULTRA, and Stella Artois — will be banned at Stonewall Inn this Pride month and perhaps longer. According to Lentz and Kelly, these beer brands claim to support the LBGTQ+ community through rainbow-themed advertising and corporate sponsorships, though their owner, Anheuser-Busch, has made donations totaling $35,350 to 29 anti-LGBTQ legislators behind recent bills attacking trans youth. The organization, Keep Your Pride, is tracking such contributions, with the goal of keeping corporations who claim to be LGBTQ+ supportive accountable.
“We were horrified when we found out that [Anheuser-Busch] were in one breathe saying they support the community, and in the next donating to anti-LGBTQ legislators across the country,” Lentz says. “You can’t have it both ways. If you really want to support us, you need to not support those who make and vote laws against us.” Bud Light, in fact, is one of Stonewall’s top selling beers, but Lentz prefers to serve beers that actively support the queer community, like Gay Beer, Dyke Beer, and the Brooklyn Brewery’s Stonewall IPA.
In the public pouring out protest, Lentz is hoping to attract attention to the issue, and create change within Anheuser-Busch, an international conglomerate that brings in over $52 billion in annual revenue. “We really hope they will change their policy around who they give political donations to, and use their lobbying power to fight for the Equality Act,” Lentz says.
While this week’s protest was hardly the event that made Stonewall so famous decades ago, Lentz and Kelly say they believe the pour out can draw attention to larger issues around rainbow capitalism — that is, companies, many of which are in the food and beverage space, using Pride as a marketing tool, rather than a commitment to help LGBTQ+ people.
“I am glad that there’s a growing awareness of anti-LGBTQ, and specifically transphobic, corporate fuckery,” says Brooklyn-based queer writer and activist James Factora. “It’s easy to dismiss the pour out as a kind of cringey performative gesture, but looking at the bigger picture and considering the profile that the Stonewall Inn has, it could very well make a difference, or at least raise awareness.”
Still, Factora worries that these singular boycotts will lead many to think that these incidents are isolated to a few corporations, when this scenario can be rather ubiquitous. No matter how many nonprofit donations big business may offer and write off, “a corporation cannot truly be an ally,” Factora says.
This isn’t the first time a New York City gay bar has used its purchasing power to push back against brands with discriminatory practices. Rob Hynds, owner of Boxers, a gay sports bar in Chelsea, announced in 2013 that he’d stop carrying Russian vodka brands, like Stoli, in protest of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s anti-LGBTQ policies. Since then, he says he’s seen Stoli “step up” by supporting the local LGBTQ+ community by sponsoring events and gay sports teams.
Boxers sells mostly liquor, and doesn’t sell any of the beers Stonewall poured out. Its clientele opts for IPAs, seasonal beers, and Corona. Hynds is also always on the lookout for brands that support the community, but more than anything, his guests’ taste drives inventory.
“We don’t look to be political, but we do listen to what our customers want and to support those that support our communities,” Hynds says.
As of Thursday, June 24, Anheuser-Busch did not appear to be affected by the Stonewall pour out. “Our company and our brands are focused on making a positive and lasting impact when it comes to issues of equality,” an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson shared with Eater in a statement. “We’re proud of our 22 year partnership with GLAAD, an organization working to shape the narrative and encourage dialogue around LGBTQ+ acceptance, and we are proud to have received a perfect 100 percent score from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for LGBTQ Equality. We support candidates that support the beer industry and the millions of jobs that it creates.”
A spokesperson for the Keep Your Pride campaign responded: “Anheuser-Busch isn’t making a positive impact when it comes to issues of equality, and that’s the whole point….You can’t just throw sponsorship dollars at an LGBTQ organization and then expect a free pass. Supporting LGBTQ equality doesn’t come with caveats or loopholes; if Anheuser-Busch wants to call itself an ally, it needs to publicly commit to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers and use its lobbying power to support the Equality Act.”
The Stonewall Inn, which hasn’t decided on an end date for the boycott, is also echoing the Keep Your Pride campaign’s efforts to pass the Equality Act, which would make an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act by including federal-level protections against gender and sexuality-based discrimination.