By Nayib José Chalela Ambrad
Profit interests instead of real support for the LGBTIQ+ community
The alcoholic beverage company AB InBev was at the center of a scandal led by Florida Governor Ron De Santis, who criticized AB InBev for advertising its Bud Light product by sponsoring transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney.
The LGBTQIA+ community in the U.S. has more than a $1 trillion in annual purchasing power, according to a 2019 report by LGBT Capital, a financial services company.
As a result, far-right, anti-rights, and transphobic groups called for a boycott of the brand. The boycott seriously affected the beer giant’s revenues. By August 2023, AB InBev reported a 10% drop in revenues, and the company decided to withdraw advertising with Mulvaney and modify its marketing strategy.
According to the 2Q23 report published by AB InBev, Bud Light’s advertising should focus on beer as a product, as well as avoid “debates” and concentrate on content that is popular among all its consumers, such as American football or music.
This is the latest of several cases in which the support of large alcoholic beverage companies for the LGBTIQ+ community is contingent on profits, rather than sincere and real support for the causes of this group.
Several studies conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom have shown that people who identify as part of the LGBTIQ+ community have higher rates of high-risk alcohol consumption than people who identify as heterosexual.
Factors such as the false belief that alcohol can relieve stress, or that alcohol generates joy, can lead to consumption to cope with social rejection, as well as mental health conditions that can push members of the LGBTIQ+ community to seek escape in the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
The role alcohol companies are playing in the alcohol harm affecting the LGBTIQ+ community
It is important to take these conditions into account and the role large alcoholic beverage companies are playing. Through their marketing strategies directed towards the LGBTIQ+ community, alcohol companies present themselves as allies and normalize the consumption of their products in safe spaces for the community, such as bars or pride marches.
These spaces are environments where people are exposed to an enormous amount of advertising and sponsorship by large alcoholic beverage companies, such as AB InBev. These marketing strategies show alcohol consumption as an essential part of the enjoyment of safe spaces by LGBTIQ+ people, and as one of the necessary elements to freely express sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, in LGBTIQ+ bars it is common to find bottles of alcoholic beverages with the community flag, or the sale of products that are considered more popular within the community, such as flavored spirits.
Similarly, large alcoholic beverage companies take advantage of events or content consumed by the LGBTIQ+ community to advertise, as was the case with the first seasons of the reality show Rupaul’s Drag Race, which was sponsored by Absolut Vodka.
The harm caused by Big Alcohol’s rainbow-washing
It is not surprising then, that there is a perception that heavy episodic alcohol consumption is acceptable and normalized in the LGBTIQ+ commercial scene, where alcohol is sold as the element that allows people to disinhibit themselves allowing for the expression of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Therefore, episodic heavy alcohol use is perceived as a rite of passage for members of the LGBTIQ+ community in the commercial scene.
However, this seeming “support” for the LGBTIQ+ community by alcohol companies is problematic, and leaves many questions:
- If alcohol companies are truly concerned about the rights and wellbeing of the LGBTIQ+ community, why do they maintain marketing strategies that specifically target them, when members of this community present some of the highest rates of high-risk alcohol use and alcohol-related illnesses?
- Likewise, both community activists and those of us who are part of the community need to start questioning the relationship between alcohol consumption and mental and physical health problems of LGBTIQ+ people, and this should lead us to reflect on the role that alcohol companies and their marketing strategies should play in our safe spaces, as well as in events and pride marches.
- Should Pride marches or LGBTIQ+ rights organizations continue to accept funding and sponsorship from alcoholic beverage companies, knowing their health effects, and that their support depends on how profitable it is for them?
In this sense, the case of AB InBev with Dylan Mulvaney exposed that for alcoholic beverage companies their supposed support for the LGBTIQ+ community through marketing strategies will continue as long as it is lucrative for them. However, once their advertising and sponsorship directed at the LGBTIQ+ population represents a loss for them, they will cease to be our “allies”.
Mulvaney’s case is but one of several similar situations, or are we surprised that alcoholic beverage companies, who pose as our allies and defenders, do not carry out their campaigns of supposed support for the community in countries where being LGBTIQ+ is more stigmatized or marginalized. Or where is the support of these companies for the LGBTIQ+ community in countries like Lebanon or Egypt, Uganda or Kenya?
About Our Guest Expert
Nayib José Chalela Ambrad
Nayib is a Colombian human rights lawyer with an LLM in Global Health Law from Georgetown University. He has worked in different organizations in the Americas defending the right to health, through the implementation of evidence-based public policies, specifically in the areas of tobacco control and healthy diets. Nayib is a member of CREA Red, a network of young Latin American activists for the protection and advancement of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.
You can follow the work of CREA Red on X: @creared_