June is pride month. As the corporate rainbow branding spreads the alcohol industry has jumped on the band wagon. Presenting a facade of care for LGBTQIA+ people and their rights, through pride campaigns and rainbow marketing.

The truth is however starkly different. Alcohol harms LGBTQIA+ people disproportionately (not something the industry includes in their campaigning). This is not the only time the alcohol industry has exploited a rights movement to sell more alcohol. The same strategy is applied with the women’s rights and feminist movement.

Pride celebrations have a long history of alcohol sponsorship and promotions. Alcohol companies have spent millions on rainbow marketing and floats in pride parades. Fueled by the profit maximization goals of the alcohol industry, the targeting of alcohol advertising at the LGBTQIA+ community means Big Alcohol is exploiting a vulnerable group of people who are already bearing a heavy burden of harm caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry.

With the pandemic and parades cancelled, alcohol companies needed new ways to advance their strategy. But in recent years, as the alcohol industry has pushed further into the LGBTQIA+ community, rainbow capitalism has been facing increasing scrutiny.

According to community activists, pride should not be about corporate profits and exploiting social justice causes. It’s about equality for LGBTQIA+ people.

The significance [of these sponsorships] are mostly for brand recognition anyway; it’s more for them than for us,” said  John Lowther, a bartender who worked in multiple LGBTQIA+ venues in Brooklyn, USA, as per VINEPAIR.

John Lowther

Pride has to go back to what it was; it’s going to have to be about social justice and equality,” added another New York based bartender, as per VINEPAIR.

A New Yorker

The alcohol industry caught on early that the narrative is changing. People are pushing back against rainbow capitalism. So they did the next best thing. Partnering with non-profits and charitable organizations that work towards advancing LGBTQIA+ rights, opportunities and health.

The alcohol industry has partnered with many of these non-profits and charities. One of the most notable partnership is with GLAAD. Multiple alcohol companies including Big Alcohol giant Absolut have partnered with this organization. Absolut is quick to note that their support is “all year round” and not just on pride month. However, they haven’t given up on the rainbow bottle just yet.

Other LGBTQIA+ non profit and charity partnerships and sponsorships of the alcohol industry (a long list) include,

  • BABE Wine with the ACLU;
  • Couleé, Goose Island Beer Company Co. and DoStuff Media with Brave Space Alliance;
  • Teneral Cellars with The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative (SIGBI) Safe Spaces certification;
  • EFFEN vodka with Allies in Arts and so on.

Why is it harmful for the alcohol industry to partner with and sponsor LGBTQIA+ causes?

The alcohol industry partnerships and sponsorships might not look like a bad deal at first glance. The industry employs representatives of the LGBTQIA+ community to craft their pride targeted messaging and advertising. So how is this harmful?

As Sean Paul Mahoney an author who identifies as Queer writes, at the time he came out, he thought it was progressive when brands seemed to go against heteronormativity. Soon he realized this is not the true story.

These huge companies launched campaigns targeted to me and my friends for the same reasons they put billboards for malt liquor in black communities or marketed cigarettes in Spanish and Latino neighborhoods: because they knew their customers,” said Sean Paul Mahoney, author of the new collection of essays Now That You’ve Stopped Dying, co-host of the LGBTQ recovery podcast Queer Mental Condition, recovery mentor and peer support specialist in Portland, Oregon, as per Workit Health.

Companies like Coors and Smirnoff spend millions on demographics and research to figure who’s buying what so they can push even harder to those folks. Once they figured out that my people were spending lots of money on booze, they heavily invested in ways to find out how to make us spend even more.”

Sean Paul Mahoney, author, co-host Queer Mental Condition podcast, recovery mentor and peer support specialist, Portland, Oregon

Hidden behind the rainbow marketing and corporate sponsorships and partnerships is the disproportionate harm alcohol products are causing LGBTQIA+ people.

The evidence is mounting:

  • Boyd and colleagues found that bisexual and “not sure” U.S. adults are more likely to have a severe alcohol use disorders and tobacco use disorders.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse in the U.S. reports LGBTQIA+ people suffer from greater mental health issues and substance use problems as a result of the stigma and discrimination they face.
  • A study reported by Movendi International shows almost one in three Irish gay and bisexual men suffer from alcohol use disorder, which is about three times more than the average for the Irish population.
  • The pandemic has worsened the situation. Evidence from the U.S. indicates the ongoing coronavirus crisis has accelerated harm caused by the alcohol industry in the LGBTQ community.

We know that LGBTQ+ face more mental health conditions than their straight counterparts.  It’s simply about money and money made from people struggling the most,” said Sean Paul Mahoney, as per Workit Health.

Yet they continue to do it anyway.”

Sean Paul Mahoney, author, co-host Queer Mental Condition podcast, recovery mentor and peer support specialist, Portland, Oregon

Not the first time the alcohol industry exploited a rights movement

The alcohol industry has a long history of exploiting women’s rights and the feminist movement for profit maximization. On the one hand Big Alcohol targets women with specific alcohol marketing using it as a “gender equalizer” and on the other hand the industry objectifies women in alcohol marketing directed at men – and has done so for decades.

Absolut vodka is a clear example for this contradiction. An article in Glamour from 2020 revealed a compelling story about Absolut’s CEO who was sexually assaulted by a man under the influence of alcohol. Then the company launched a campaign on consent on February 14, 2020. But Kristina Sperkova, Movendi International President, exposed the hypocrisy and contradictions of this latest. Showcasing with the help of compelling evidence how the liquor giant has been objectifying women in their marketing for years and now suddenly changing the narrative to protecting women’s rights.

The alcohol industry’s attempt at pink-washing has been exposed in research, too. A study published in the journal Addiction documents alcohol products promoted with pink ribbons and partnerships with breast cancer charities. But alcohol causes cancer, including breast cancer. When the alcohol industry gets involved in breast cancer prevention and partners with breast cancer charities the result is confusion among people about alcohol’s link with breast cancer.

Unfortunately, despite the contradictions, the women’s rights and the feminist movement continue to be ambivalent about the alcohol industry. An example is Diageo’s partnership with International Women’s Day by Aurora Ventures (Europe) Limited.

The facts are clear. Alcohol disproportionately harms the LGBTQIA+ community. Meanwhile the alcohol industry exploits movements intended to protect and advance the rights of LGBTQIA+. It’s not the first time since the industry has used this strategy, as evidenced by their exploitation of the women’s rights and the feminist movement.

What my community deserves is access to a culturally specific treatment, free mental healthcare, and comprehensive campaigns that don’t sell vodka but sell the idea of recovery while smashing the stigma,” said Sean Paul Mahoney, as per Workit Health.

Sean Paul Mahoney, author, co-host Queer Mental Condition podcast, recovery mentor and peer support specialist, Portland, Oregon


askmen: “Booze Brands Showing Their Support During Pride Month

VINEPAIR: “With Parades Cancelled, How Are Liquor Brands Supporting Pride 2020?

Workout Health: “Alcohol Companies Sponsoring Pride Month is Still the Worst