3 min

When beer links fetishists & homophobes

Candidate Coors surprised his company sponsors gay party

Credit: Xtra files

One might expect mention of Montreal’s huge circuit party, Black And Blue, to show up in any number of places. But I confess to being dumbfounded at seeing journalist Tim Russert, host of NBC’s highly rated political chat show Meet The Press, holding up a Black And Blue promotional flyer while cornering one of his guests on Oct 10.

The moment came when Pete Coors, heir to the family beer fortune and Republican senatorial candidate for Colorado, was asked about his stance on family values. The politician has long been an advocate of his party’s pro-life stance, as well as a supporter of President George W Bush’s proposed amendment to the constitution, one that would restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples. How, Russert posited, does the candidate Coors reconcile his own political family values rhetoric with his company’s sponsorship of a gay weekend of partying that includes a leather ball and fetish party?

Coors, clearly caught off guard by a question tied to a fetish party, appeared stuck in the spin cycle. He hesitated, and then rather unconvincingly responded that there was no contradiction between the two stances: one was politics, he suggested, and the other simply business.

If the contradiction is troubling for the candidate Coors, it should be equally troubling for queer organizations like Bad Boy Club Montreal (BBCM) which hosts Black And Blue. How can BBCM allow the Coors logo to appear on promo materials for its events?

BBCM president Robert Vezina concedes the sponsorship isn’t one that he’s entirely thrilled with, but says other beer companies have not wanted to sponsor BBCM events. Since they’re a charitable fundraising organization, they need free stuff whenever they can get it. The BBCM has long-held sponsorship relations with Molson, he adds, but was recently referred to Coors in light of the Molson-Coors merger. This, he adds, will change once the dust has settled from the merger: he has been told that once that has occurred, he can go back to having a Molson sponsorship and only their logo will appear on BBCM material.

In the past, the Coors company had a bad reputation in the gay and lesbian community, due to its support of anti-gay politicians and hiring practices that were perceived as homophobic. It was San Francisco city councillor Harvey Milk, America’s famous openly gay elected official, who spearheaded a successful campaign in the 1970s to get Coors products out of all of the gay bars in southern California.

Though the Coors company has worked in recent years to win over the gay market – among other things, it now offers same-sex partner benefits to its employees and even employed US vice president Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter Mary as a liaison to the queer community – the Coors family is still firmly in far-right Republican territory – in other words, anti-gay. In a campaign in which a Coors family member is running, that means gay dollars spent on Coors products have a real impact. Pete Coors has reportedly spent millions of his own dollars on the hotly-contested race.

The Molson-Coors merger raises troubling questions. Can we look the other way if our money is going to a company which in turn enriches its founders, founders who want to bash our civil rights? It’s a particularly tough question for Black And Blue, considering the event is supposed to fuse our party animal to our political animal by raising money for AIDS-related causes.

Molson spokesperson Sylvia Morin says customers should not forget the groundwork her company has laid in terms of reaching out to queer customers.

“The Molson family has been visionary in this regard,” she says. But she also stops short of criticizing Molson’s new corporate partner. “Perhaps we can work on softening [the Coors family’s] stance on some of these issues. But no, we’re not going to publicly shit on our partner in business.”

The question for gay and lesbian customers are two-fold: does our brand loyalty to traditionally gay-friendly Molson trump our mistrust of Coors? Can we, like the candidate Pete Coors, simply separate our consumer selves from our political selves?

Whether or not we believe that the Coors company has suitably cleaned up its act and has genuinely reached out to the gay and lesbian community, we should never abandon the general power of the boycott itself. From the African-American civil rights advances through to women and queers, the boycott has proven a crucial weapon in nonviolent protests for social change.

* Matthew Hays is a Montreal-based freelance writer. His work has appeared in The Globe And Mail and The Advocate.