[Editor’s note: In this article David Rosenberg follows the money people pay for Coors beers, via foundations established by the Coors family, to many of the nation’s most powerful and extreme advocates of discrimination against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (GLBTs). Rosenberg argues that a longstanding boycott of Coors beer, which has reduced the company’s historical discrimination against its GLBT workers, should be pushed further to reduce the family’s funding of anti-GLBT dscrmination everywhere else. When the company was forwarded an advance copy of the article, by locals Agenda had asked to respond, I got a frantic phone call from the "Corporate Relations Manager" handling the Gay and Lesbian front, Rafael Fantauzzi. In a startlingly clumsy lapse of professionalism, Fantauzzi challenged, "Does this article have to be published?" and bluffed that publishing would "hurt the paper ... I mean, its credibility." He was unable to cite a single problem, focusing irrelevantly on the gains that the boycott has already achieved within the company, instead of on the much broader problems discussed in the article. I asked him to respond in writing, and urged him to focus on the money flow from the sale of beers to the fight against GLBT rights. His response follows the article. Fantauzzi’s stroll into the propeller blades is strong confirmation of Rosenberg’s charges, if it is the best a salaried Coors PR specialist can muster. Fortunately we also have a more engaging response to Rosenberg’s article from someone outside of Coors, the owner of Ann Arbor’s \aut\ BAR, Keith Orr. Rosenberg replies to both responses below. I’m grateful to all of the authors for their efforts and concern.--eric]
Buy a Coors,
from queer Ann Arbor
by David Rosenberg
You already know Coors the brewing company, purveyors of Blue Moon, Keystone, Killians, Molson’s, Steinlager, Winterfest, Zima, Carling lager (UK), and Coors-branded beers (spcomstock.com, stock symbol RKY). But I’d like you to meet Coors the wealthy family, which receives huge salaries, bonuses, dividends, and other compensation from the company’s beer sales, and pours millions of beer-dollars into a vast vat of right wing political activism. For instance, Joe Coors, part of the Reagan administration’s inner circle of advisors, bought Oliver North a $65,000 plane to be used by the Contras in the Nicaraguan civil war (see Silver Bullets by Robert Burgess, 1992, p. 18). The Coors family’s conservatism also extends widely to the domestic social arena, including dismantling civil rights for the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community. The family controls all of the voting stock of the company, and thus the board of directors, so they can maintain their control of the company and appoint themselves in the highest executive positions within the brewery (see Citizen Coors, Daniel Baum, 2000, p. 124). In other words the Coors family completely controls the Coors brewery and determines how much of the profits from your beer purchases they will use in their fight against toleration and equal rights.
In a push for marketing opportunities for Coors products back in the mid ’80s, managers realized that "[a]lienating gay beer drinkers was bad business as gays tended to drink more beer than the average beer drinker" (Silver Bullets, p. 163). As a result the Coors brewery itself has become great on gay issues. However, the advances for gays in the workplace at Coors "is more reflective of an effort to appeal to a particular segment of the beer-drinking market than of a change of heart on gay rights issues," according to People for The American Way (www.pfaw.org/issues/right/rw/coors.html). The family, and foundations that are funded by the family via profits from the brewery, continue to aim at derailing civil rights for the GLBT community. This schizophrenic approach to the GLBT community is purposefully confusing, to move attention away from the right-wing focus: e.g., a decision was made in 1993 to shift some of the right-wing-funding load away from the "Adolph Coors Foundation" and into the lap of the newly created, but less readily identified, "Castle Rock Foundation." Here are some of the tentacles of this family-controlled foundation, starting and ending with ones that reach deep into the Ann Arbor area (www.castlerockfoundation.org/CRReader.pdf).
Castle Rock’s Grants
Hillsdale College, 50 miles away in Hillsdale, Michigan, can afford to ignore federal education dollars, and so can avoid federal antidiscrimination requirements, because it has received millions of dollars from right-wing groups, including nearly a quarter-million beer-dollars per year from the Coors’ Castle Rock Foundation. The Hillsdale College website states "the dehumanizing, discriminatory trend of so called ‘social justice’ and ‘multicultural diversity’ … judges individuals not as individuals, but as member[s] of a group and … pits one group against other competing groups in divisive power struggles" (www.hillsdale.edu/collegehistory/missionstatement.htm). According to the Chronicle of Higher Education in 1999, ‘[t]here is no gay and lesbian coalition on [the Hillsdale] campus (‘If one tried to start up, the administration would shut it down,’ hazards one student)’" (cited in "Coors and the LGBT Community," Bruce Mirken for the National Lawyer’s Guild LGBT Committee, www.nlg.org/committees/lgbt/lgbt_coors_statement.htm). Jeffrey Coors, along with Amway’s Jay Van Andel, are trustees of Hillsdale College.
The Castle Rock Foundation has given millions of your beer-dollars to the Free Congress Foundation, a think tank that envisions how to create a conservative culture in the US. The website for this foundation includes a Declaration of Cultural Independence which states that "[t]elevision ‘normalizes’ every deviance, including homosexuality and the inversion of the traditional roles of men and women" (www.freecongress.org/centers/conservatism/decofculind.htm).
[Free Congress] filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Hawaii same-[sex-] marriage case calling homosexuality "repugnant to ... the laws of nature and nature’s God," and reminding the court that William Blackstone had called sodomy "a crime ‘of deeper malignancy’ than even rape ... He called sodomy ‘an infamous crime against nature.’" (Mirken)
Jeff Coors was the chairman the year that Free Congress filed its friend of the court brief (Citizen Coors, p. 345). The Free Congress was funded and started up through the efforts of Joe Coors.
The Heritage Foundation, which was founded by and has received over a million beer-dollars from Coors-family foundations, has been instrumental in formulating the conservative agenda for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush (Citizen Coors, pp. 105, 239). Heritage is also virulently anti-gay. According to Mirken:
Other anti-gay groups receiving hundreds of thousands of beer-dollars from the Castle Rock Foundation include the Center for the Study of Popular Culture run by David Horowitz, who recently spoke at the University of Michigan campus and was protested by the campus’ Defend Affirmative Action Party (www.frontpagemag.com/horowitzsnotepad/2002/hn03-21-02.htm). Horowitz believes "left wing leaders of the gay community" are responsible for the spread of AIDS by promoting anonymous HIV testing over non-anonymous testing (See www.frontpagemag.com/columnists/horowitz/2001/dh06-11-01.htm).
Another Castle Rock recipient is The Media Research Center, dedicated to uncovering "liberal media bias" (www.mediaresearch.org/about/aboutwelcome.asp). L. Brent Bozell III, founder and president of the Media Research Center, stated in a Jan. 30, 2002 column that creation of a gay cable channel "is a move to promote the homosexual lifestyle to the public"
(www.mediaresearch.org/BozellColumns/entertainmentcolumn/2002/col20020130.asp). Bozell also criticized PBS for showing the documentary about teenager Steve Cozza, who tried to change the Boy Scout policy banning gays (Mirken).
Now back to Ann Arbor: Castle Rock has provided hundreds of thousands of your beer-dollars to groups like the Pacific Legal Foundation who are litigating to end affirmative action at UM. Pacific Legal Foundation’s website states that they are "fighting the flawed logic inherent in the University of Michigan’s race- and sex-based admissions policies as part of this nationally publicized case central to the debate about the future of preference programs around the country" (www.pacificlegal.org). Another group supported by Coors money, The National Association of Scholars (NAS) states that they "filed an amicus curiae brief with the U. S. District Court in Michigan in support of two students who have brought suit against the University of Michigan for denying them admission on the basis of their race" (www.nas.org).
The Family Business
In addition, the Coors company is responsible for polluting Colorado rivers and creating toxic waste sites. The EPA has cited Coors as the PRP—Potentially Responsible Party—at the Lowry Superfund site. This landfill is owned by the City and County of Denver. In May 1992 the EPA stated that Coors was the "largest industrial polluter in the state of Colorado in 1990, having emitted 583,000 pounds of toxic emissions" (Silver Bullets, p. 243). "After killing more than ten thousand fish in Clear Creek [near Coors’ Golden, CO facility], Bill Coors told stockholders that the fish were only ‘trash fish,’ and a company spokesperson defended Coors by saying the stream ‘was not a prime fishing stream’" (Silver Bullets, p. 138). In August 2000, yet another spill caused further damage to the fish population in Clear Creek, which led to penalties of $100,000 after complaints about this and earlier violations, from the Colorado Dept of Public Health & the Environment, the EPA, and in public commentary (company statement at www.edgar-online.com/brand/aol/glimpse/glimpse.pl?sym=RKY).
Federal Elections Commission documents reveal that "the company itself is a substantial ‘soft money’ donor, almost exclusively to Republican Party committees," and reflects the family members’ political proclivities as well, according to Mirken. Coors company’s soft-money donations contrast with rival brewery Anheuser-Busch which gives almost an equal amount to both parties "to curry influence with any officeholder who might be in a position to influence key legislation" (Mirken).
Moreover, the Coors company’s support of individual political candidates favors far-right social conservatives, in contrast with Anheuser-Busch which makes donations to a roughly equal number of social moderates. Mirken states that "the company’s political donations seem to have followed the hard-right leanings of the Coors family," as exemplified by donations to Attorney General Ashcroft, Rep. James Rogan of California, Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton. In addition to her opposition to key environmental regulations, Gale Norton is infamous for mounting an overtly homophobic defense of Colorado’s Amendment 2.
Extending the boycott
All this is why outraged activists anonymously placed anti-Coors flyers in some Ann Arbor/Ypsi copies of the gay newspaper Between The Lines last August. Ironically enough, they were branded as "terrorists" and likened to the far right-wing by members of Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project (WRAP). WRAP is a local gay organization that is breaking the boycott of Coors products ("Leaflet opens Coors beer dispute in Ann Arbor," Between The Lines, 9/6/01, p. 3). When the story of the anonymous leafleteers broke in the gay press, other GLBT community members decided to take a stand against bringing a Coors marketing salesman to speak at WRAP’s National Coming Out Day celebration held in late September (a privilege for which Coors donated $200 to WRAP). We formed a group called Queer Action Coalition (QUAC) and we soon learned that many local bars both gay and straight, such as the autbar, and even the venerated Ark, were selling Coors beer products despite the fact that the Coors family, beneficiaries and owners of Coors Brewery, are benefactors of many right wing efforts both locally in Ann Arbor and across the country.
In the circumstances, all groups need to continue to unite against the bigotry that undermines us, and renewing and continuing a boycott of Coors products will go a long way toward that goal. I recommend that you boycott all beer made or distributed by Coors.
by Rafael Fantauzzi
May 3, 2002
To the Editor:
Mr. Rosenberg’s curious article on Coors Brewing Company, "Buy a Coors, Fund Attacks on Civil Rights," bears no resemblance to the real company noted by independent observers such as Fortune, Curve, The Advocate, the NAACP, Latina Style, Business Ethics, National Council of La Raza, the Gay and Lesbian Values Index, the Human Rights Campaign and Poz. Leading magazines and watchdog groups consistently rank Coors as one of the very best companies to work for -–particularly if you happen to be a person of color, a Latino or Latina, an Asian American, a lesbian or gay man, or a person living with a disability such as HIV/AIDS.
Our corporate policies reflect our bedrock belief in fairness and respect for all our customers, too. They also underscore why we generously sponsor gay nonprofit leaders like GLAAD and PFLAG, as well as many AIDS service organizations. Coors advertises in and supports gay community publications, as we have for years, as a bridge to our gay and lesbian customers. And, in February of this year, our company joined the Human Rights Campaign in support of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Coors hires, retains and rewards one of the most talented and diverse workforces of any brewer in the world – through our commitment to diversity both within and outside the company. We adopted our nondiscrimination policy in employment for gays and lesbians more than twenty years ago. In 1995, we became the first – and until recently the only – major American brewer to offer equal benefits to the same-sex partners of our gay employees.
In addition, for the record, there is no connection between the policies, practices and contributions of Coors Brewing Company and those of Coors family members, the vast majority of whom have no role with the company. And no Coors company shares are owned by the Adolph Coors Foundation, the Castle Rock Foundation, or any private, family foundations – among the many facts left unchecked or simply ignored by Mr. Rosenberg.
Mr. Rosenberg’s story collapsed without a hint of balance. Our record of progress on diversity, and in the gay and lesbian community, is well established and widely reported. All of us have personal choices to make, and we hope the choices made by readers of Agenda are based on solid, factual and current information.
Sincerely, Rafael A. Fantauzzi
by Keith Orr
We engage in boycotts to change a corporation or industry’s behavior. An effective boycott must put together a large coalition of people who believe in that boycott. The Coors boycott has always been an unlikely assortment of partners.
The original Coors boycott was a union boycott. It began in 1974. Gays, Lesbians, women’s groups, environmentalists, and others joined over the course of the next several years. This was not a period when unions were gay friendly organizations. I speak from experience. In 1976 I was gay and a union member. When the union won representation at the Golden, Colorado brewery, they declared the boycott over, to the horror of their coalition partners.
By the mid 1990’s a variety of local and national gay and lesbian organizations, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) declared that they no longer supported the boycott. GLAAD’s decision to end their boycott was based on the changes at Coors. From their 1998 press release:
Through our work with the media and with community organizations on both the local and national levels, we’ve come to recognize that the voices which resonate best with the public come from people who have experienced things first-hand. As a company, Coors has experienced a learning process. It has made significant strides in fostering an internal corporate culture which now values and welcomes all of its employees - including those of us in the LGBT community.
To many of us in the gay and lesbian community the Coors boycott was about stopping harassment of gays and lesbians in the workforce. The most famous example at the time the boycott began was the claim that Coors made their employees take polygraph tests about their sexual orientation.
The Coors Brewing Company was the first major brewery to adopt a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation in 1978. They were also the first to adopt Domestic Partner Benefits in 1995.
Coors is a supporter of GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). They support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and have been praised by the Human Rights Campaign for their lobbying efforts on behalf of ENDA.
In other words, we won.
The \aut\ BAR is a known supporter of causes close to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gendered (GLBT) community. My partner, Martin Contreras and I are openly gay. Our decision to sell Coors products was not made in a vacuum.
We listened to the voices of our staff and customers. A few customers expressed reservations, but the vast majority believed in supporting a company that had changed to accept their GLBT employees.
We listened to the voices of GLBT employees of Coors. Without exception we heard of people who felt they worked in a supportive corporate culture. Ironically, several had never been out at work until working for Coors.
We listened to our national organizations. Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), HRC, and GLAAD are just a few of the organizations that have endorsed Coors as a gay-friendly corporation.
We listened to the voices of our local organizations. Coors has been generous to the Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project (WRAP) and the HIV/AIDS Resource Center (HARC).
I respect the voices of dissent in our community. Those voices can make us strong. I do not question that the Castle Rock Foundation is a right wing organization. However, if we "follow the money" in virtually any corporation in America we will find that boards and shareholders are dominated by conservatives. I do not think it is a surprise to anyone that corporate America is largely Republican and conservative.
Our answer to conservative foundations must be to continue to support the organizations of the GLBT community.
The fact that we have gotten the conservative scions of the Coors family to proffer Domestic Partner Benefits speaks to the economic power of our community. The company has made the changes we asked of them. It is now time to accept that the boycott is over, acknowledge that we won, celebrate our victory, and move on to more productive battles.
by David Rosenberg
I agree with Rafael Fantauzzi and with Keith Orr that workplace conditions for GLBT people at Coors have improved since the company adopted a non-discrimination policy and domestic partnership benefits. Since I said as much in my article, we can set aside the bulk of Fantauzzi’s letter, which merely gives details abut these workplace improvements. His only substantial claim relevant to my article’s focus on the Castle Rock Foundation is untrue: that the Coors brewery has no connection to the political policies of the Coors family.
Orr correctly shows that the Coors boycott has been instrumental in improving the workplace for GLBT at Coors, and that this is not a matter of corporate generosity or corporate fairness as Fantauzzi implies. The GLBT community does wield important economic and political power to create change; the AFL-CIO union recognized this when it forged a partnership with the gay community as well as with others to grow the Coors boycott in the mid ’70s. In so doing the motives of the boycott were no longer limited to forming a union at the company, but included a broader vision of ending GLBT invisibility and discrimination and more encompassing issues.
So when the AFL-CIO ended the official boycott with Coors in 1987, the gay community was up in arms because the boycott’s goals for the gay community had not been realized by this time. While the company did have a sexual-orientation non-discrimination policy, the company at this time still did not have domestic partnership benefits and worse still, the company refused to allow gays to work in the brewhouse or in packaging. The company feared that the public would think Coors products handled by gays were AIDS-tainted. Clearly the GLBT community needed to continue the boycott, for the company remained still mired in discriminatory practices. GLBT advances would have clearly been stalled if we said "we won" back in 1987. Moreover, while Orr states that some people saw workplace harassment as the defining issue of the boycott, others also find that ending donations to right wing anti-gay groups is part of the expanded boycott issues. After all, Orr argues that boycott motives can and sometimes should outgrow the initial motives for starting them, as was the case when the union boycott of Coors grew to include a boycott aimed to improve the brewery’s record with the GLBT community.
Indeed, it is time for more "productive battles." There’s no reason to prematurely end a boycott that is starting to show some promise in changing the practices of the Coors brewery and family. It’s time to extend the boycott beyond mere workplace issues into GLBT movement issues. Boycotting Coors beer to stop the funding of the anti-gay rightwing movement is such an extension. Many more GLBTs are threatened by the right’s policies nationwide and worldwide, compared to the number who actually benefit from positive GLBT workplace policies inside Coors.
It’s little consolation to have a union if we also pay for politicians who (like Reagan or the Bushes) act to weaken unions and worker-protection laws. It’s little consolation to have domestic-partner benefits such as life or health insurance, if we also pay for think-tanks that perpetuate a culture that threatens the lives and health of GLBTs. Does that sound like a good strategy: buying beer where much of the money goes toward increasing cultural intolerance of your domestic partner, and so increases the chance that he’ll be killed or beat up, and then "celebrating" that you could collect some life or health insurance in case he decides to go to work for Coors? No, that’s a self-defeating strategy.
Fantauzzi’s makes a faulty claim that the brewery and the family’s political beliefs are unconnected. The Castle Rock Foundation, which is tightly run by the family, was started partly through family-owned Coors Brewery stock. A series of critical articles in 1997 in a San Francisco gay paper illustrated the link between Adolph Coors Brewery stock, the Castle Rock Foundation, and donations to the right wing (Mirken, cited in main article). This caused William Coors to have the Foundation dispose of the brewery stock. In a duplicitous move, William Coors simply replaced the brewery stock with stock in what is now Graphic Packaging International and Coors Tek, which are Coors family-owned companies that supply the brewery (and also have US military contracts).
The family tightly controls the Coors Brewery—as I said in the article, The Coors Family Trust holds all of the voting stock. According to Mirken, easily $100 million has been funneled from the brewery to members of the Coors family over the last ten years. For 2001 alone that figure was $14 million, just for dividends the family receives on stock. And the money for the support of ultra-right-wing anti-gay groups and politicians doesn’t just come from individual family members, but also from the Castle Rock Foundation, the company’s political action committees, and from the company itself. According to Mirken, "an examination of records from the Securities Exchange Commission, Federal Elections Commission, Internal Revenue Service and other agencies confirms a complex and ongoing web of links between the brewery, the Coors family and an array of far right, often overtly homophobic organizations and politicians."
Fantauzzi completely failed to address the article’s critique of anti-gay funding by the Castle Rock Foundation. Rather than try to controvert me and my numerous published sources on the facts of Coors and the Castle Rock Foundation, Fantauzzi merely asserts without any evidence that I haven’t checked my facts and that the article has "collapsed". Fantauzzi’s utter silence regarding the Coors funding of Castle Rock suggests that Coors ought to be able to find a more effective spokesperson.
I appreciate that Orr acknowledges the dangers for the GLBT community when Castle Rock fosters and donates to the anti-gay right wing. This acknowledgement gives me and hopefully others ample reason to extend the Coors boycott. Our agreement regarding Castle Rock encourages me that there may be the moral courage for the \aut\ BAR to rejoin the many other area establishments still boycotting. These establishments include gay bars in the metro Detroit area such as Menjo’s, Numbers, La Dolce Vita, The Other Side, Adam’s Apple, Hayloft Saloon, Backpocket, The Woodward, Stingers, and Detroit Eagle.
Contrary to what Orr expressed, not all corporations funnel their political money to right-wing social-conservative politicians. For example, unlike Coors Brewery, rival brewery Anheuser-Busch gladly supports politicians who are moderate and liberal, including a fair number of candidates with gay-friendly records. Not all corporations are the same. That’s one of the points of a boycott. Moreover, Coors Brewery's GLBT workplace policies are commonplace in American business (e.g., Ford, GM, many others). Corporations regularly sponsor gay pride events as well as gay organizations. What is unusual about Coors Brewery, however, is the direct family control of the company, and the direct family and corporate support of ultra-right-wing policies that work to defeat GLBT rights.
In addition to individual boycott actions—avoiding beer or buying alternative beers—I encourage readers to lobby bar owners such as Orr, as well as the Ark, not to carry Coors and its other products like Killians (see the list at the beginning of my article). Groups such as GLAAD and HRC ought to be pressured not to sell out the gay movement to Coors. I agree with Orr that we should fight the right by actively supporting GLBT civil-rights groups, but this is compatible with not paying the right via beer purchases. Why shoot ourselves in the foot with a silver bullet? R
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