Uh oh, it’s that time of year again when brands prepare to partake in rainbow capitalism while simultaneously pretending that they’re here for the right reasons. We’ve seen attempts to support causes and really “say something” go haywire before—never forget when Skittles went rainbowless for Pride for some reason. And this month already we’ve seen Walmart getting pushback for not just its uninspired Pride ice cream but its offensive Juneteeth ice cream. But still, it seems some brands are learning their lessons and putting real effort into doing better this year, in particular beer and liquor companies.
Bars have long been gathering spaces for the queer community, and the very celebration of Pride is a commemoration of events that launched the gay rights movement outside of the Greenwich Village gay bar Stonewall Inn.
Patrick Sisson reported on the history and importance of bars as gathering spaces for Curbed in 2016:
Across the country, LGBTQ Americans turned to bars and nightlife to provide an escape from pervasive prejudice, and to carve out spaces of their own.
“Gay bars were our community center, our meet and greet, our place for organizing,” Scott Gunkel, President of PrideFest in Milwaukee, told the local Journal-Sentinel. “That was the bars. That was the bloodline of the community.”
Over the past 50 years, Pride celebrations have manifested as giant parties, and with that comes flowing drinks. So it’s no surprise that alcohol companies would want to not only capitalize on the day-of partying but connect themselves to the history of the LGBTQ+ community and gay rights movement. In 2022, some brands are more successful at that than others.
Of the few Pride-related press releases sent to The Takeout so far, none have made us want to slam our heads against the wall, and that’s already a vast improvement over years past. Even the Crystal Head Vodka limited-edition Pride bottle isn’t quite ruffling my feathers in ways it may have in past years. Yes, the rainbow bottle itself is garish and unnecessary, and the accompanying cocktail recipes have names like “Sugar Daddy” and “What’s the T?” But the company itself has proven dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ causes all year long, with continuing partnerships with organizations like Stonewall Sports Program, The Test Positive Awareness Network, Kaleidoscope Trust, and Lurie Children’s Hospital Transgender Youth Program. Commitment to a cause beyond just its designated month is a necessary move.
Another vodka, Absolut, introduces its Pride 2022 campaign with flashy ads of comedian Bowen Yang sipping on cocktails surrounded by disco balls. What in the past may have been used as an empty gesture, here its representative of the company’s new Out & Open campaign, a partnership with the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) to help preserve queer bars across the country.
Part of the campaign includes audio stories from queer people from all walks of life sharing what these spaces mean to them—it not only allows this community to tell their story in their own words, but Absolut is donating $1 to the NGLCC for each time the audio it played. The biggest flaw here is that the donations stop on June 30. Even though Absolut has a long history of supporting the queer community, there’s still more monetary support that can be spread throughout the year.
Open & Proud, a similarly named campaign (maybe next year we’ll harp on brands to get a little more creative with their initiatives) from Miller Lite, is a partnership with the Equality Federation to ensure that all bars are safe and inclusive. Once again, this brand is allowing the LGBTQ+ community to speak for themselves, setting up a series of town halls at bars across the country to hear what will make bars more inclusive and incorporate that into training programs for bars, restaurants, and breweries. That’s an example of how brands can use these opportunities to make real change in the industry.
Miller Lite also teamed up with LGBTQ+ historian Dr. Eric Cervini to publish the book Beers and Queer History, sharing stories of iconic gay bars, acting as part guidebook, part history book.
And this year, Bud Light announced a new partnership with the NGLCC, a far cry from the brand’s questionable LGBTQ ads and news that the company was donating money to anti-LGBTQ causes. This partnership is dedicated to the NGLCC’s Communities of Color Initiative to support LGBTQ+ business owners of color. Still, Bud Light seems to be hanging its hat firmly on its rainbow aluminum cans, and we’ll just wait and see how much of this rolls beyond June.
We’ll tip our hats to the brands who at least seem like they want to do better, and keep our fingers crossed that this isn’t a one-time push. Until then, we’re just waiting with bated breath to see who screws this up first.