Critics of brewing giants Anheuser-Busch punished the company for allegedly “going woke” after partnering with transgender social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney on a branded social media post with their Bud Light brand earlier this month, but a longer view of the company’s donor history shows the company has a more complicated relationship with the LGBTQ community than one might expect.
Videos of untouched displays of Budweiser products were rampant on social media as the company’s stock price tanked in the fallout of what some described as an egregious misreading of their company’s demographic. Some family-friendly events featuring Budweiser’s famous Clydesdale horses were even canceled after company representatives received threats of violence over perceptions of being overly friendly toward the transgender community.
Here’s a look at Anheuser-Busch’s history with the LGBTQ+ community.
Inclusivity & Anheuser-Busch
Anheuser-Busch was considered one of the nation’s most LGBTQ-friendly companies long before the recent dust-up over its brand partnership with Mulvaney.
The brand has often teamed up with LGBTQ-friendly events like Pride—even receiving a perfect ‘100’ score from the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index in 2015—and became one of the first major beer brands with LGBTQ+-inclusive advertising in 1995, albeit only in magazines tailored to the gay community, according to a 1999 fact check by the website Snopes. The company has also had a longstanding relationship with LGBTQ+ organization GLAAD, and has regularly featured same-sex couples in its advertising
The brand also made waves with a 2016 advertising campaign featuring brand ambassadors Joe Rogen and Amy Schumer attending a wedding between two same-sex partners in celebration of a Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationally, drawing threats of a boycott by conservatives. (The ad campaign was called off prematurely after backlash, according to media reports at the time.) And in 2017, it was notably critical of organizers of Boston’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade after they barred an LGBTQ veteran’s group from participation in the day’s festivities.
“Anheuser-Busch, along with Miller Brewing Co., long had the distinction of being among the few companies that advertised in gay media and also had a mainstream media commercial with a gay theme—long before it became fashionable,” Marketing The Rainbow, a blog that monitors companies’ relationship with the LGBTQ community, wrote in a case study on its website.
However, the Anheuser-Busch brand hasn’t always made rainbow-colored waves.
Anheuser-Busch and its products were the subjects of criticism by the LGBTQ community after the company’s 2018 decision to honor its longstanding sponsorship of that year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia amid international condemnation of recently passed anti-LGBTQ laws in the country that resulted in the death and imprisonment of dozens of LGBTQ people.
Another boycott of the company as recently as 2021 after reports the company made tens of thousands of dollars in donations to lawmakers pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation.
“We really just want Anheuser-Busch to stop donating to lawmakers who are trying to legalize discrimination,” Stacy Lentz, co-owner of New York City’s famed LGBTQ bar, the Stonewall Inn, told the Associated Press at the time.
At the time, the company claimed the brand supported those for public office whose policy positions and objectives “support investments in our communities, job creation, and industry growth.”
“Together, with our brands, we have a clear role to play in bringing real change and creating an inclusive and equitable world where we cherish and celebrate one another,” it said in a statement.
However, some data shows the company gave even more to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers. According to a database compiled by Accountable for Equality Action—an LGBTQ advocacy group—Anheuser-Busch has donated some $107,000 to state lawmakers who have supported anti-trans legislation since 2015.
National Republican Bias
And that’s just at the state level.
While Federal Elections Commission data show a corporate political action committee registered to the company has played both sides in its political giving throughout its history—including to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign—its most substantial donations in recent years have gone toward conservative causes, including a $50,000 donation in 2018 to the conservative Senate Leadership Fund alongside six other recent five-figure donations to Republican causes at-or-above the $25,000 mark.
In the 2022 election cycle, more than 62 percent of the PAC’s overall contributions went to Republicans, compared to just 37 percent toward Democrats, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.
It also gave substantially more to Republican efforts to retake the U.S. Senate in 2020 than it did to Democrats in a campaign cycle largely seen as essential to Republicans’ ability to retain the majority that allowed them to appoint a conservative majority to the United States Supreme Court under Donald Trump.
Some fear that majority could work to overturn the 2015 marriage equality decision reached in Obergefell v. Hodges, which ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples under the constitution.
Over the years, campaign finance reports show Anheuser-Busch has also donated approximately $75,000 to figures like Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who the following year signed a bill called the Parental Rights in Education Act that critics dubbed as “Don’t Say Gay” into law in March 2022.
While the company’s current CEO, Brendan Whitworth, did donate $575 to President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign fund, Anheuser-Busch as a company appears to give its largest single donations to conservatives.
According to campaign finance returns, the company’s top donation to a Democratic cause during that same period was one single $20,000 donation to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which was made in 2019.
Newsweek has contacted Anheuser-Busch’s press team for comment.