It’s Pride month! Time to get out the rainbow flags and douse ourselves in glitter, henny. We gettin’ queer up in here! I can make that work for a craft beer audience, can’t I? This is 2019, right?
If you’ve been in a beer store this month (and I’m guessing you have), it’s almost certain that you have encountered a rainbow-colored beer can or two (or twenty). Pride is en vogue nowadays, and companies large and small have consumers in almost every vertical tasting the rainbow #almostcopyrightinfringement. Big brands like Converse, Target, and Calvin Klein, among others, have offered Pride lines for the past few years. Craft breweries, including Evil Twin (Rainbownade – a collaboration with Omnipollo), Bell’s (Sparkleberry), and Marz Brewing (Gay IPA), among MANY others, have also jumped on board.
As a queer-identifying person—more specifically, a white, cisgender gay man (more on that later)—I have a lot of feelings about the rainbowification of the craft beer world and the world at large. To be fair, I have a lot of feelings, in general. But this is timely, and certain questions tickle one’s curiosity: Is all this corporate bullshit? Is it progress? Is it damaging to, or a celebration of, the Pride movement? Probably all of these, and then some.
Let me start by saying that exposure can be a wonderful thing. It’s hard to imagine any brewery embracing Pride so outwardly 10 years ago. Hell, it would have been a stretch five years ago. Today, even Budweiser #addingforperspective #notacraftbeer has rainbow bottles for Pride (which doesn’t make it taste any better, btw). Any homophobic redneck running into the liquor store will be confronted with the fact that we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going anywhere. That’s a win in my book.
Still, one can make the argument that Corporate Pride is antithetical to the origins of Pride. 50 years ago, at the Stonewall Inn in NYC, Pride wasn’t Pride. It was a riot against police brutality. It was rebellion. It’s likely that Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera (Google them now) would have thrown a brick at any rainbow can of beer.
People were then—and still are—fighting for the right to exist without fear. American trans women of color are being beaten and murdered on the regular. So, maybe you can see how it gets interpreted as flippant or insulting when a company the size of a country that outlaws being gay (or larger) slaps rainbows on its beverage packaging to seem woke. In the interest of full disclosure, I happen to be a card-carrying member of the “Shut up and take my money!” crowd, which likely speaks to my whiteness and cisgenderness #makingupwords more than I’d like.
To be fair, Corporate Pride didn’t start with beer. Pride became monetized a long time ago, and like most everything that has to do with money, it quickly became a commodity of rich white men. Most Pride (and gay-directed) promotional photos highlight a group of white dudes in short shorts with too-perfect teeth flexing their 8-pack abs for the camera. Looking for examples? Try an image search for Atlantis Events, which offers all-gay cruises (at ridiculous prices, I might add). I’m not exactly complaining (about the photos…those prices are stupid). But where are the lesbians? The bisexuals (while you’re Googling Marsha and Sylvia, look up bisexual erasure)? The people of color? The trans folks? Modern Pride doesn’t always feel welcome to these groups, even though all of them were at the forefront of the original Stonewall riots—and according to many accounts—they were more influential than the white, cisgender gay dudes.
I’d like to say that intentions are important, but it’s hard to measure the intentions of a corporation — since they definitely aren’t people. I’m sure there are companies out there that are genuinely concerned about LGBTQIA+ rights (add the letters to your Google research). I’m also certain there are ones that are actually doing something to advance queer rights, which is a step above caring. It’s even possible that corporate giants care more and do more than smaller companies who you might expect to be on board because of their “punk” reputations. This is a research rabbit hole that I have yet to jump down, although a quick search revealed that Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors #stillnotcraftbreweries both received a perfect score on the 2019 Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index — color me surprised.
And yes, there are plenty of examples of craft breweries giving back. Marz Brewing of Chicago is donating an (unspecified amount) of proceeds from Gay IPA to local organizations that support queer causes. Dayton, Ohio’s Warped Wing, my favorite local brewery, recently featured Equitas Health, an Ohio-based LGBTQIA+ health organization, as the non-profit benefiting from their weekly Share a Pint Make a Difference night. Do donated proceeds equal pure or sincere intentions? You could ask 1,000 people that question and receive 1,500 different answers.
Speaking of punk, one could argue that Pride is losing its edge as corporations jump on board and Pride becomes more accessible to the masses because of increased visibility. I tend to think that more accessibility is a good thing, as it is tangential to exposure. However, as more straight people participate in Pride, does it become less, well, Pride-ful? What about people with multiple marginalized identities (e.g., queer people of color) who, as I mentioned earlier, feel left out already? What if our non-queer visitors are not savvy about Pride’s history, or just flat-out disrespectful? I may still feel comfortable with “outside visitors” at Pride and may even feel empowered to call people out on their bullshit, but the world has been designed for people who look like me. If non-white, non-cisgender people feel uncomfortable or unsafe at Pride, we have a big problem on our hands.
The complications surrounding our look at Pride in this context (newfound exposure and accessibility, honoring history, corporate interference and buy-in, and limited diversity) are all buzzy topics in the craft beer community, as well. Exposure and accessibility can be double-edged swords. On one hand, making more people aware of something beautiful should be…well, beautiful. But there’s a “coolness factor” when you’re underground, and there’s a fear that too many voices will just become noise and that too many newcomers will diminish the quality of the experience. It’s kind of like how the thrill of the hunt for the best DIPA is diminished when every corner store and gas station ends up carrying it. Craft beer has a storied history, as well, and it’s always folly to forget or ignore history. Lastly, like most everything else in written history, craft beer can feel exclusive to people who aren’t cisgender, heterosexual white dudes #becausecolonialism.
This is the part of the post where I should present solutions to everything I have stated above. Shit. I wish I had them, but I don’t. Unfortunately, I have not run across anything in my lifetime that is 100% pure and wonderful. Except poutine #praisecanada. That said, I do know a couple things: change is a constant (as is money ruining everything), and more importantly, there are common themes that emerge in all of these conversations. People create solutions when they increase collaboration across demographics, when they listen more than they speak (or scream), when they have honest conversations about what to do in the face of inevitable change and progress (and “progress”), when they invite new people into places and discussions with restricted access, and when they cede some control to those who are different—and less powerful—than themselves.
This probably all sounded like an indictment of the coupling of Pride and beer. Let me be clear: I LOVE PRIDE AND CRAFT BEER! But it’s silly, and possibly dangerous, to think of either of them as perfect. I choose to celebrate both as bastions of freedom, with all of freedom’s inherent flaws. You want to throw on a floral romper, some fake eyelashes and platform combat boots to march in the Pride parade (I may speak from experience)? Yaaas, queen! You want to throw hibiscus and four different kinds of hops and buckwheat honey and gummy bears into your brew? You do you, boo. I’ll be over here, raising my glass to your right to do whatever you want, with whomever you want #withconsent.