Beer Brawl

Photo by Myles RobinsonOn July 28, a caller who identified herself as a member of the Long Beach chapter of the activist AIDS organization ACT UP rang the Long Beach Gay & Lesbian Community Center and made a bomb threat against the Fourth Street building in which the center is housed.

"I'm really pissed off," she reportedly said. "I saw a flier that says you're accepting Coors money. If you guys do take Coors money, don't expect your center to be around much longer because we will definitely blow the fucker up."

The center is the beneficiary of funds raised from ticket sales to next weekend's annual Long Beach Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, the major sponsor of which is the Coors Brewing Co.

Sources involved in local ACT UP activities 10 years ago when those groups were at their peak say ACT UP's involvement is unlikely; most ACT UP factions called off their Coors boycotts years ago when the company began reaching out to gays. After going through several channels, the Weekly was unable to determine whether a chapter of ACT UP even exists anymore in Long Beach.

Coors was once a staunchly conservative corporation, whose inroads into the gay community in recent years have become an emotionally divisive issue. Renowned LA activist Morris Kight first called for a total gay boycott of Coors products 22 years ago. At the time, there were reports that Coors was forcing prospective employees to take lie-detector tests to determine whether they were gay or politically left-leaning.

Around the same time, other groups launched Coors boycotts for such reasons as their anti-labor activities and poor environmental record. Add in the fact that the Coors family has always been one of the most notoriously far-Right clans in the history of American business—many family members are die-hard Christian fundamentalists and helped bankroll such radical rightist groups as the Heritage Foundation, which Joseph Coors co-founded in 1974.

The boycotts seemed to work. Sales of Coors took a deep dip by the early '80s, and many gay bars nationwide dropped Coors products outright. Then the brewery began working to restore its badly damaged reputation. Spokespeople for the company have been trying to spread the word that Coors family donations and Coors Brewing Co. donations should be thought of separately.

Sure, the pro-Coors contingent points out, the Coors family gives money to groups opposing same-sex marriage and other anti-gay issues. But Coors the public corporation has spent several million dollars in the past decade supporting various gay and lesbian causes and events:a $20,000 gift to the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, $5,000 to OutFest (a larger gay and lesbian film festival in LA), $110,000 to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for a sexual-orientation-in-the-workplace program, and others.

The company has also done fence-mending work with employees at its Golden, Colorado, headquarters. The lie-detector era is long gone, replaced by domestic-partnership benefits, nondiscrimination policies that specifically include sexual orientation, and even a queer-employee group called LAGER (Lesbian and Gay Employee Resource). Coors Brewing Co. has seemingly done such a total 180 that some religious-right groups have targeted Coors for boycotts of their own; the company is now too gay-friendly for them.

For some, though, efforts by Coors Brewing Co. to make up for their smelly past are just an elaborate PR scheme, a rightist conspiracy designed to cause infighting in the gay-rights movement while conveniently nabbing some hefty niche-market dollars.

Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride Inc. (LBLGP), which puts on the Long Beach pride festival every May, is strongly anti-Coors and supports a total boycott. Several sources contacted by the Weekly say that LBLGP is so upset at Coors' sponsorship of the film festival that they scheduled an Aug. 4 meeting to consider picketing next weekend outside the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach, the site of this year's fest. That would put the group in the odd position of protesting an event they're already supporting—an ad for LBLGP appears in the film-fest programs, which have already been printed up.

But while LBLGP is anti-Coors, its OC sister organization, Orange County Cultural Pride, is strongly pro-Coors. The company is a major sponsor of next weekend's annual Orange County Gay & Lesbian Pride Celebration at UC Irvine. A contingent from LBLGP, in fact, will march in the OC pride parade—but as a sort of protest against the Coors presence, they'll march without their uniforms. They won't pull out, sources say, because they've already paid to be in the parade. (The Weekly tried numerous times to contact LBLGP president Vanessa Romain for comment, without success.)

Jackie Wayman, president of Orange County Cultural Pride (OCCP), explains Coors' involvement by saying that she believes in rebuilding bridges that gay groups sometimes burn. "We chose [Coors] because of their efforts in trying to change," she said. "People need to take a look at what Coors is doing now, not what happened 20 years ago. When the OCCP board voted to accept them as a sponsor, it ran 7-1 in favor."

Wayman thinks there may be some form of protest at the OC pride fest from activist gays, "but if they're smart, they won't. I'm more worried about things happening like the person who threw tear gas into the crowd at the San Diego pride parade, and people who are getting murdered or bashed every day, than this," she said.

Caught in the middle of all this is Long Beach Gay & Lesbian Film Festival director Matt Merritt, an unpaid volunteer and the man responsible for bringing Coors on as a sponsor.

"I talk to people all the time, and they don't care [about the boycott]," Merritt said. "They think it's good that corporations are supporting the gay community. If the gay community as a whole decided to boycott Coors, then I would join my brothers and sisters. But I saw other gay and lesbian groups taking money from them, which is why I approached them."

Merritt added that he only went to Coors because other sponsorships weren't coming through. "We sent out 30 letters to gay and lesbian businesses in Long Beach seeking their sponsorship, and not one of them called," he said. "Now we have this bomb threat, which really screws the gay community. We have fanatics threatening to blow up buildings. What if they actually did it? How would that look in the headlines? 'GAYS KILL THEIR OWN'? We really need to be more constructive. There are just so many more important things in the gay community that need to be taken care of. Some people have some really misplaced priorities if they're going to try and destroy the film fest."

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