LGBT advocates offer mixed reaction to Miller, Coors merger

by Heather Cassell
Friday Oct 19, 2007
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LGBT beer drinkers might have to take another look at Miller Brewing Company.

The gay friendly beer producer announced last week that it would merge with Coors Brewing Company, which has long been the target of a boycott by members of the LGBT community.

On October 9, SABMiller announced the merger of its United States and Puerto Rico operations with Molson Coors’ U.S. and Canadian operations, creating MillerCoors. Exact terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the New York Times reported that the new company is expected to be a more formidable challenge to Anheuser-Busch Companies, which has long dominated the American market.

The deal should be signed by the end of this year and the merger finalized in mid-2008.

Peter Coors, vice chairman of Molson Coors, is set to serve as chairman and Graham Mackay, CEO of Miller, is set to serve as vice chairman.

LGBT organizations that benefit from Miller’s financial support through sponsorships and corporate philanthropy mostly didn’t want to comment about the merger or Coors’ history.

The late Supervisor Harvey Milk and LGBT activists launched a boycott of Coors in 1974 in solidarity with unions, environmentalists, and others. While the company now receives a 100 percent ranking on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, some LGBT activists have never called off the boycott.

"I don’t have a comment on the boycott," said Mike Smith, executive director of the AIDS Emergency Fund. "The Miller brand is popular among gay men and will continue to be affiliated with the Bare Chest Calendar."

AEF receives a $20,000 annual sponsorship for the fundraising calendar from Miller.

Demetri Moshoyannis, executive director of Folsom Street Events, which received a $70,000 sponsorship from Miller for this year’s Folsom Street Fair, wouldn’t comment. Folsom Street Events and Miller recently were targets of conservative Christian groups’ attacks for the fair’s promotional poster that featured a leather-themed Last Supper.

Jerry Acosta, board member and beverage manager for the Castro Street Fair, was a bit more concerned about the social and political consequences of the merger.

"Miller has been very supportive of the community and we are hoping that will continue, but, yes, we have to look at what is exactly behind everything," said Acosta. "We are very conscious of who sponsors us. Our vendors that support us should have some say and some support for the LGBT community. If not, then we have to look somewhere else."

For years, Coors, the company, has tried to separate itself from the Coors family. To repair the company’s image in the LGBT community it launched a LGBT-friendly campaign in the 1990s, even hiring Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, to do outreach to the LGBT community. The company established LGBT employment policies and employee resource groups, and courted community-based organizations and publications. Coors later hired openly gay Scott Coors, son of the former company head William Coors, who worked there from 1998 to 2005.

"We are proud of our progress within the GLBT community, and recognize that our work is not done," Coors spokeswoman Kimberly Devigil wrote in an e-mail. Devigil was adamant that proceeds from Coors Brewing Company don’t go to anti-LGBT causes.

"None of the profits from the sale of any Coors product funds anti-gay organizations or causes," wrote Devigil, "nor does the money go to private family foundations ... Coors Brewing Company makes no contributions to any anti-gay or socially divisive group or cause. This is consistent with the core values and corporate giving guidelines of the company."

Daryl Herrschaft, HRC’s workplace project director, noted that Scott Coors has been a member of the organization’s business advisory council for several years.

Miller received a score of 90 on the HRC index.

Julian Green, director of media relations for Miller, didn’t respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment by press time.

Howard Wallace, vice president of the San Francisco Labor Council and member of Pride at Work, worked alongside Milk and union workers to launch the boycott.

"In terms of public appearance they’ve done everything possible, but where does that money of those individuals go? It goes to right-wing causes," said Wallace.

Peter Coors is president of the Castle Rock Foundation, the Coors family’s private foundation that donated $2,441,285 to charitable causes, according to its Web site. Many of those causes are anti-gay, including the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank Peter Coors helped launch in 1973. The Castle Rock Foundation reported to the IRS net assets of $50,649,690 as of 2006. The Heritage Foundation reported to the IRS net assets of $154,306,499 as of 2006.

Miller will have a 58 percent economic interest in the new company, while Molson Coors will have a 42 percent economic interest, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Miller’s net revenue and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization in March was $3.9 billion and $484 million, respectively. Molson Coors net revenue and earnings in April was $2.7 billion and $358 million, respectively.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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