CHICAGO — A handful of LGBTQ bars have faced online harassment for discontinuing Anheuser-Busch InBev products after the beer giant distanced itself from a transgender influencer amid backlash.
Five bars — 2Bears Tavern, The SoFo Tap, Meetinghouse Tavern, Jackhammer and Sidetrack — have received hundreds of Instagram comments since they announced Friday they would no longer sell Anheuser-Busch products, including Bud Light, Busch Light and Goose Island 312.
While many expressed appreciation that the bars were standing up for transgender people, others left transphobic and homophobic messages on their pages, said Mark Robertson, co-owner of 2Bears Tavern Group, which manages four of the five bars.
“We’ve gotten a lot of hate mail, but it’s not my first experience with bullying, so I’ve got pretty tough skin, as do a lot of LGBTQ people who have been through this before,” Robertson said.
The controversy started in April when Bud Light partnered with transgender TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney for a sponsored post promoting an online contest.
The partnership became a lightning rod issue, with many taking to social media to express transphobic outrage over Mulvaney’s involvement. Kid Rock posted a video of himself shooting four cans of Bud Light with a rifle, critics accused the beer brand of going “woke” and many vowed to stop drinking its products.
Others expressed support for Mulvaney and the campaign.
But Anheuser-Busch CEO Michel Doukeris appeared to distance the company from the campaign without addressing the transphobic backlash by releasing a statement in April saying the brand “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people.”
Doukeris then doubled down in a Thursday earnings call with investors, according to Yahoo Finance.
“We need to clarify the facts that this was one can, one influencer, one post and not a campaign,” Doukeris told the investors.
Robertson said 2Bears Tavern Group’s leaders had been weighing the issue for weeks, but Doukeris’ comments at the meeting were a breaking point.
“In this response, we really felt that Anheuser-Busch InBev completely abandoned the LGBTQ community, particularly the T part of our community,” Robertson said.
Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser brand has a history of sponsoring LGBTQ events, including Chicago’s annual Pride Fest and Market Days celebrations. The Northalsted Business Alliance, which plans and operates those festivals, did not return a request for comment.
Bud Light has also marketed its products to LGBTQ consumers going back to a 1993 commercial starring drag queens. The beer company has done two decades’ worth of Pride advertising, partnered with advocacy organizations like GLAAD and featured LGBTQ people in its commercials, according to a Fast Company report.
But Robertson said those years of support are called into question when the brand won’t stand by LGBTQ people even through tough times.
“As soon as they reached a point at which they were getting attacked by the hate, they went ahead and ran as fast as they could in the other direction,” Robertson said. “That is not something we consider to be an ally. An ally sticks with you in the good times and the bad.”
2Bears Tavern Group has intentionally left the hateful comments on its Instagram pages to raise awareness of the extreme reactions and transphobia among people, Robertson said.
“And I can only imagine the hate mail that Dylan Mulvaney must have gotten,” Robertson said. “I can only imagine what it feels like for a trans person to constantly have all this hate thrown at them, whether it be laws in Tennessee or Florida or just random people on the street.”
Brad Balof, general manager of Sidetrack, said the bar has received similar reactions for its decision to stop selling Anheuser-Busch products.
“In person, the reaction has been great, but online, we’ve had some visitors who are emboldened to share some really nasty and negative thoughts with us,” Balof said. “It’s disheartening.”
Sidetrack has been deleting the hateful comments and blocking the people who posted them, Balof said.
“We kind of have to treat it like the bar, so if you come in and are disruptive or bothering people, we’re going to have to ask you to leave,” Balof said. “So we block, delete and move on. It’s our space, even online.”
Balof called Anheuser-Busch’s handling of the controversy a “backward step” after the years of inroads the brand has tried to make with the LGBTQ community.
“I hope that Anheuser-Busch is paying attention to everyone that’s speaking and that they make choices to show they support the LGBTQ+ community,” Balof said. “Our goal isn’t to shut them out forever because of this one thing. Our goal is to get them thinking about who they’re supporting and what they’re standing by.”
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