LGBTQ+ group suspends Bud Light maker's rating over handling of backlash to transgender influencer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The country's largest advocacy group for LGBTQ+ rights has suspended its benchmark equality and inclusion rating for Anheuser-Busch, citing the beer company's handling of the hate-filled and transphobic backlash to its partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney last month.
The Human Rights Campaign informed the Bud Light maker that it suspended the company's 2022 Corporate Equality Index score — a tool that measures corporate policies, practices and benefits related to the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees — on May 9, according to a letter shared with the The Associated Press on Friday.
The suspension of Anheuser-Busch’s CEI score means that the company “no longer has the right to use the ‘Best Places to Work’ distinction,” HRC’s letter says. Prior to the suspension, Anheuser-Busch had a CEI score of 100, the group's top rating.
“What we're seeing play out here is an example of companies making a decision to have and construct inclusive marketing, which is great — but a business should be standing by those decisions,” Eric Bloem, HRC’s senior director of programs and corporate advocacy, told The Associated Press. “The Anheuser-Busch (case) is a textbook example of what not to do.”
On April 1, as part of a March promotional contest for the beer brand, Mulvaney posted a Instagram video of herself cracking open a Bud Light.
A cascade of criticism and hate surrounding the video soon erupted, notably among conservative figures — with Kid Rock posting a video of himself shooting cases of Bud Light and others calling for a boycott of the brand. In the following weeks, the beer brand's sales also fell slightly and two marketing executives at Anheuser-Busch took a leave of absence.
In an April 14 statement, Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth said that the company “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer."
Anheuser-Busch's actions and Whitworth's statement did not not signal clear support for Mulvaney, however, or directly address the transphobic rhetoric perpetuated during the backlash — sparking concerns among the LGBTQ+ community and activists. Meaningful solidarity is especially important in a time where dozens of anti-LGBTQ+ bills are signed into law across the country, Bloem added.
In an April 26 letter, also seen by the AP, HRC called on Anheuser-Busch to issue a public statement expressing support for Mulvaney as well as transgender customers, shareholders and employees. The group also asked the company to hold a “meaningful conversation” with LGBTQ+ employees about their concerns and recommended actions for leadership and conduct a workplace transgender inclusion training for executives.
HRC said it received no response from Anheuser-Busch, the advocacy group said, prompting the May 9 letter informing the company of its CEI score suspension. To date, Bloem said Friday, HRC has still not heard from the company — but the organization's goal is to work with the company and “discuss strategies to show up and reaffirm that support for the LGBTQ+ community.”
Anheuser-Busch said Friday that the company remains “committed to the programs and partnerships we have forged over decades with organizations to drive economic prosperity across a number of communities, including those in the LGBTQ+ community.” The Bud Light maker, which is part of the Belgium-based brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, did not address HCR's letters.
Mulvaney took a few weeks before commenting publicly on the backlash — but posted a video to her Instagram page at the end of April thanking supporters, but did not mentioning Bud Light by name in the post.
USA TODAY first reported the Anheuser-Busch’s CEI score suspension on Thursday.
AP Business Writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed to this report.