Coors Courts Gays

The son of Coors Brewing Co.'s chairman is leading a campaign to revamp the company's anti-homosexual image -- but his family continues to quietly support far-right organizations.

| Fri Jul. 13, 2001 12:00 AM PDT

Once boycotted nation-wide by labor, African-American and Latino groups over alleged discriminatory hiring practices and union-busting, Coors Brewing Co. has in recent years made peace with most of its critics by agreeing to change its policies. Now, the company has launched a new PR blitz to kill off the boycott's last vestiges in the gay and lesbian community -- a campaign spearheaded by the recently surfaced gay son of the company's chairman himself. But behind the happy talk, the Coors family continues to support a panoply of far-right, anti-gay groups.

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Coors has been trying to make nice with gays for years, sponsoring gay pride events and running ads in the gay press touting the fact that it offers domestic partner benefits to queer workers. The latest ad campaign, launched in June in the gay press, features happy homosexuals toting Coors Light to a picnic. But most remarkably, last year the company introduced a new ambassador to the gay community: Scott Coors. Scott has been crisscrossing the country cutting Coors checks to gay nonprofits, and telling the world that neither the brewery nor the Coors family support homophobes.

So how, then, does Scott explain the long and continuing history of gifts to far-right, anti-gay groups like Free Congress and the Heritage Foundation by the Coors family's Castle Rock Foundation? "I would challenge the assumption... that all of those organizations are anti-gay," Coors told San Francisco Frontiers, a gay news magazine, in May. (Coors Brewing Co. declined MotherJones.com's requests for an interview with Scott Coors.) He says his father William, the foundation's president and the company's chairman, told him that "if you find any evidence about any of those organizations that are blatantly contrary to the rights of gay and lesbian people, I want to know about it, I will investigate it and put a stop to it."

Bill Coors could simply have asked his nephew Jeffrey Coors, a longtime Free Congress trustee. Jeffrey Coors was the group's chair in 1996 when it filed a brief in a Hawaii court case over gay marriage, arguing that homosexual sex is "an infamous crime against nature." Free Congress' Web site proudly proclaims, "Our main focus is on the Culture War" -- a term made famous by erstwhile presidential candidate Pat Buchanan as coded opposition to gay and lesbian civil rights. And the group is widely credited with inventing the notion of a sinister "homosexual agenda" by funding publication of Catholic priest Enrique Rueda's books, "The Homosexual Network" and "Gays, AIDS and You," in which Rueda railed against "the evil nature" of homosexuality.

Heritage, a major source of personnel and expertise for the Bush administration -- Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, for instance, was a Heritage "Distinguished Fellow" -- opposes gays and lesbians serving in the military, blasted the Supreme Court for striking down a Colorado voter initiative that would have repealed local gay and lesbian civil rights laws, and has called for abolishing a federally-funded legal aid group because of its "actions [that] advance the goals of homosexual activists."

Another longtime Castle Rock grantee is David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture. In a recent mailer Horowitz -- who made headlines this spring with campus newspaper ads suggesting that black Americans benefited from slavery -- touted his opposition to the "destructive agenda" of "gay and lesbian liberationists".

After the records of these and other Castle Rock grantees were documented in the gay press, William Coors announced in 1997 that his foundations were selling their Coors Brewing Co. stock "because of the flap those dollars create." While there is no longer a direct financial connection between the company and Castle Rock, William Coors continues to head both. And Castle Rock has since bought a block of Jeffrey Coors' spin-off company, Graphic Packaging International, which provides Coors most of its cardboard and paper packaging.

Meanwhile, Coors Brewing Co. and its federal and state Political Action Committees also have a long history of funding anti-gay-rights candidates. Attorney General John Ashcroft, for instance, as a Missouri senator said that a queer "lifestyle" can lead to a "a very early death," and has consistently scored a zero rating for his voting record from the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C. based gay rights watchdog. Nonetheless, Coors' PAC gave $2,000 to Ashcroft's 2000 reelection campaign, and the brewery itself chipped in $5,000 to Ashcroft's PAC, the Ashcroft Victory Committee.

Scott Coors says only business issues are considered in the PAC's funding decisions. Still, Coors' donations tilt much farther right than those of competitor Anheuser-Busch. Congressional incumbents funded by Anheuser-Busch last year received average ratings of 50 percent from the Human Rights Campaign and 56 percent from Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. Coors-backed candidates were rated at 25 percent by HRC and 79 percent by the Christian Coalition. The way Jerry Sloan, a California-based activist who monitors right-wing groups, sees it, "The Coors' family actions of funding homosexual-hating groups speak more loudly than their gay-friendly words."

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