Trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney spoke out on Thursday about the abuse and harassment she received in response to her partnership with Bud Light. For months, anti-trans bigots targeted Mulvaney for her promotion of the American beer company — and there has been mostly silence on Bud Light’s end.
To many, Bud Light’s refusal to support Mulvaney demonstrates how disingenuous large corporations are when they use people from marginalized communities to virtue-signal diversity and inclusion on behalf of the company, something Mulvaney highlights in a video she posted on Thursday.
“For a company to hire a trans person and then not publicly stand by them is worse, in my opinion, than not hiring a trans person at all — because it gives customers permission to be as transphobic and hateful as they want,” Mulvaney said in the video, which now has over 13 million views. “I’m not telling you this because I want your pity. I’m telling you this because if this is my experience from a very privileged perspective, know that it is much, much worse for other trans people.”
26-year-old Mulvaney is known for garnering over 10.6 million followers on TikTok for her “Days of Girlhood” series documenting her transition over the past year. She and Bud Light became the subject of hate attacks from transphobes shortly after Mulvaney uploaded a promotional video in April, in which she drinks a can of Bud Light featuring her face on the front.
In response to the collaboration, right-wing influencers such as Kid Rock started sharing videos of themselves shooting cans of Bud Light and pouring them out in protest. On April 14th, Brendan Whitworth, the CEO of Bud Light’s parent company Anheuser-Busch, released a statement saying his team “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people.”
So, basically, the company hung Mulvaney out to dry in an attempt to soothe fear-mongers and hate groups.
Mulvaney said in her video she received “more bullying and transphobia than [she] could ever have imagined” and that she was “scared to leave [her] house.” What began as a chance for a large brand to support the trans community and expand its market (after all, Bud Light is notably a popular drink for dudes watching sports ball) ended in an ugly display of dismissiveness.
“The hate doesn’t end with me. It has serious and grave consequences for the rest of our community and, you know, we’re customers too,” Mulvaney also said in her video. “I know a lot of trans and queer people who love beer, and I have some lesbian friends who could drink some of those haters under the table. To turn a blind eye and pretend everything is OK, it just isn’t an option right now.”
When we talk about “rainbow capitalism,” we need to grapple with the pros and cons. Creators like Mulvaney deserve to monetize via brand deals like anyone else — and the LGBTQ+ community receives greater and theoretically positive visibility when associated with popular brands. Amid rising anti-trans sentiments and legislation across the country, positive representation and support are growing more and more crucial.
Yet, companies like Bud Light and Target will pull Pride promotions the second they determine it hurts their bottom line. Recently, even Google was accused of pulling back a company Pride event featuring a Drag queen and content creator after a transphobic internal petition circulated within the company.
When companies fail to support creators and allow rampant hate and transphobia to exist, we see the ugliness of capitalism and the perceived expendability of already marginalized identities. Brands want and need influencers to increase their market and provide creative labor for them — but where is the accountability when the collaboration turns toxic for the creators?
In a move that seemingly responds to Mulvaney’s video, Bud Light released a statement saying it is “committed to the programs and committed to the programs and partnerships we have forged over decades with organizations across a number of communities, including those in the LGBTQ+ community” and that the “safety” of its collaborators “is always our top priority.” But the brand did not name Mulvaney or mention anything that is being done to help her during this time of increased threat and transphobia.
Brands have a responsibility to support the people they work with — the people they hope will introduce them to a new market and thus, make them more money. Instead, it feels like Bud Light stabbed Mulvaney in the back.