‘A Political Fight Over Beer’: The 1977 Coors Beer Boycott, and the Relationship Between Labour–Gay Alliances and LGBT Social Mobility
Featured image courtesy of Online Archive of California
Kieran Blake is a postgraduate student of History at the University of Lincoln, researching twentieth-century American social movements—specifically addressing queer studies and the history of sexuality.
This paper examines the 1977 Coors beer boycott, to analyse the interplay of socio-political groups during 1970s America promoting the idea that labour and gay forces could form an alliance over economic disputes that were mutually beneficial. The workers’ strike demanded an end to the mandatory, homophobic polygraph tests; to do so, workers went on strike and asked San Franciscan gay bars to boycott Coors beer. By examining newspaper articles, trade union pamphlets and visual iconography, the paper highlights how labour forces invited the LGBT community because their bars were a powerful tool in forming a gay identity and allowed LGBT consumers to utilise their economic agency. Boycotting an alcohol brand allowed consumers to exercise their fundamental American rights, which, in turn, promoted their legitimacy as American citizens. Crucially, promoting a boycott enabled an economic spat to snowball into a wider social movement, as it was taken outside the parameters of the factory floor.
‘A Political Fight Over Beer’: The 1977 Coors Beer Boycott, and the Relationship Between Labour–Gay Alliances and LGBT Social Mobility
[Coors] is convinced that a boycott will not work because they
do not believe the consumer really cares about human rights or
the manner in which Coors violates the law.
In 1977, brewery workers belonging to the trade union division Local 366 of the Adolph Coors Beer company printed and distributed a small flyer with one objective: to persuade the public to endorse their strike. The flyer was decorated with an illustration of a Coors beer can that had been crossed out. Displayed in a large font, the flyer told recipients to ‘BOYCOTT COORS BEER’. Written overleaf was an informative bulletin in which Local 366 told readers why it was important to boycott the beer. The article was written in response to 1500 Coors employees walking out on strike against their employer in April of that year.
Local 366 was the trade union division which represented the workers of Coors. The strike was over a clause in employee contracts, which required all workers to take a mandatory polygraph test where they could be asked directly to reveal their sexual orientation. There was initial scepticism towards the strike, from Coors itself, workers and the public. However, Local 366 found an unlikely partner in the gay community of America’s west coast—particularly San Francisco—courtesy of the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations (ALF-CIO) president, George Meany. Meany allowed the strikers to advertise the boycott in the sixteen states Coors was sold, by informing communities that Coors infringed on the human rights of its employees. Due to the homophobic element to the polygraph test, the workers’ dispute gained a receptive LGBT audience in gay bars when they removed the beer from their bars and backed Local 366’s campaign. This withdrawal of Coors from San Francisco bars helped to produce a de facto ten-year ‘political fight over beer’.
This article examines the 1977 Coors beer boycott, arguing that the protest cemented a labour–gay alliance, which transformed an economic spat into a gay rights social movement. This enabled an emerging sub-culture to advocate and utilise its economic agency and consumer rights to campaign for an end to discrimination in the workplace. By using the boycott as a case study to examine the interplay of socio-political groups during 1970s America, this article promotes the idea that, as consequence of such alliances, labour and gay forces found an unlikely partner in one other’s advocacy. Moreover, an examination into newspaper articles, trade union pamphlets and visual iconography sheds light into how a narrative focused on a shared understanding of oppression ran through both labour and gay forces; the oppression they faced—albeit over different grievances—promoted a mutual respect towards each other’s campaign.
The LGBT community exercised its economic and consumer rights by choosing what alcohol they purchased. In doing so, they highlighted their American citizenship—by this, I am referring to the fundamental values of suffrage, integration and economic agency which they used to credit themselves as American in an era of ever-expanding socio-political mobilisation. As a legacy of the boycott, cooperation between labour–gay forces highlighted an effective method in which discrimination could be tackled on a case-by-case basis. As a result of such alliances, workers could legitimise their strike by taking it out of the locus of the factory floor. The gay bars’ invitation to boycott Coors provided a platform to work in tandem with workers, who, like anti–Vietnam War protesters, second-wave feminists and African–American activists, felt disadvantaged in comparison to the hegemony of the white, middle-class heterosexual. Alongside these movements, the LGBT community could perpetuate its own wish to increase its social mobility from their bars.
The history of American sexuality has found its feet in the last thirty years. Scholars have written on the topic to understand how a gay identity and LGBT community came to fruition in the twentieth century. The work of Elizabeth Armstrong, John D’Emilio and Margot Canaday, for example, suggests the LGBT movement was not born from the infamous 1969 Stonewall Riot. Instead, homosexual activism groups of the 1950s were the crux of activism, by aiming to re-educate heterosexuals’ pre-conceived attitudes regarding a homosexual morality. D’Emilio’s ground-breaking research, Sexual Politics and Sexual Communities, summarised how ‘the [gay] movement constitutes a phase, albeit a decisive one, of a much longer historical process through which a group of men and women came into existence as a self-conscious, cohesive minority’. Armstrong goes on to support this hypothesis, by suggesting the gay protests regarding those arrested at Stonewall provided the catalyst for the emergence of activist groups like the Gay Liberation Front by 1970. Research into LGBT application of economic agency and consumer rights has received some, but not extensive, analysis. Miriam Frank’s Out in the Union, constitutes some of the only solid research into the boycott. Frank argues the emergence of a visible LGBT movement in 1969 augmented a relationship where some LGBT workers wished to construct a labour–gay alliance to help collectively improve welfare politics for workers.
The LGBT movement of the 1960s and 1970s marks itself as another social movement at a time when socio-political mobilisation was rife in US society. Social movement theorists have noted the importance groups regarded identity for defining criterion on which they campaigned. David Meyer, Nancy Whittier and Belinda Robnett have argued the ‘standpoint’ of a social movement’s ideology rests upon the identity acquired, or the cultural changes which have brought it into being. In the context of this paper, the identity that was nurtured in the gay bars and the actions of those activists in the 1950s, along with customers’ ability to choose the alcohol they drank based on LGBT politics rather than just its price, was the driving force in campaigning for the workers’ dispute with Coors.
This article focuses on the significance of San Francisco’s community, particularly examining the impact gay bars had on this remarkably understudied event in the history of twentieth-century American sexuality. Firstly, the context of LGBT social mobility—in a century of changing attitudes towards sex and gender—is drawn upon, to show why gay bars became crucial to the boycott in 1977. In doing so, it highlights how those who frequented gay bars came to acknowledge them as a place where individual and a collective gay identities were nurtured, as well as a location for enabling gay customers to exercise their economic free-will. These factors were essential in promoting a link between labour concerns and LGBT political demands, and suggested the boycott was essential to validate the workers’ demands and promote the LGBT agenda of acceptance.
Secondly, the paper examines the different perceptions of the boycott. This section considers the key figures who helped orchestrate labour–gay interactions: Local 366 head, Alan Braid, and the unofficial mayor of Castro, Harvey Milk (Castro refers to Castro Street, the most prominent LGBT area in San Francisco). Both figures respected and understood the oppression faced by the other, and showcased the importance of validating citizenship for the LGBT community and striving to meet workers’ demands by creating a mutually beneficial alliance. As well as this, this section considers the role written press played in ensuring an alliance between labour–gay was perpetuated. Badges, newspaper interviews and posters were specifically addressed to the LGBT community through local press which ensured they were targeted and invited to boycott the beer, instead of a quasi-pact between two distinctly separate forces. Crucially, the rhetoric invoked by these articles informed LGBT boycotters how Coors had no desire for their employees’ working or human rights.
It shall also consider what impact a gay boycott had on Coors’s profits, reception of workers, as well as its need to re-brand itself as a corporation that was pro-worker and pro-LGBT once profit-loss became a tangible marker that the strike and boycott held resonance with San Franciscans.
Finally, this paper goes on to evaluate the legacy of the boycott by tracking the progression of LGBT socio-economic rights. The paper does not assert that the boycott provided a turning point in the history of sexuality—indeed, LGBT progression, I argue, cannot be viewed linearly in positive correlation. However, the pact that developed between labour–gay forces through the boycott presented a system of alliance which showcased how the two could work together to tackle discrimination on case-by-case bases through similar economic disputes such as Florida’s orange production. Further socio-economic disputes were also fought by a mutually beneficial campaign which respected and understood the oppression faced by each other in a strive for citizenship through self-determination of economic free-will. This, in turn, counters Alexandra Chasin’s argument who suggests that although boycotts emphasized a captive gay market, they ultimately reduced the choices available for the community as personal choices are not mutually exclusive to political action.
Making America Queer: The Politics of Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-century America
The socio-political climate of America in the 1960s—a time of protests from African–Americans, anti–Vietnam War protesters, second-wave feminists, as well as the counterculture movements—provided both a framework and platform for homosexuals to articulate and defend their new-found gay identities. The campaigns of the 1960s—all of which focused on promoting an equal, yet nuanced American identity—produced a new generation of campaigners who successfully used protests as a method of deconstructing the hegemony of the white, middle-class, heterosexual norm. The campaigns in the 1960s suggest LGBT activists emerged at the end of the decade because they belonged to the same generation of protesters. As Simon Hall suggests, the gay rights movement of the 1970s ‘followed the example of the “black, the poor, and the student”—who had been actively confronting systems which deny and demean them—joining the “age of revolution”’. Direct-action protests such as rallies, marches and launching petitions were established as an effective way for minority groups to tackle the disadvantages they faced from this hegemony.
San Francisco in the 1960s was a city that could facilitate and maintain political activism for minority groups on the quest of civil rights. The LGBT community—both on the cusp of liberation after Stonewall and its long struggle for agency and acceptance in the previous two decades—came to view San Francisco as their pseudo home: ostensibly, it was a homosexual town. San Francisco was almost unique in its position—synonymously known as a permissive town where social norms were not fulfilled—according to Nan Boyd’s study, Wide-Open Town. As a result of San Francisco’s status as a city like no other in the United States, a more coherent and tangible LGBT community, therefore, had the potential for greater agency. Crucially, they could become an effective social movement to campaign for civic equality by the 1970s when the openness of the LGBT community became ever-more present.
San Francisco’s plethora of gay bars became a hub for the LGBT community during the mid-twentieth century. These places offered a place outside of heteronormative society where people’s heterosexual ‘mask’ lifted and they were free to partake in identity-building practices such as dancing, drag artistry and drinking. However, their openness was not welcomed by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD). One defamatory article written in The San Francisco Examiner in October 1969 passes comment on the rocky relationship between the SFPD and gay bars. The author attributed this poor relationship to bars’ poor structural and hygiene control, as well as the clientele to whom the bars catered. Undercover officers, ‘rookies’, the author said, solicitated with customers before ‘figurately blowing [sic] the whistle’ on the bar. Officers tasked with entrapment were not, according to Christopher Agee, adhering to an anti–gay bar policy derived from the SFPD echelons, but were acting on their own personal prejudices. This apparent lack of professionalisation allowed ‘gay bar owners to use [sic] an existing discourse about police organizational reform to integrate their movement into the mainstream political sphere.’ The Matachine Society’s president, Harry Call, argued:
the police are obsessed with the desire to supervise and regulate people […] for instance, they object to our dancing together. Next to sex, dancing is one of our most important of human joys. I believe that I speak for all homosexuals, and certainly for the Matachine Society, when I say we oppose police and other supervision.
The gay rights movement, through the homophile organisations and bar-based culture, used the 1960s as a decade to express their hostilities to the civic order which deprived them of their fundamental rights. San Francisco’s bars and community therefore, according to union representatives of the boycott of Coors, appeared a fruitful place to engender and bolster the movement when they branched out for support. The gay scene was prepared to fight those who denied them their basic rights.
As San Francisco’s LGBT community expanded throughout the mid-decades of the twentieth century, its image as the ‘gay hub’ was cemented in the city’s psyche. One of the most prominent de facto homosexual communities was Castro Street. Located between Market Street and ‘19th Street’, the small district offered a public space for homosexuals to meet. Castro offered a plethora of gay bars for its LGBT customers, which played a critical role in creating a socio-political gay rights movement. Gay bars were essential in helping to cement an identity and one necessary element was the liquor customers drank. San Franciscan bars were noted as being extremely cheap—for example, one bar reportedly sold champagne for two dollars ‘served in a real champagne glass.’ As San Francisco developed into a de facto homosexual town, it also created a common market because gay bars provided a space where homosexuals specifically choose the types of alcohol customers could drink. Therefore, withdrawing an alcoholic brand from the bars held the potential to significantly impact a corporation’s profit margin.
Under this context, San Francisco, an ostensibly homosexual town, held a network of heavily frequented gay bars in which homosexuals were accustomed to fighting against oppression that denied their equality. The foundation of the gay bars’ socio-political framework created a space useful for Coors strikers because it provided a capacity to transform their dispute into a community-led social movement. The cheap price of liquor ensured that bars became a hub for homosexual integration, whilst enabling customers to exercise their economic agency. It therefore meant that if a customer were to choose another brand—irrespective of price, but on a matter of politics—they promoted their rights as American citizens, by synthesising their spent revenue with political activism. Moreover, it served as a tangible act of defiance towards Coors, as their profit-loss threatened security as the Western States’ top beer seller. This outreach, in turn, validated the workers’ strike over their contracts. In doing so, the ensuing labour–gay pact ensured that the Coors boycott became a movement that was mutually beneficial.
We Need Some Milk: San Francisco, Gay Bars and People’s Reaction to the Boycott
In an interview in the New York Times in 1977, San Franciscan public figure Harvey Milk acknowledged the conservative attitudes of LGBT economic activity. Milk argued that it was hypocritical for homosexuals to live a capitalistic lifestyle, but oppose conservative policies that denied LGBT-socio equality:
I’m a left winger, a street person… [m]ost gays are politically conservative, you know, banks, insurance, bureaucrats. So their checkbooks are out of the closet, but they’re not. So you get something going, and all the gay money is still supporting Republicans except on this gayness thing, so I say, ‘Gay for Gay’…
Milk’s statement suggests if you were to campaign for full equality, gay meant gay. If one had consumer rights and economic agency, then it should be used to fight discrimination and recognise oneself as a full American citizen. This next section examines how the Coors boycott was received amongst the general public, and how the economic disruption of the factory floor became a labour–gay social movement in the community.
The merit of the boycott’s ability to become more than an workers’ dispute was its accessibility to an LGBT audience. After Local 366 was granted permission from the ALF-CIO, it was important to integrate themselves in the community to validate their concerns with the employment practices of Coors. Integration with the workers’ dispute was presented through the interaction of both Local 366s leader and Castro Street’s ‘unofficial’ mayor, Allan Braid and Harvey Milk, respectively. Moreover, trade union pamphlets, newspapers and visual iconography, all aimed to inform the community as well as invite them to take part, by invoking the idea that they were equals who understood the mutual oppression they faced.
The challenges faced by gay bars and the homophile movements during San Francisco’s journey for self-identity and openness in a heteronormative society, arguably made the gay rights movement a sensible choice for the union to approach to endorse their strike against Coors. As a key member in organising the Coors workers’ strike, Braid spoke with shop keepers asking for them to pledge to stop selling Coors beer. Braid also met with Milk to inform him of Coors’s homophobic polygraph tests asking for support from the Tavern Guild to stop selling the beer. The Tavern Guild was a network of gay bars established in the 1960s. As a resident of Castro himself, Braid was conscious of the potential agency LGBT people had allowing them to be useful allies in a social boycott. Sympathetic to Harvey Milk’s work, Braid’s eulogy to Milk highlighted his abilities to seemingly unify the LGBT movement, and create a safe and politically active space for the community in Castro. As John Sweeney has argued, labour movements showed themselves as ‘capable of broadening to include and represent every class of workers’. This highlighted that through Braid, the efforts of labour workers to manufacture a social movement benefited the LGBT community as it showed a progressive stance towards equality for all.
As Braid encouraged the gay bars to join the boycott, Harvey Milk brought it to the attention of the rest of the LGBT community. Milk had already encouraged members of Castro to boycott Coors’s beer in 1974; by 1977 Milk was a suitable figure to approach in order to gain support. Writing in the local San Francisco newspaper, Bay Report, in 1976, Milk delivered a speech in which he strongly urged folk to boycott Coors. Milk implied that the LGBT community was closely related to the labour movement, therefore it was the LGBT community’s duty to call out Coors’s ‘very poor labour [sic] history’ as well as their ‘humiliating’ treatment to its employees. Milk’s unique social status in Castro held him in good stead for engendering support for other minority groups’ struggles, like that of the workers; for the LGBT community to gain true equality, homosexuals had to use their economic agency, power of voting, and the commitment to better social relations with other minority groups in order to truly bring forth equality and legitimise LGBT citizenship. The goal of key individuals was to appeal directly to the gay rights community, urging them to use their economic agency and strength as a new and open social movement to boycott the beer thus supporting the need of labour–gay relations. Newspapers and pamphlets, such as the one presented at the beginning of this paper, were a strong way to gain support because the radius of audience was specifically targeted at San Franciscans. Moreover, the language used specifically implied that Coors was breaching both the working and human rights of its employees. Local press and community members ensured that the LGBT community was informed of Coors’s homophobic actions and meant the workers could directly invite the LGBT community into a socio-political partnership.
As well as the promotion of economic agency, the relationship between Coors strikers and boycotters highlighted how the boycott promoted a united labour–gay alliance, rather than two separate movements. Cultural iconography helps assert the idea of a mutually beneficial socio-economic dispute. Mass produced artefacts such as posters, flyers and badges, which marked themselves as anti-Coors material, were designed to resonate with the recipient. One poster [Figure 1] emphasised the unethical nature of Coors’s homophobic polygraph tests. The illustration of a male and female worker strapped to the polygraph machine by a sinister-looking senior official, emphasised to its audience how workers were forced to take the test against their will. Moreover, badges and t-shirts advocating the Coors boycott, which were worn by some LGBT activists, cemented a direct affiliation to the protest [Figure 2]. Crucially, posters were directly addressed to ‘friends of labor [sic]’, as showcased in this article’s opening bulletin, by directly addressing the reader and commanding them to abstain from Coors’s alcohol. The cultural products surrounding the boycott, more specifically the language they used, suggests LGBT customers were specifically chosen to engage with the boycott instead of attaching their agenda onto an altogether separate movement. Language had become a method in which homosexuals were able to express their concerns for their welfare. Clothing and badges invited them to show their contempt when they were doing other activities. Therefore, the LGBT movement was able to transform the boycott into a social movement that was mutually beneficial for both striker and LGBT boycotter.Cultural symbols and the language used in media representations allowed the LGBT community to express their support for the boycott. The protest shifted an economic dispute into a social movement because it synthesised a labour–gay alliance, through the invitation to protest for workers’ equality and the utilisation of economic agency by incorporating culture and language. This did not, therefore, mean the LGBT movement joined a labour-shaped bandwagon—instead it was a labour–gay protest movement. The boycott was successful in making the community aware of Coors’s employment practices. As polygraph tests and ‘search-and-seizures’ became common knowledge, Coors had to present their own side of the story. One consequence of the boycott’s establishment in the gay bars was profit loss, estimated at between eleven and twelve percent, to nineteen percent. Coors’s damage control was three-fold: threaten workers with the sack, branch out their sales to Eastern States at extortionate prices, and donate to LGBT-charities.
Prior action from Coors employees had done little to dent Coors’s reputation as a leading beer brewer in the Western states. In 1974, Coors’s profits accounted for 49 percent of California’s beer sales—despite Teamster Union Local 888 (the truck driver division), Latino, and Chicano workers having already protested against their employer’s treatment towards them. However, as the initial 1974 boycott progressed, and gained greater momentum through support from the LGBT community becoming increasingly aware of the discriminatory nature of Coors’s practices, sales of Coors’s beer began to falter. According to Milt Moskowitz’s article for The San Francisco Examiner, by 1976 Coors’s profits in the California region dropped by nineteen-point-six percent. As Coors could lose the top-spot in California’s beer sales to the nationwide leader Budweiser, it suggests the boycott’s proliferation from the strikers and the LGBT movement held the capacity to threaten Coors’s economic security. In doing so, the boycott was something Coors could not ignore, especially when Local 366 joined in the strike in 1977. This is evident when chairman of Coors, William K. Coors, told The Wall Street Journal he would take ‘great satisfaction in opposing all the forces that would like to put [Coors] out of business.’ This also implies the power workers and the LGBT community had as social movements through their use of direct-action protests towards the heteronormative, middle-class establishment. When they worked in tandem, they could fight the capital interests of a company for the civil rights of workers.
Coors’s representatives presented a media front that was ready to fight against strikers and boycotters through antagonistic language. In the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, one article described how Coors employed permanent staff to replace those on strike—threatening strikers by suggesting ‘it may lead to the loss of your job.’ However, this threat was seemingly left unfulfilled through Coors’s rise in philanthropic work. The Empty Closet in 1980, an LGBT newspaper that emerged after the birth of the Gay Liberation Front, wrote an article about how Coors had donated a delivery truck to Denver’s Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). This act of charity is crucial to understanding Coors’s seeming lack of desire to follow through on its threats because the MCC was an LGBT Christian church. This philanthropy not only showed that Coors donated to the church, but how it openly donated its own property to a LGBT institution in an apparent act of kindness. Coors highlight how it believed the boycott was an unfair attack, and this would therefore suggest they wished to present themselves as a pro-LGBT company.
Coors found loopholes in strikers’ efforts to void them. Coors’s philanthropy to the church was one method of achieving this. Another method took the form of donations to AIDS-related charities when the epidemic took root in America in the mid-1980s. Though profits may have decreased in Western states, in Eastern states Coors’s demand only increased. Writing about Coors’s acquittal on a trade restriction charge, the Fort Collins Coloradoan describes how beer sales were so quick that it was not even being refrigerated. Because of the beer’s scarcity in Eastern states, Coors demanded prices of fourteen to eighteen dollars per case. This suggests that Coors still held a captive audience in other states where the boycott was not as prolific and implies they capitalised on the deficits to ensure the company’s profits were not at a loss. Although these actions show soft forms of defence against the boycott, it emphasises how Coors was compelled to surrender to the LGBT movement. Ultimately they were left with little choice other than to make concessions in employment practices and the social conditions for LGBT people outside the factory walls.
Workers taking their grievance with Coors outside the parameters of the factory floor, ensured that the LGBT community was invited into dispute because workers were keen to emphasise both groups understood what it was like to be oppressed. Perpetuating the word through newspaper articles, posters and badges, a network of key figures both of whom held mutual respect for each other, along with having an inter-connected network of bars, allowed the LGBT community to utilise its economic agency by withholding the sales of Coors which promoted their citizenship. Crucially, the labour–gay pact that stemmed from moving the strike onto the streets brought Coors’s unethical practices into the public domain, something Coors was compelled to respond to given there was a quantifiable impact against their reputation as the top beer seller in Western states.
Tracking Progression: Labour–Gay Alliances, post–Coors Beer Boycott
This next section argues that the boycott did not create a psyche of LGBT acceptance to all, by considering the scope of acceptance towards homosexuality after the boycott began. On 28 June 1977, The San Francisco Examiner published a side story on the twenty-second page about a young man from Chicago who had been raped. This gentleman was a taxi driver who, on the night in question, was stopped by two male customers. As they got into the car, they informed him that this was a heist and ‘they [sic] have a .38 right here and if you see it, it will be the last thing you ever see’. Taking control of the taxi, the two men drove around picking up passengers with the intention of stealing their possessions. Eventually, the taxi was stopped and—to ensure the victim would not go to the police—the victim was told he had to do something for them: ‘he’ll never cop (admit) to this. It will make him feel queer’. The taxi driver was raped by the two men under the assumption that he would not report them to the police because he would feel homosexual. Indeed, the victim did not want people to find out for fear he may be labelled a homosexual—despite being heterosexual. The article’s publication date places it three months into the Coors workers’ strike, and the author, Roger Smith, pays homage to the active gay rights campaigns that were ongoing, such as the Florida orange juice boycott. Smith strongly asserts the law-abiding nature of homosexuals involved in the protest movements. However, the subtext in the article’s message suggests the boycott did little to change the psyche of people’s attitudes surrounding homosexuality: for some, its connotations brought about feelings of shame and disgust. Naturally, the boycott was limited in its scope, as its locus was specifically where Coors was a strong market force—the West coast. This article demonstrates that attitudes towards a person’s moral integrity—specifically, the perceived maxim that homosexuality was something perverse—had not wholly shifted after the boycott, despite labour–gay pacts promoting a shared understanding of oppression. What the boycott did bring, however, was an effective method of demonstration which involved linking economic agency and social movements, to vilify homophobic commercial figures or products.
One boycott which has received heavy scholarly analysis is the boycott of Florida’s orange juice, whose main commercial figure was singer and model, Anita Bryant. Her fundamental Christian values and strong anti-homosexual attitudes led her to run the Save Our Children campaign, which aimed to ban anti-discrimination laws against Florida’s LGBT community’s housing, employment and public accommodation welfare. Interestingly, the response towards Save Our Children was overwhelmingly negative. Gay bars retaliated to these initiatives by banning orange juice in their bars, preferring to serve vodka with apple juice instead. The politics of this boycott appear to follow a similar pattern to the ones used in the Coors boycott: economic withdrawal from a homophobic organisation, and the social mobilization in the community to endorse the boycott and bolster support for the gay rights movement. However, this does not mean the gay rights movement should be viewed in positive correlation towards full equality. This is reflected in the origins of the orange juice boycott: it was a retaliation towards homophobic institutions. Though the Coors boycott therefore provided a blueprint to effectively campaign against anti-LGBT establishments through the promotion of LGBT economic agency, it did not provide a broad consensus amongst Americans to change their attitudes towards the gay rights movement.
The Coors boycott did produce some level of national support for the gay rights movement in so much as further boycotts such as the Orange boycott were spearheaded by a labour–gay alliance. However, some of the United States’ more conservative attitudes towards a person’s perceived moral integrity were not as easy to dissipate through social boycotts. Following the Save Our Children campaign in Florida, Proposition 6 was devised by San Franciscan governor John Briggs, which aimed to remove all gay and lesbian teachers from working in California’s public schools. Colloquially coined as the ‘Brigg’s Initiative’, the plan also received overwhelmingly negative responses. Opposition came from figures such as California’s then Governor Ronald Reagan, and President Jimmy Carter; amongst critics included the ALF-CIO and the Coors Boycott Committee. President of the California Federation of Labor, Al Gruhn, suggested it would ‘cause a witch hunt and destroy the basic functions of our education system.’ By pledging support towards fighting homophobia within other aspects of LGBT life, suggests that the labour–gay alliance was mutually beneficial: they ostensibly show that they recognized the daily struggles beyond oppressive conditions found in the locus of Coors’s factory floor. The labour–gay alliance showed continuing support for LGBT social mobility on a political dispute that affected the LGBT community’s rights as American citizens.
Despite the budding relationship between striking workers and gay boycotters, they had been unsuccessful at challenging the Christian values of the American status quo. Elizabeth Armstrong suggests this was a consequence of the United States’ federal governance. Although the LGBT community was a pseudo-political organisation, and it could express it attitudes against the status quo, the federal nature of governance often made nationwide change a slow process because it was harder to implement pro-LGBT policies on a national scale. The bureaucracy, in essence, ensured the government’s fundamentally conservative views stunted LGBT acceptance.
Although the Coors boycott was able to provide a systematic method per se to campaign against discriminatory institutions by forging of labour–gay relations and withholding gay economic agency, it could not transform the United States’ psyche into something overwhelmingly pro-LGBT due to the entrenched heterosexual binary in individual and federal politics. Even the assassination of Harvey Milk in 1978 showed little sign of instigating a complete overhaul of the American psyche. His small obituary shared a page with a large Christmas advertisement informing the reader on where to get the best, most cost-effective suit.
Creating a labour link helped increase LGBT visibility. Ultimately this developed a relationship between workers and a gay community who could go on to tackle further discriminatory practices of both the economic giants and of individuals. Indeed, whilst the relationship forged by the Coors boycott allowed for a method to tackle discrimination in the working environment, it was not wholly successful in transforming Americans’ attitudes towards homosexuality. Jeffrey Weeks noted it is important not to examine the history of gay rights in a linear fashion because it was not one long path towards full political, social and economic equality. Moreover, Michel Foucault asserted individual and collective notions of sexual identity were paradoxically built from the oppressive power which denied its existence. What this does highlight, however, is that examining case studies determines how LGBT protested navigated the dichotomies of oppression they faced in that particular incident. Given each campaign focused on a different trigger—be it homophobic alcohol brands, commercial figure heads or homophobic legislature—they had to tackle what sparked that campaign in the first place.
It was not until Robert H. Chanin, the National Education Association’s general counsel—one of the largest union organisations in the United States—and Peter H. Coors—Coors’s brewery division president—met in 1985 that plans for an end to the boycott were discussed. The New York Times made comment about the new-found necessity for labour forces and management to see fit to end the strike and subsequent boycott:
It [is] a classic tale of labour-management [sic] relations—of two enemies slinging arrows at each other for years, until, battered by a changing economy, they need each other badly enough to compromise.
By this point both men were keen to see an end to strife; ‘the ALF-CIO had been caught up in implementing the boycott, not ending it.’ It was not until 1987, ten years since the first action was taken, that the boycott was brought to an end. How was it, then, that a boycott that initially captivated small interest—both in terms of its media representation and the strikers themselves—maintained itself as a ten-year ‘political fight over beer’?
This article has examined the 1977 Coors beer boycott as a case study to understand the interplay of labour–gay alliances in the battle for LGBT social mobility and consumer citizenship. The utilisation of LGBT consumer rights and economic agency which developed in gay bars—some of the only open homosexual places for a person during the mid-twentieth century—created useful allies from homosexuals for the strikers. The rise of the gay rights movement at the close of the 1960s, and San Francisco’s unique position as an ostensibly homosexual town, created a receptive audience to the boycott. The LGBT community, like the strikers, were born from a generation who used protests to campaign for full equality. These direct-action protests were utilised with some degree of success. Workers and homosexuals utilised this to campaign for equality for workers overall.
Through an analysis of the boycott and of social networks in 1970s America, this article offers two significant conclusions. Firstly, by examining the language used in newspapers, trade union flyers and cultural iconography, the article has demonstrated that the ensuing labour–gay alliance allowed an economic dispute around employment to transform into a social movement away from the factory floor and onto the streets of San Francisco. The Tavern Guild’s agreement to ban Coors from San Francisco’s gay bars not only presented a rejection of Coors’s ideology for invading workers’ privacy, it also impacted Coors’s sales and profits. Moreover, newspaper interviews by activists such as Harvey Milk and pamphlets written by Local 366 carefully selected the language they used when describing Coors’s employment practises. The language considered was deliberately hyperbolic to stress the indecency of invading workers’ working and human rights, which, therefore, informed those outside the factory walls precisely why the strike was creditworthy. Moving the strike onto the streets through a boycott meant Coors could not ignore the situation and had to respond through philanthropic donations to LGBT organisations. This resulted in Coors having little choice but to rebrand themselves as a pro-worker and pro-LGBT company.
Secondly, the use of the gay bars as an establishment in which a homosexual identity could develop was also significant in building up a gay economic agency. As some of the only open spaces available of homosexuals, gay customers were given the choice to choose what they drank. Crucially, the customer’s choice was not only made on a financial level, but on a political level, too. Therefore, LGBT customers legitimised their American citizenship through this synthesis of economic and political matters within their daily life. The labour–gay alliances, which promoted and utilised the economic agency of the community, formed a blueprint of protest towards other homophobic individuals or organisations. This was repeated when gay bars removed Floridian orange juice to signify their contempt of Bryant’s homophobic ideology. Though the boycott did not produce an immediate national consensus of support, it did, however, provide a method in which the LGBT community could advance its social mobility towards the prospect of equality on case-by-case bases.
As Frank has suggested, labour–gay alliances linked two seemingly different groups into an entity that could become mutually beneficial. While Chasin has commented that boycotts denote a captive gay market, she concludes that boycotts limit homosexual progression as individual choices do not constitute political legislation. This paper has offered an alternative argument, suggesting that LGBT communities withholding their economic agency and consumer rights emphasizes they had the same rights to property as other American citizens. As a social movement, the exercising of economic free-will only enhanced the political agenda and identity nurtured from 1960s protests which highlighted the LGBT community was also excluded from white hegemony. Therefore, withholding their expenditure against a homophobic organisation highlighted their citizenship in American society—especially when Coors’s profit loss became a tangible effect of a labour–gay assault against a homophobic, anti-labour organisation, highlighting that the boycott was a dispute that could not be ignored. The Coors boycott took LGBT consumers out of their bars and onto the streets of San Francisco, so they could openly throw away their beer.
1a: Flyer cover written by Local 366 advertising their strike against Coors beer. For reference, please go to: Digital Public Library of America , (DPLoA), Eduardo Margo, 30 August 1977 [online archive] <https://dp.la/item/de2a73ab99c63e97739456e7c357d117?q=Coors%20Beer>, accessed on 16 November 2018.
1b: The overleaf of appendix 1a, the informative bulletin informing the recipient why they should boycott Coors beer. Please see: Digital Public Library of America , (DPLoA), Eduardo Margo, 30 August 1977 [online archive] <https://dp.la/item/de2a73ab99c63e97739456e7c357d117?q=Coors%20Beer>, accessed on 16 November 2018.
A compiled list of gay and lesbian bars in San Francisco. Please note, this list accounts for establishments founded from the 1960s up until 1977, only bars with complete dates of open and closure have been included, bars are listed in ascending geographical location. Full credit for this list goes to the Uncle Donald’s Castro Street online archive, without whom I would not have been able to gain such a comprehensive list of gay bars in the city. For the full table, please see: Uncle Donald’s Castro Street (UDCS), Uncle Donald, 12 January 2012, Castro Area Bars, [online archive] <http://thecastro.net/street/barpage/barpage.html>, accessed on 9 November 2018.
|Bar||Address||Approx. date of open and closure|
|Twin Peaks||401 Castro||1973–open|
|Dirty Dick’s||456 Castro||1973–1975|
|Le Bistro||456 Castro||1976|
|Nothing Special||469 Castro||1972–1984|
|Toad Hall||482 Castro||1971–1979|
|Elephant Walk||500 Castro||1975–1996|
|Midnight Sun||506 Castro||1971–1972|
|City Dump||506 Castro||1973|
|Midnight Sun (moved to 18th Street in 1981)||506 Castro||1974–1981|
|Mistake||3988 18th St.||1971–1976|
|Corner Grocery Bar||4049 18th St.||1973–1978|
|Village||4086 18th St.||1976–1988|
|Watergate West||4121 18th St.||1973–1974|
|BADLANDS||4121 18th St.||1975–1999|
|I-Do-No||4146 18th St.||1967–1968|
|Honey Bucket||4146 18th St.||1969–1971|
|Pendulum||4146 18th St.||1971–2005|
|Libra||1884 Market St.||1967–1972|
|Tree House||1884 Market St.||1972–1973|
|JB’s House||1884 Market St.||1973–1974|
|The Mint||1942 Market St.||1968–open|
|Naked Grape||2087 Market St.||1972–1975|
|Tool Box||2087 Market St.||1976|
|Hustle Inn||2087 Market St.||1976–1977|
|Rear End Bar – at Tuck Stop||2100 Market St.||1974–1976|
|Mind Shaft||2140 Market St.||1973–1977|
|Alfie’s||2140 Market St.||1977–1983|
|Cardi’s||2166 Market St.||1977|
|Bal ony (Balcony)||2166 Market St.||1977–1983|
|Purple Pickle||2223 Market St.||1972–1977|
|Shed (after hours)||2275 Market St.||1972–1977|
|Missouri Mule||2348 Market St.||1963–1973|
|Hombre||2348 Market St.||1973–1979|
|Scott’s Pit (Lesbian)||10 Sanchez||1971–1984|
|Caracole||3600 16th St.||1976–1979|
 Digital Public Library of America , (DPLoA), Eduardo Margo, 30 August 1977 [online archive] <https://dp.la/item/de2a73ab99c63e97739456e7c357d117?q=Coors%20Beer>, accessed on 16 November 2018.
 The flyer’s cover and overleaf can be viewed in the appendices.
 M. Frank, Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America (Philadelphia, 2015), p. 79; [Anon], ‘Coors Bolsters Boycott’, Santa Ana Register, 22 April 1977, p. 48; R. West, ‘Coors Charges Brewery Union Workers’, The Los Angeles Times, 9 May 1978, p. 46.
 M. Moskowitz, ‘A Political Fight Over Beer’, The San Francisco Examiner, 18 April 1976, p. 104.
 J. E. Black and C. E. Morries III, Harvey Milk, An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk’s Speeches and Writings, (London, 2013), p. 18.
 Black and Morries III, Harvey Milk, An Archive of Hope, p. 18; S. Hall, Peace and Freedom: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements of the 1960s (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005); J. D. Suran, ‘Coming Out Against the War: Antimilitarism and the Politicization of Homosexuality in the Era of Vietnam’, American Quarterly, 53 (2001), pp. 452–88; P. Lewis, Hardhats, Hippies and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory, reviewed in P. Joseph, Peace and Change: A Journal of Peace Research, 40 (2015), pp. 272–76; b. hooks, Feminist Theory: from Margin to Center (Oxford, 2015), pp. 18–19.
 E. Armstrong, ‘Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth’, American Sociological Review, 71 (2006), p. 725; Frank, Out in the Union, pp. 76–77.
 J. D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970 (London, 2nd Ed., 1998), p. 4; Armstrong, ‘Movements and Memory’, p. 725.
 D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, p. 4.
 The aftermath of the riots at the Stonewall inn became a turning point in homosexual vernacular; homosexuals began to use the previously pejorative term ‘gay’ as a marker of their identity. See Armstrong, ‘Movements and Memory’, p. 725.
 Frank’s insightful study of the relationship between labour forces and gay activists constitute some of the only concrete research into the Coors boycott. Her work has been invaluable to this thesis. For more of the relationship between gay activists and workers see Frank, Out in the Union, p. 8.
 D. Meyer, N. Whittier and B. Robnett, Social Movements: Identity, Culture, and the State (Oxford, 2002), p. 121.
 D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, p. 4; Armstrong, ‘Movements and Memory’, p. 725.
 N. Boyd, Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 (Berkeley, 2003), p. 160.
 Frank, Out in the Union, pp. 76–77.
 M. Foucault, The History of Sexuality (London, Vol. 1, 1978), pp. 83–85.
 B. Shepard, ‘Bridging the Divide Between Queer Theory and Anarchism’, Sexualities, 13 (2010), p. 516.
 A. Chasin, Selling Out: The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to Market (New York, 2000), p. 161.
 ‘Homosexuality’ was the term used to define someone who had a sexual attraction to a person of the same gender. The binary of what constituted a man and what constituted a woman focused on heavily on gendered expectations. Chauncey offers an insightful examination into this perceived axiom in 1930s America; Canaday tracks this progression of categorizing homosexuality as a political state cemented post-Second World War, and how this helped construct a homosexual–heterosexual binary. Please see, G. Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890–1940 (New York, 1994); M. Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (London, 2009); Foucault, The History of Sexuality, pp. 77–89.
 J. Scott, ‘The Evidence of Experience’, in H. Abelove et al. (eds), The Gay and Lesbian Studies Reader, (New York, 1993), pp. 397–415; Foucault, History of Sexuality, p. 79.
 M. Stein, City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945–1972 (Chicago, 2000), pp. 277, 279, referenced in S. Hall, ‘Protest Movements in the 1970s: The Long 1960s’, Journal of Contemporary History, 43 (2008), p. 662.
 Hall, ‘Protest Movements in the 1970s’, p. 657.
 After the Second World War, many of those soldiers who had been expelled from the army due to homosexual activity moved to cities such as San Francisco with the hope of starting a new life. For many, the fear of their community discovering their homosexuality was a risk they did not want to take. For more information, please see Boyd, Wide-open Town, p. 5; D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, p. 39; Canaday, The Straight State (New York, 2009).
 Boyd, Wide-open Town, p. 5.
 Historians of sexuality such as Craig Loftin and Matt Houlbrook suggest that homosexuals during early to mid-twentieth century often had a mask of heterosexuality whilst in the public sphere. This notion was common practice in both Britain and America as a method of ensuring homosexuals appeared to conform to the gendered expectations society required from them. This mask was always worn, except for their homes and upon entry to a gay bar or drag hall. For more, see C. Loftin, Masked Voices: Gay Men and Lesbians in Cold War America (New York, 2012), p. 11; M. Houlbrook, ‘Lady Austin’s Camp Boys: Constituting the Queer Subject in 1930s London’, Gender Studies, 14 (2002), pp. 31–61.
 R. Patterson, ‘The Dreary Revels of S.F. “Gay” Clubs’, The San Francisco Examiner, 25 October 1969, p. 5.
 C. Agee, ‘Gayola: Police Professionalization and the Politics of San Francisco’s Gay Bars, 1950–1968’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 15 (2006), pp. 462–465.
 Patterson, ‘The Dreary Revels of S.F. “Gay” Clubs’, p. 5.
 A compiled list of gay and lesbian bars in San Francisco can be viewed in the appendix. Please note: the list accounts for establishments that opened between 1960–1977, and only contains bars where full dates of approximate open and closure occurred. Bars are recorded in ascending address order. Full credit for the information goes to Uncle Donald’s Castro Street Archive, without whom I would not have such a detailed account of gay bars in the Castro Street area at the time of the boycott. To view all bars in order, please see Uncle Donald’s Castro Street (UDCS), Uncle Donald, 12 January 2012, Castro Area Bars, [online archive] <http://thecastro.net/street/barpage/barpage.html>, accessed on 9 November 2018.
 Boyd, Wide-open Town, p. 160.
 Patterson, ‘The Dreary Revels of S.F. “Gay” Clubs’, p. 5.
 Boyd, Wide-Open Town, p. 160.
 H. Gold, ‘A Walk on San Francisco’s Gay Side’, New York Times, 6 November 1977, referenced in Black and Morries III, Harvey Milk, An Archive of Hope, p. 19.
 Gold, ‘A Walk on San Francisco’s Gay Side’.
 Frank, Out in the Union, p. 78.
 Frank, Out in the Union, p. 78.
 Uncle Donald’s Castro Street (UDCS), Allan Braid, 19 May 2007, [online resource] <http://thecastro.net/milk/baird.html>, accessed on 9 November 2018.
 Sweeney. ‘The Growing Alliance’, p. 32.
 Harvey Milk, ‘Reactionary Beer’, Bay Area Reporter, 18 March 1976, referenced in Black and Morries III, Harvey Milk, An Archive of Hope, p. 125.
 Black and Morries III. Harvey Milk, An Archive of Hope, pp. 125–26.
 Black and Morries III. Harvey Milk, An Archive of Hope, p. 18.
 [Anon], The Billings Gazette, (Montana), 12 Aug 1979, p. 55.
 In the introduction to his book, Letters to ONE: Gay and Lesbian Voices from the 1950s and 1960s, Craig Loftin notes the power letter writing to LGBT newspapers had for homosexuals. For those who were not members of a homophile group, letter writing provided an opportunity to express their own understandings towards the treatment of homosexuals, as well as an opportunity to participate in some of the only networking organisations that allowed homosexuals from across the United States to express their attitudes and talk to others who arguably understood the difficulties faced. Also, letters offer a glimpse into the perceptions of homosexuality on a grass roots level. For more information, please read, C. Loftin, Letters to ONE: Gay and Lesbian Voices from the 1950s and 1960s ([London], 2012). LGBT newspapers, such as The Empty Closet, frequently encouraged its readers to write in with their day-to-day concerns, socio-political issues and viewpoints. For examples of this, please see The Empty Closet’s archive through River Campus Libraries (RCL), Empty Closet: Past Issues [online archive] <https://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/EmptyCloset>, for monthly issues dated 1971–2014.
 Loftin, Masked Voices, pp. 4, 6–7.
 Frank, Out in the Union, pp. 76–77.
 R. West, ‘Coors Charges Brewery Union Workers’, The Los Angeles Times, 9 May 1978, p. 46; Moskowitz, ‘A Political Fight Over Beer’, p. 104.
 Moskowitz, ‘A Political Fight Over Beer’, p. 104.
 [Anon], ‘Coors to Replace Striking Workers with Permanent Help’, Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, 11 April 1977, p. 2.
 M. Gay, ‘Coors Boycotted’, The Empty Closet, September 1980, p. 8.
 Frank, Out in the Union, p. 80.
 [Anon], ‘Jury Acquits Coors, Cheyenne Firm of Anti-Trust’, Fort Collins Coloradoan, 8 June 1978, p. 28.
 R. Smith, ‘Rape—A New Angle on the Same Story’, The San Francisco Examiner, 28 June 1977, p. 22.
 Chasin, Selling Out, p. 161.
 [Anon], ‘Protect Ours Schools Don’t Legalize Discrimination’, The San Francisco Examiner, 3 November 1978, p. 7.
 Armstrong, Forging Gay Identities, p. 161.
 Canady, The Straight State.
 The obituary that I refer to, is a narrow piece located on the page’s right-hand side. Meanwhile, the gentleman’s cost-effective suit advertisement takes up the rest of the page. See: The Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 December 1978, p. 17.
 J. Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800 (Harlow, 2nd Ed., 1989); Foucault, The History of Sexuality, pp. 83–85.
 Foucault, The History of Sexuality, pp. 77; 83–85.
 J. Tasini, ‘The Beer and the Boycott’, The New York Times Magazine, 1 January 1988, p. 6019.
 Moskowitz, ‘A Political Fight Over Beer’, p. 104.
 Hall, ‘Protest Movements in the 1970s’, p. 657.
 Boyd, Wide-open Town, p. 160.
 Frank, Out in the Union, p. 8.
 Chasin, Selling Out, p. 161.
 Meyer, Whittier and Robnett, Social Movements, p. 121; J. Scott, ‘The Evidence of Experience’, pp. 397–415.
[Anon], ‘Coors Bolsters Boycott’, Santa Ana Register, 22 April 1977, p. 48.
[Anon], ‘Coors to Replace Striking Workers with Permanent Help’, Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, 11 April 1977.
[Anon], ‘Gimble Gifts’, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 December 1978.
[Anon], ‘Jury Acquits Coors, Cheyenne Firm of Anti-Trust’, Fort Collins Coloradoan, 8 June 1978, p.28.
[Anon], ‘Protect Our Children Don’t Legalize Discrimination’, The San Francisco Examiner, 3 November 1978.
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