I cross-posted this article to The Asexual Agenda.
Recently, Budweiser UK announced its “Fly the Flag” campaign, which aims to support LGBT+ diversity by highlighting nine specific groups. For each group, they’re offering money to an associated charity, and are releasing a limited edition cup with a flag design. Based on Twitter engagement, the group that got the most attention is asexuality.
Budweiser also seems to have made further arrangements with asexual activists. They are hosting a three-day asexual event at London Pride, called “Ace of Clubs”. AVEN has described it as an open bar with additional activities. It was spearheaded by UK activist Yasmin Benoit.
There has been quite a flurry in response. Mainstream news articles have nearly uniformly expressed incredulity at asexuality and grey-asexuality–if they discuss it at all. They’re much more interested in discussing the problems with brand support for LGBT groups. In the ace community, some have responded positively, others have not. There are also many responses focused on combating negativity, especially in the Twitter thread.
I take the following viewpoint: sponsorship from alcohol companies is a special kind of bad. AVEN should refuse Budweiser’s donation, and while I’m guessing Ace of Clubs is a done deal, asexuality activists should avoid making such deals in the future.
If you think all corporate sponsorship of LGBT identities is bad, then I happen to disagree with you. I would be satisfied with accepting support from Subaru or Oreo or whatever. But the current subject is Budweiser, and if you agree on Budweiser, then I will leave it at that.
If you think corporate sponsorship is good, allow me to ask: would you also celebrate the sponsorship of a tobacco company? Even if that ultimately meant more people picking up smoking and suffering the health consequences? Alcohol is different from tobacco, in that we don’t worry about people who drink responsibly (even though it’s not exactly good for your health), and instead we worry about alcohol addiction and heavy drinking. Still, accepting sponsorship from an alcohol company means more alcohol abuse. Is it an acceptable price?
Today, many LGBT communities suffer from unusually high rates of alcohol abuse. According to one report, the rate of alcohol abuse among gay and transgender people is 25%, compared to 5-10% in the general population. The report attributes this to minority stress and discrimination, but says it is also exacerbated by a history of targeted advertising. Alcohol companies have been the first ones to advertise to gay and lesbian people, with Absolut Vodka starting in 1981. Alcohol companies are major sponsors of pride events today, and are really hard to fight. They do this precisely because their product exploits minority stress to make money.
I experienced the drinking culture of LGBT groups myself. I picked up a drinking habit specifically because I joined LGBT groups in college. I drink responsibly now (craft beer only, no Budweiser), but back in college I was binge drinking like the rest of them. It was a way of dealing with the grief of realizing I would never live up to amatonormativity.
Studies have shown that I’m somewhat of an exception among aces. A study found that 40-72% of asexuals do not drink alcohol at all, and this is corroborated by the Ace Community Survey. You might think that this means we are resilient to targeted advertising from alcohol companies. But I think it means we’re an untapped market that alcohol companies would love to get their hands on. As my own experience shows, all it takes is a shift in social context to turn minority stress into an alcohol habit.
The history of social movements shows that sometimes, achieving widespread acceptance is the “easy” part, and the hard part is dealing with health and economic disparities that stubbornly persist long after the general public has concluded that equality has already been achieved. Alcohol abuse is among those disparities.
Many aces are clearly desperate for visibility, to the extent that they’ll accept low-quality visibility (have I mentioned all the negative news articles?) without considering the impact it could have on the community’s health. Please consider it.
It is not worthwhile to trade the problem of invisibility for the problem of alcohol abuse. The degree to which we have pushed forward asexual visibility in the last couple decades shows that it is a problem we can address on our own, but alcohol abuse is a problem that we may never satisfactorily address in our lifetimes.