After sponsoring a short video post by transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, Bud Light has become the latest target of the right-wing cancel culture machine. It’s an online pile-on that fashion and beauty brands already know well.
“We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people,” said a statement released by beer giant Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth on Friday. That was after more than a week of the company getting canceled by an enraged right-wing audience over the recent sponsored post.
In the video in question, Mulvaney shows a special-edition Budweiser can featuring an illustration of her face, drinks some of the beer and encourages people to participate in the brand’s March Madness social media challenge.
For right-wing pundits, the “discussion” of this ad involved country singers calling for boycotts of Budweiser, multiple Fox News segments featuring outraged commentators, and Kid Rock releasing a video shooting at cases of Budweiser with a semi-automatic rifle on April 3, just days after a Nashville school shooting left three children and three adults dead. A bomb threat was made to a California-based Budweiser factory last week.
Bud Light was following in the footsteps of numerous fashion and beauty brands that have already worked with Mulvaney and many other transgender influencers and models over the years without succumbing to right-wing cancel culture.
Mulvaney, a Broadway musical performer, has attracted sponsored post deals from a wide range of beauty and fashion brands since she started documenting her transition process on TikTok in March 2022. These have included Neutrogena, Kate Spade, MAC Cosmetics, Native, CeraVe, Haus Labs, Ulta Beauty, Charlotte Tilbury, NARS, Ole Henrickson, Maybelline, Olay and Urban Decay, among others.
Anheuser-Busch’s statement, which was released after its stock price declined, did not mention Mulvaney or the campaign by name. Apart from the one sentence alluding to the ad, the rest of the six-paragraph statement talked about beer production, the CEO’s “time spent serving this country,” and his time traveling across the country “learning from our customers, distributors and others.” Fox News had claimed earlier in the week that distributors in the “heartland” were “spooked” by the ad.
Beauty and fashion labels working with Mulvaney have been subjected to similar right-wing invectives. Earlier last week, a March TikTok ad she did with Olay was posted by an anti-trans activist who caused Olay to trend on Twitter and receive hundreds of angry comments on its Instagram page. Ulta Beauty faced similar backlash in October 2022 when it featured Mulvaney on its podcast to discuss her transition experience with host David Lopez. Other brands that have received barrages of social comments for ads with Mulvaney have included Eos, Kate Spade and Maybelline.
These floods of comments have come after right-wing influencers, media or pundits have publicly gone after brands for working with Mulvaney. In the case of Ulta Beauty, right-wing media personalities and influencers from Blaze Media, Turning Point USA and The Daily Wire attacked the company for featuring her in the podcast. As for Kate Spade, former Republican congressional candidate Robby Starbuck angrily tweeted about a 35-second sponsored video by Mulvaney in which she picks out and tries on outfits at a Kate Spade store. Starbuck claimed without evidence that the video would “alienate half their client pool.”
Beauty and fashion labels’ responses to the online hostility against Mulvaney have differed from that of Bud Light. Ulta Beauty addressed its campaign directly, releasing an October 16 statement saying, “The intersectionality of gender identity is nuanced, something David and Dylan acknowledge themselves within the episode. Regardless of how someone identifies, they deserve our respect.”
Milk Makeup, meanwhile, released a TikTok video in January in support of Mulvaney featuring Blossom Brown, community manager of Milk Makeup and a nonbinary trans woman. The brand followed up in the comments, stating, “Trans rights are human rights.”
Beauty and fashion brands have widely embraced inclusion of trans models, actors and influencers in campaigns in recent years. To name a few, “Euphoria” star Hunter Schafer was named as a Mugler fragrance brand ambassador this year after becoming Shiseido’s makeup ambassador in 2020. Teddy Quinlivan was the first transgender model to appear in a Chanel ad in 2019, and Olay previously worked with MJ Rodriguez in 2019. Trans influencers have been included in the Sephora Squad and created content for countless beauty brands, with major YouTubers like Nikita Dragun and NikkiTutorials among the most-followed in the business. Victoria’s Secret has worked with several trans models since its rebrand and ouster of a CEO that had refused to include them in its fashion show.
Now a right-wing politician, Caitlyn Jenner made several appearances on Fox News last week criticizing brands for working with Mulvaney, despite having done campaigns in the past with brands including H&M and MAC Cosmetics.
Beauty and fashion have been especially reliant on members of the LGBTQ+ community for their sales, a fact which was pointed out by many influencers who criticized ColourPop for doing a “Harry Potter” collab in September due to J.K. Rowling’s statements on trans issues.
The online uproar against brands for working with trans influencers has gotten louder as part of the right wing’s recent obsession with transgender-related topics, said Susan Maasch, director of the Trans Youth Equality Foundation.
“It’s really a tough time,” she said of the recent right-wing fixation on transgender identity, which has included a wave of laws being introduced and passed by state legislatures banning gender-affirming care, trans women’s participation in sports, and exclusion of transgender people from locker rooms and bathrooms. “That’s the thing about fascism … the one thing that they always hated was inclusion. That’s why they’re attacking this,” said Maasch.
Many pundits profess that their anti-trans rhetoric is in defense of children from making permanent medical changes before they are adults. But vitriolic statements such as those against Mulvaney, including the use of guns in videos, is especially harmful to trans youth’s mental health, according to Maasch.
Working with trans youth, Maasch said that seeing support for transgender celebrities like Mulvaney is “encouraging to them and it makes them feel they can move forward in their lives, as well,” she said. But “when they see the attacks, it just makes them feel hopeless.” She said that, with the escalation of anti-trans rhetoric, she has been seeing an uptick in reports of harassment of trans youth by both their peers and school officials.
Mulvaney could not be reached for comment, but said in a recent podcast interview with Rosie O’Donnell that she has noticed being subject to an especially large amount of right-wing ire. “The reason I think I’m an easy target is because I’m still new to this,” she said. “I think going after a trans woman who has been doing this for 20 years is a lot more difficult. Maybe they think there’s some sort of chance with me that they can — but I mean, what is their goal?”
Some beauty brands working with Mulvaney have opted to keep quiet about the political attacks. Representatives for Olay and Eos did not respond to Glossy’s request for comment, while a spokesperson for CeraVe declined to comment, saying, “CeraVe is an apolitical brand.”
In the past, however, at least one beauty brand chose to prioritize right-wing demands about a transgender influencer. After being hired as L’Oréal’s first transgender model in 2017, Munroe Bergdorf was dropped by the brand over her statements on racism that year, but she was rehired in 2020 after speaking out about the experience.
Right-wing pundits and media have adopted a narrative that brands are only working with trans influencers to boost their score in the Corporate Equality Index report by the Human Rights Campaign, implying that doing so affects their business negatively.
According to a few brands analyzed by Tribe Dynamics, posts featuring Mulvaney earned nearly $870,000 in media value for Milk Makeup, more than $250,000 for Ole Henricksen and $173,000 for Half Magic Beauty. Mulvaney has over 10 million TikTok followers.
Several models and influencers waited to come out as trans until after their careers took off. Quinlivan came out as transgender in 2017 after her career ascended walking the runways of Louis Vuitton and Chanel, while NikkiTutorials came out in 2020 after saying she was subjected to a blackmail attempt.
With beauty brands’ support for LGBTQ+ initiatives and participation in Pride at an all-time high, some have incorporated more activism into their Pride campaigns. But brands relying on influencers to drive sales should take more of a stand, said Maasch, who said it is “really weak” of brands to work with trans influencers for sponsored content but remain silent in the face of attacks.
“Is it about a business decision? Is it just about creativity? Are they going to come out and really speak up?” she said. “It would be great if more beauty and fashion people and businesses would stand even more with trans youth and LGBT people, and do even more of these campaigns.”