The Other Coors Spokesman

Bruce Chopnik drinks Coors beer.

Under normal circumstances, that's not a big deal -- hell, lots of men drink Coors -- but Bruce Chopnik is also International Mr. Leather. He earned his title fair and square at a pageant in Chicago earlier this year by scoring high on the question-and-answer portion, keeping a tight stomach and fashioning well in harness and chaps. Now he works as a goodwill leather ambassador, spreading cheer throughout the gay community and beyond. Each time he leaves Denver and visits a new city as International Mr. Leather -- which is just about every weekend for the next year -- he saddles up to a stool in the local gay bar and asks the bartender to serve him a bottle of Coors Light.

If the bartender sneers at the mention of Coors and snips, "We don't serve Coors" -- which happens a lot, especially on the East and West Coasts -- Chopnik will lean into the bartender and ask, in a question-authority tone, Why not?

The bartender will respond by spinning a tale Chopnik has heard a thousand times: Coors is an enemy to the gay community. To Adolph Coors, the bartender will say, minorities were like spit on the sidewalk -- and gays were like spit in the gutter. Until 1986, the bartender will point out, Coors tried weeding out gay employees by hooking them to lie detectors and pressing them for facts on their sexuality.

If the bartender is really up on his gay literature, he will add with a good dose of self-confidence that Coors continues to pump money into anti-gay organizations and causes. The bartender will conclude by noting that Coors family members are homophobes and that, hey, pal, a dime for Coors is a dollar for hate.

Chopnik will respond with two simple words: You're wrong. He will then begin to educate his new friend, because it's about time the gay community learned the facts about Coors. It's time the gay community stopped relying on these urban myths that serve only to enlarge an imaginary enemy and thereby prolong the oppression. Brother, Chopnik will say, the Coors Brewing Company doesn't funnel money to right-wing causes -- you can check their records.

I know what Coors is all about, Chopnik will say, and the company is committed to our community. Chopnik might add -- if he feels the need to -- that he's lunched with Coors Brewing Company president Leo Kiely and asked him point-blank, man-to-man, face-to-face, if Coors is moving dollars into anti-gay hands. And you know what Kiely said? "Not one penny of Coors money goes to anti-gay causes." And Chopnik believes him.

It's about moving forward and letting go of the past, Chopnik will tell the bartender. Coors isn't a friend of Dorothy just for the novelty; Coors is in it for the long run.

And if you can't accept the facts of the present, pal, then you'll be left in the past -- and you know what you're really doing then? You, sir, are hurting the gay community. Because here is this company, Coors, that has done wrong in the past and is ready to make a permanent change for the better. And you want to deny that? What if more companies were like Coors today? Think about it.

Buddy, here's a buck for your time.

And if you really cared about the gay community, you'd drink Coors beer.

For decades now, as far as the gay community is concerned, drinking Coors beer has been as unthinkable as having unsafe sex.

The deeply held anti-Coors sentiments can be traced back to the Castro district of San Francisco in 1973, when a camera-shop owner named Harvey Milk made a political handshake that would foster gay spite toward Coors for years to come.

Milk was running for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, campaigning to become the city's first openly gay elected official. It was more than just an election, Milk said many times; it was a movement. Milk knew that if gays could be recognized as a united "community," they could force change. Allan Baird, a representative of the local Teamsters union, offered Milk the chance to test his theory. Baird was the leader of a California boycott against Coors beer that had begun after Hispanics claimed the brewery was racist in its hiring practices. Baird was also the head negotiator between union truck drivers and six beer distributors. In the union dispute, his plan was to force the six distributors into a new contract by cutting off their points of destination, and he'd convinced more than 400 grocers and bar owners in San Francisco to turn away the scab truck drivers. Baird had most of the blue-collar city working with him, but he was looking for the knockout punch. He heard there was a guy in the Castro who was leader of the gays.

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Justin Berton