How the Brewers Association’s response to the issues at Craft Brewers Conference, which impacted marginalized groups, highlights their unwillingness to treat us as equals, and how this impacts the beer community as a whole
by Ruvani de Silva (non-attendee) and Lindsay Malu Kido (attendee and speaker)
The Craft Brewer’s Conference (CBC), organized by the Brewer’s Association, the industry’s primary trade body, is meant to be a celebration of American craft beer and a space for members of the industry to come together, share ideas, resources, and learning, and enjoy the company of colleagues and friends. However, this year’s event was severely impacted by the multiple negative experiences that affected members of marginalized groups in Nashville, Tennessee, and reached beyond the conference into the beer community as a whole.
Documented in posts by, among many others, Ren Navarro, Lady Justice Brewing, and Stephanie Grant, the BA proved itself to be unresponsive to and unconcerned by the multiple issues raised, and many delegates left the conference feeling unsafe, unrepresented and unsure of their place in the industry. Beer is for Everyone founder and co-author of this piece Lindsay Malu Kido was one of the delegates affected and was consistent in both documenting the situation and lobbying for action to be taken, and her first-hand experience of how damaging the environment was for many delegates feeds directly into the need for this response.
The purpose of this article is not to recap the experiences or add to the trauma of those who were affected. Interested parties are encouraged to conduct their own research.
In response to the large-scale outpouring of distress and disappointment from the marginalized community, high-profile beer writer Jeff Alworth (who, like one of the above authors, was not at the conference) approached the BA for commentary on the multiple ways in which it failed its delegates, especially those from marginalized groups.
Prior to this, the BA had not offered any public response to individual calls for accountability, directing delegates to respond via the conference app and members to their code of conduct complaints process. However, the BA’s Public Relations Coordinator, Meg Papanastassiou, chose to provide Alworth with a series of responses to his questions.
Like many people in the beer industry from marginalized groups, the authors of this piece found the BA’s responses to Alworth to be wholly inadequate – both in the substance of answering his questions and in offering any kind of actionable reassurance to those affected.
Their answers also show multiple contraventions of their own Mission Statement and Code of Conduct. According to the BA’s website, their core purpose is: To promote and protect American craft brewers, their beers, and the community of brewing enthusiasts.
In their responses to Alworth’s questions, the BA repeatedly made it abundantly clear that this does not apply equally to all members of the beer community.
They similarly flout several of their key strategic objectives:
- Foster the commitment to holistic safety, quality, and operational excellence
- Ensure trust with our members
- Continuously adopt and promote organizational practices that are so inclusive, equitable, and just that diversity of all kinds flourishes
Alworth offered the BA an opportunity to hold itself accountable for the myriad of ways in which it let down members, delegates, and the whole beer community at CBC. The BA chose not to take it.
His article also highlighted a major impasse in the BA’s purpose as an industry body – that its desire to be ‘politically neutral’ to interact with legislature from all political parties is fundamentally at cross-purposes with its mission statement of equally representing all of its members.
As we’ll see below, this is simply not possible – for the BA to be a truly representative voice of the industry, it must step up and represent the whole industry – it’s time to pick a side.
In the next section of this article, Ruvani de Silva and Lindsay Malu Kido will provide direct counterarguments and rebuttals to the BA’s responses to Jeff Alworth, whose article can be read here. The juxtaposition of these two perspectives provides detail into how the decisions and (in)actions of the Brewers Association have affected both those who did and did not attend the conference.
Lindsay was at the Craft Brewers Conference as both a presenter and an attendee. Ruvani chose not to attend the conference, partly due to concerns about how safe and welcoming the environment would be for a queer woman of color. While Lindsay and Ruvani do not wish to speak for anyone else, their experiences as participants and observers, who are both queer women of color, highlight a range of issues facing members of marginalized communities in the beer industry.
The inclusion of all bodies, including those who were not at the conference, is vital to the conversation of understanding the impact that the situation has on the beer community and industry as a whole. It is also indicative of the general landscape of beer – we are at a crossroads, and each path has the power to determine the future of our industry.
Jeff Alworth’s questions can be found headlined
The Brewers Associations responses can be found quoted
Beer is for Everyone’s commentary can be found individually in bold
What are your plans for siting CBC in the future given concerns about Tennessee (Indianapolis in particular?)
All future CBC locations are under review.
There are limited locations across the country that have the facilities, accommodations, infrastructure, and schedule to host an event the size of the Craft Brewers Conference. While we cannot predict a state’s legislation or political climate at the time of the event, the Brewers Association can guarantee that we work closely with the host cities and their community engagement programs, and are committed to ensuring that all our events are welcoming, safe, and supportive of all.
Ruvani: Where is this guarantee? What specific protections were offered in Nashville?
Prior to the conference Lady Justice Brewing contacted the BA to voice their concerns and request information about what protections the LGBTQA+ community would be offered at the conference. Their response, that “The BA is a non-partisan organization” that “supports the rights, safety and well-being of ALL members [sic]” fundamentally ignores the obvious fact that members from marginalized groups may require specific protections in certain circumstances and that in Tennessee, LGBTQA+ delegates would be in a high-risk environment.
At no point is this acknowledged, nor are those protections offered. Instead, Lady Justice was told that the BA has a “public safety team that coordinates with and brings in several public and private security partners, including, but not limited to, local police, host site security and contract security to ensure everyone’s public safety considerations are discussed and prepared for.”
These are entirely empty words that do not commit to a single specific action. While no one expected the BA to change the location of CBC, their inability to name a single actual protection for delegates affected is the exact reason that many of these delegates did not feel safe. This also acts as a deterrent for anyone from a marginalized group to attend future BA events.
The lack of knowledge and understanding of the problematic history many members of marginalized groups have with the police and private security, and how their presence can be triggering and create an even more significant lack of safety, is another clear signal that the safety of all BA members and conference delegates is not being treated equally. There was no commitment to trained safety and wellness officers, and none were present. The BA’s statement to Alworth does not address a single one of these issues.
Lindsay: The response provided by the Brewers Association to the question about future locations for the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) falls short of addressing the core issue at hand. By simply stating that all future CBC locations are under review, the Brewers Association fails to acknowledge the legitimate concerns raised about the choice of Tennessee, especially when its legislative and political climate has been problematic since prior to 2015 – eight years prior to the hosting of the conference, which is more than enough time to choose a different location.
To reiterate Ruvani’s point, the demands that many activists in our community made were ones of equity. Unlike equality, which means that each individual or group of people is given the same resources and opportunities, equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. The concerns expressed by the marginalized attendees of the Craft Brewers Conference reflect the need for an equitable approach to decision-making, one that considers the unique experiences and challenges faced by individuals from marginalized backgrounds.
While it is true that finding suitable locations for such a large-scale event can be challenging, the Brewers Association’s response glosses over the fundamental problem: the need for a thorough evaluation of host cities’ legislative landscape and political climate through an equity lens. The responsibility of ensuring a welcoming and inclusive environment lies with the organizers, and it is crucial that they proactively consider the impact of their choices on marginalized communities and allocate the necessary resources to address their concerns.
Claiming to work closely with host cities and their community engagement programs is not sufficient. The Brewers Association must demonstrate a commitment to actively engage with marginalized communities, actively listen to their concerns, and allocate the necessary resources and opportunities to create an equitable conference experience. Merely relying on vague assurances of a “welcoming, safe, and supportive” environment without concrete actions or clear plans for improvement is inadequate and dismissive of the valid demands for equity raised.
Transparency is paramount in this process. It is essential that the Brewers Association communicates its actions, strategies, and progress to those affected, ensuring that they are aware of the steps being taken to address the concerns and create a more inclusive and supportive space. By actively involving and informing the marginalized communities, the Association can foster a sense of trust, accountability, and shared responsibility for the transformation of the Craft Brewers Conference into an event that truly lives up to its ideals of equity and representation.
Furthermore, the statement fails to acknowledge the specific issues surrounding Tennessee’s political climate and its potential impact on marginalized groups. By sidestepping the issue, the Brewers Association avoids taking a stance and inadvertently perpetuates a cycle of indifference toward the need for equitable treatment and representation of its diverse membership. It is essential to recognize that the choice of host cities, such as Tennessee, is not merely an arbitrary decision but has tangible consequences.
By bringing the Craft Brewers Conference to a location like Tennessee, where a significant amount of cash flows into the local economy, the Brewers Association inadvertently contributes to the funding of the political climate that may perpetuate systemic inequalities and challenges for marginalized groups. This financial support indirectly influences the policies and environment that impact the very individuals the Brewers Association claims to represent. Ignoring or downplaying these implications further deepens the sense of exclusion and neglect experienced by marginalized attendees, leaving them questioning the Association’s commitment to true equity and inclusivity.
In order for the Brewers Association to rebuild trust and fulfill its mission of representing the entire beer community, it must go beyond a cursory review of future locations. It needs to actively address the demands for equity made by marginalized communities, engage in meaningful dialogue, and take concrete steps to create an inclusive and equitable conference experience. This includes reevaluating potential host cities based on their commitment to fostering an equitable environment that aligns with the Brewers Association’s stated values of inclusivity, diversity, and safety.
Ultimately, the Brewers Association has a responsibility to prioritize equity, well-being, and representation for all its members. It cannot afford to evade the pressing issues raised by marginalized groups. Without a genuine commitment to addressing these concerns and actively pursuing equity, the credibility and integrity of the Craft Brewers Conference and the Brewers Association as a whole will continue to be called into question.
Any statement in defense or reconsideration of the panel “Privilege as Your Leadership Superpower”?
We are aware of criticism regarding a particular seminar (Privilege as Your Leadership Superpower).
Members of our community attended the seminar and by virtue of attending, some found the content to be psychologically harmful. While imperfect at moments, we do not feel that the content of the presentation was irresponsible or reckless. The speaker, a former director of diversity and inclusion at Constellation Brands, is an experienced and qualified practitioner. We have heard that some may feel it is inappropriate for a white person to speak on the subject of privilege without including the perspective of a person of color. We hold space for and value that perspective. We also see value for people with some types of privilege to speak on the importance of creating awareness of your own privilege and using it for good.
Ruvani: ‘By virtue of attending’ is literal victim-blaming. Oh, if you found the concept of this panel offensive, you shouldn’t have gone. Massive red flag. ‘Imperfect at moments’ is a denial of responsibility and of the validity of participants’ experiences. The final sentence is entirely warped. You can never use privilege for good because privilege is inherently not good – for anyone. ‘Leveraging your privilege’ to lift those without it up creates a hierarchy within which those at the bottom are beholden to those at the top. This is blindingly obvious.
For anyone who has had to struggle against privilege, particularly in an industry so rife with it, everything about this presentation was offensive and upsetting. The idea that privilege should be ‘harnessed’ in the way the panel descriptor suggests smacks of paternalism (irrelevant that the speaker was female – anyone speaking at a talk celebrating privilege is by default speaking from a privileged position) and is about patronage rather than power-sharing, and leans in hard to white-savior-dom. There is also so much wrong with hosting a panel specifically designed to help those with privilege learn to manage it. Ultimately, this sends the message that it’s okay to be privileged as long as you acknowledge it – that there is nothing inherently wrong or harmful about privilege itself.
I’m reminded of Connor Roy in Episode 8 of this season’s Succession – ‘I happen to be a billionaire – sorry!’. How this presentation was ever green-lighted is a complete mystery, and the BA’s refusal to acknowledge or apologize for the harm it caused (victim-blaming instead, see above) is inexcusable.
Lindsay: The response to the criticism of the seminar “Privilege as Your Leadership Superpower” is deeply troubling and fails to address the valid concerns raised by attendees, specifically Ren. The dismissive language and victim-blaming tone only serve to further alienate and invalidate those who found the content offensive and harmful.
The claim that the presentation was not irresponsible or reckless disregards the lived experiences and perspectives of those who were directly affected by it. The inclusion of a qualified practitioner does not absolve the seminar from criticism or excuse its problematic nature. The idea that privilege can be harnessed or leveraged for good perpetuates a flawed narrative that ignores the systemic power dynamics and inequalities inherent in privilege.
Ruvani rightly points out that attending the seminar should not be equated with accepting its offensive concepts. The notion of managing privilege and promoting power-sharing through paternalistic approaches misses the mark entirely. Privilege should not be embraced or celebrated but rather dismantled and confronted.
Privilege, by its very nature, is inherently problematic. It creates a system of advantages and disadvantages based on social constructs such as race, gender, socioeconomic status, and more. Privilege grants certain individuals unearned benefits and opportunities simply because of their membership in a dominant group while simultaneously disadvantaging and marginalizing others. This unequal distribution of power and resources perpetuates systemic inequalities and reinforces existing hierarchies. Privilege not only affords individuals greater access and influence but also shapes societal norms, values, and institutions, often at the expense of those who lack such privilege. Recognizing and challenging privilege is essential for dismantling oppressive systems and creating a more just and equitable society for all.
Privilege, by its very nature, cannot be used for good because it inherently reinforces and perpetuates inequality. While individuals with privilege may have the ability to enact positive change, true progress can only be achieved by dismantling the systems and structures that grant certain groups advantages over others. Merely using privilege to uplift marginalized voices or address disparities without challenging the root causes of privilege is insufficient and ultimately maintains the status quo. Genuine transformation requires recognizing and relinquishing the benefits bestowed by privilege, amplifying marginalized voices, and working toward systemic change that addresses the underlying issues of inequality and injustice.
Furthermore, the refusal to acknowledge the harm caused and the absence of an apology is deeply disappointing. It is essential for the Brewers Association to take responsibility for its role in green-lighting such a panel and to reflect on the underlying issues it raises. An honest and sincere engagement with the concerns of marginalized individuals is crucial for creating a more inclusive and equitable environment within the industry.
The BA must recognize that the impact of its choices and actions extends far beyond the conference itself. By addressing the harm caused by this seminar and actively working to avoid similar missteps in the future, the Brewers Association can begin to rebuild trust and demonstrate a genuine commitment to the values of diversity, inclusion, and social justice.
Do you have a response to the experiences of LGBTQ and BIPOC attendees who expressed frustration at the conference’s failures to welcome, include, and secure underrepresented groups in Nashville?
Currently, the Brewers Association is listening to attendees who expressed frustration and gathering feedback from seminar ratings and surveys.
The Brewers Association invites dialogue with brewery members and CBC attendees. Anyone that wants to have an open and respectful conversation with the trade organization is encouraged to reach out to email@example.com.
Ruvani: This is another non-response. Non-committal and non-engaging. The use of the phrase ‘open and respectful’ is particularly insulting because it is accusatory. You cannot approach the situation expressing your emotion because then you are ‘angry’ – not ‘open and respectful’ – which plays into racist and sexist tropes about ‘angry’ Brown and Black women and men.
Instead of acknowledging that they have actively caused our anger, they are ordering us to hold it in and refusing to engage with us unless we do. This is highly problematic and underlines exactly the attitude that has created this situation. They have treated us in a way that has created significant emotional unhappiness, threatened mental health, and placed us unprotected in a space where we don’t feel physically or psychologically safe.
However, they expect us to override these emotions (of which they are the cause, but refuse to take responsibility) in order to interact with them in a way in which they find palatable – otherwise, they will not interact at all. This is privilege at work – them exercising their ‘superpower.’
Lindsay: The process outlined by the Brewers Association, which requires affected and marginalized attendees to engage with them on their terms, is deeply flawed and perpetuates unequal power dynamics. By dictating how attendees should present their feelings and experiences in ways that are deemed “acceptable,” the Brewers Association effectively silences and dismisses the lived realities of those who have been affected by their failures.
This approach not only reinforces existing power imbalances but also places the burden on marginalized individuals to conform to the organization’s expectations. It is inherently problematic to demand that those who have experienced harm navigate a system that dictates how they should act and express their frustrations. True accountability and inclusivity require the Brewers Association to actively listen to marginalized voices, prioritize their experiences, and create spaces that genuinely welcome and value their perspectives without imposing preconceived notions of what is considered “acceptable” behavior or emotional expression.
It is not the place of those in positions of privilege to dictate how marginalized individuals express their anger and frustration. The experiences of oppression and marginalization are deeply personal, and the emotions that arise from these experiences are valid and deserving of respect. Telling others how they should or should not express their feelings is a subtle form of control that dismisses the lived realities of those who have endured systemic inequities.
It is essential for those in positions of privilege to acknowledge their own limitations in understanding the full extent of these experiences and instead create spaces that embrace diverse expressions of emotions. Rather than attempting to silence or dictate the ways in which marginalized individuals express their anger and frustration, it is imperative to listen, learn, and support their autonomy in defining their own narratives and modes of self-expression.
The process of having to express my concerns to a faceless entity via email is incredibly aggravating and only serves to further displace my sense of comfort. It is deeply frustrating to be relegated to sending my thoughts and experiences into the void, uncertain if they will ever be heard or acknowledged. What if conflicts like this were met from a cross-cultural perspective? What if those most affected were given the autonomy to choose how they want to engage with those who hurt them?
Merely being invited to the conversation or the table is not enough for me; I refuse to settle for a mere invitation while feeling like my voice would go unheard. True inclusion goes beyond token gestures; it means feeling confident that my voice will be genuinely listened to, valued, and respected. The expectation that I should meet the Brewers Association on their terms without a reciprocal effort to meet me on my own terms perpetuates an unequal power dynamic.
I firmly believe that marginalized individuals should not be burdened with conforming to predefined expectations or jumping through hoops to have their experiences and concerns recognized. Our voices should be elevated and centered without compromise. A truly inclusive and equitable space requires active listening, empathy, and a commitment to amplifying marginalized voices on their own terms. It is time for the Brewers Association to acknowledge this and create a space where everyone feels empowered and validated.
Any comment on problematic breweries entering BA-sponsored competitions (thinking here of Founders)?
The BA is consistently reviewing and evolving processes for hosted beer competitions.
We welcome feedback through our code of conduct and affiliated complaint process for brewery members and hold our peers accountable for unacceptable behavior while pursuing an educational path forward for a more professional, responsible, inclusive, and respectful environment. This dedicated reporting tool is effective if/when used and we encourage our members to submit their thoughts to shape any changes in process.
Ruvani: By stating that feedback is limited to delegates and members only and will then be moderated at their discretion, the BA are sending a clear message that change will only happen on their terms, if at all, which is does not indicate that feedback is welcomed. And nothing about allowing racists into the organization is inclusive, responsible, or respectful.
Limiting feedback to brewery owners, as the BA states above, is gatekeeping. They are quite literally dictating who can engage, how they must engage, and whether or not the engagement will be responded to. Many of those affected are not brewery owners but are still part of the industry whose experiences matter.
The clear velvet-fist language of insistence that feedback must be supplied via the tool is another way to control the narrative. These performative routines are designed to limit, frustrate and stymie criticism. It is forcing those who wish to be heard to jump through hoops that are designed to protect people like Founders.
‘Any changes’ is the same as saying no changes. This is a ceiling of red tape, there to protect those in power. If there were any genuine desire to remedy this situation, they would have at least answered the question instead of blustering into corporate-speak and pushing the responsibility back onto those who are affected and, therefore, should not have to be the ones to take action.
Responsible leadership comes from the top. Giving Founders an award is an explicit message that they are welcome in this organization. There is no ambiguity here – the BA is explicitly stating that this is the kind of brewery they want in their organization and who will be welcomed and rewarded.
There is also no acknowledgment at all that they were wrong to give them an award, that they should not, in the current circumstances, be eligible for membership, let alone awards, or any indication that they will do anything about it.
Lindsay: The response from the Brewers Association to the question about problematic breweries entering BA-sponsored competitions is deeply flawed and disheartening. By emphasizing a limited feedback process restricted to brewery members, they are effectively silencing the voices of those who have been directly affected by the presence of problematic breweries.
Ruvani’s point about gatekeeping is especially relevant here, as the BA’s insistence on controlling the narrative and dictating how feedback should be provided further reinforces the power dynamics at play. It is evident that these performative routines and red tape are designed to protect those in power and shield breweries like Founders from facing accountability. True responsible leadership requires transparency, acknowledgment of past mistakes, and concrete actions to rectify them.
By not acknowledging the wrongness of granting awards to problematic breweries and failing to outline a plan for addressing these issues, the Brewers Association is sending a clear message that they prioritize the reputation and interests of certain breweries over the well-being and concerns of marginalized communities within the industry. This response falls short of the genuine commitment and meaningful action that is necessary to foster a truly inclusive and accountable beer community.
It is critical to acknowledge that Founders Brewery has a consistent history of discrimination and bigotry in their past and present behavior. Despite this knowledge, the Brewers Association has failed to take decisive action in response to their problematic actions. By allowing breweries like Founders to participate in BA-sponsored competitions and even receive awards, the Association sends a clear message that they prioritize maintaining the status quo over holding accountable those who perpetuate harmful behavior.
This not only undermines the credibility and integrity of the organization but also dismisses the experiences of those who have been directly impacted by the discriminatory practices of breweries like Founders. By failing to address this issue directly and taking responsibility for their association with such breweries, the Brewers Association perpetuates a culture that tolerates and even rewards discrimination, further marginalizing and alienating the very communities they claim to support.
Furthermore, it is crucial to highlight the inherent imbalance within the Brewers Association membership, which heavily skews toward brewery owners and managers. This skewed representation means that those who are most likely to be affected by discrimination and problematic behavior in the industry are often excluded from the decision-making table.
The BA’s response, which limits feedback to brewery members, perpetuates this exclusionary dynamic and disregards the voices and experiences of individuals who may not hold those positions of power. By neglecting to actively engage with and seek input from those most impacted by these issues, the Brewers Association perpetuates a system that prioritizes the interests and perspectives of a select few while marginalizing and silencing the voices of those who are most in need of support and change.
This failure to address the structural inequalities within their own membership further undermines the credibility and effectiveness of the organization in addressing the challenges faced by marginalized communities in the beer industry.
Any preliminary statement about the structural changes the Brewers Association plans to make so that the failures of CBC23 aren’t repeated?
At this point, our next steps are to listen and understand before recommending a course of action.
Currently, the Brewers Association is reviewing elements of the Craft Brewers Conference and attendee survey results; investigating potential best practices based on feedback we’ve received to date; and having direct conversations with individuals involved.
The Brewers Association welcomes feedback from and dialogue with our members and anyone that attended CBC.
Ruvani: More empty, non-committal words. Again, responses are restricted to members and those who attended the conference. No concern or consideration for the large number of industry members and beer drinkers from marginalized groups who are affected by what happened.
I’ll use myself as an example. I have been protesting Founders through my work since the first story about their racism broke (my first article about this was October 2019). This is both practical and emotional labor. Protesting and educating others about racism is hard, and this burden most often falls on those affected directly (this article is a case in point).
Taking the time to share what happened and explain to people day in and day out the importance of not supporting a brewery so hostile to marginalized groups, with an unapologetic history of racist behavior, is work. All of the people I’ve tried to educate could now turn around and say to me, ‘Well, the BA has given them an award, so clearly this is not a problem in the industry,’ and go back to supporting them. For each person in the industry who is putting in this work, this award is a slap in the face.
Similarly, the many people who want to ‘keep politics out of beer’ have been vindicated by this decision [see the comments on Alworth’s post] – the BA are keeping politics out of beer, so it’s the right thing to do.
Issues related to prejudice and bigotry are human rights issues, and while, unfortunately, they now exist in the political left-right spectrum, reducing them to party politics in order to abrogate responsibility for taking action is cowardly and immoral.
The message is even more chilling for marginalized groups working in the industry. The BA supports breweries with a track record of racist behavior. Should something happen, who will stand up for you if the leading industry body won’t? For some, leaving the industry will be easier than continuing unsupported.
The issues that happened at CBC have reverberations across the industry, and these responses are beyond inadequate in addressing them.
Lindsay: The Brewers Association’s response regarding the structural changes needed to prevent the repetition of the failures at this CBC is deeply unsatisfactory. Their statement that their next steps are to “listen and understand” falls short of providing a clear plan of action. Mere listening and understanding, without concrete commitments and timelines, reveal a lack of urgency and accountability in addressing the issues raised. It is crucial for the Association to go beyond passive reception of feedback and take decisive action to rectify the systemic problems that have marred the Craft Brewers Conference.
While the Association mentions reviewing elements of the conference and survey results, it is essential for them to transparently share the findings and provide specific details on the identified shortcomings. Vague assurances of investigating potential best practices based on received feedback are insufficient without a clear articulation of the steps they plan to take. Ambiguity and lack of transparency breed skepticism and undermine trust in the Association’s ability and willingness to address the systemic issues that have been exposed.
Transparency is of utmost importance for the Brewers Association, not only in their communication with members but also in their engagement with the general public. As the leading organization in the craft beer industry, their actions and decisions have a profound impact that extends beyond their immediate membership. The broader industry, including consumers and industry professionals who may be considering joining or not joining the association, deserves to be fully informed and included in discussions about the structural changes needed to address the failures at the Craft Brewers Conference. By embracing transparency and openly sharing information, the Brewers Association can build trust, foster accountability, and enable meaningful collaboration, thereby empowering individuals to make informed decisions and actively contribute to shaping the future of the industry.
Moreover, the Association’s emphasis on welcoming feedback and dialogue is compromised by the restrictive nature of its engagement approach. By limiting participation to members and conference attendees, they effectively exclude the voices of those most affected by the issues at hand—members of marginalized communities who may not have attended the conference but still bear the impact of its failures. This exclusionary stance perpetuates unequal power dynamics and fails to acknowledge the perspectives and experiences of those who have been marginalized within the industry.
It is crucial for the Brewers Association to recognize that addressing systemic issues requires a proactive and inclusive approach. Merely welcoming feedback is not enough; true progress necessitates actively seeking out diverse perspectives, engaging with marginalized communities, and centering their experiences in the decision-making process. This requires going beyond passive reception and initiating an intentional dialogue that empowers those affected to share their concerns, propose solutions, and actively participate in shaping the changes that need to be made.
In conclusion, the Brewers Association’s response to the question about structural changes demonstrates a lack of clarity, urgency, and inclusive engagement. To regain trust and ensure meaningful progress, the Association must provide a detailed plan of action, transparently share its findings, and actively involve marginalized communities in the decision-making process. Only through these efforts can they begin to address the deep-rooted systemic issues and prevent the repetition of the failures that have marred the Craft Brewers Conference.
The Brewers Association’s Response to the Collective Objection Letter
Shortly after issuing their response to Alworth, the BA responded to a collective letter of objection coordinated by Lindsay Malu Kido of Beer is for Everyone, Jen Blair, and Ann Reilly at NYCBeer in response to the unaddressed safety issues facing the LGBTQIAA2S+ community in Nashville, the problematic nature of the BA’s lack of response, and the damage to diversity in the industry this is causing.
You can read the full text here. The letter received 1,749 signatures, including attendees and non-attendees. Coordinated before and during the conference, the letter presents a clear assessment of the risks and potential harm caused by the conference’s chosen location and the BA’s refusal to engage in proactive safety measures for its LGBTQIAA2S+ delegates. This was the response the BA offered, dated May 31st, nearly a month after the conference and two weeks after the letter was submitted:
Thank you for reaching out. We appreciate your perspective and have heard your comments and concerns. Please know that we are committed to continuing to improve and grow as an organization and as an industry. We’d like to engage in live conversations with those who had a negative experience at the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) in Nashville to understand how we can improve. We will be reaching out to Brewers Association members and CBC attendees that signed the petition to offer a dialogue about their experiences. For others who would like to have a conversation, they can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to engaging in earnest and solution-oriented dialogue with open hearts and minds and working together with each of you to learn how we can improve and help the craft beer community flourish.
Ruvani: I won’t repeat myself by highlighting the banality, platitudes, and corporate-speak that characterize this letter as they have the responses to Alworth’s questions. Instead, I’ll point out the fact that the BA considers a 138 empty words to be an adequate reply to a detailed and precise 953-word letter signed by 1,749 people.
Not a single one of the specific points raised in the letter has been responded to, yet again, and the phrases ‘earnest and solution-oriented’ and ‘open hearts and minds’ are once again indicators of the limited terms on which the BA are willing to engage.
The form of ‘live conversation’ the BA are willing to engage in is not stated, neither is the means by which they will reach out to those affected or the time frame. The use of the phrase ‘negative experience’ for many of those affected will feel like a vast dismissive understatement.
Yet again, we are being implicitly told not to be angry, not to be upset, to convey our feelings and responses in a non-confrontational and forgiving way. The entire tone of this letter feels passive-aggressive, in addition to the responses offered to Alworth, it comes across as gaslighting and undermining the experiences of those affected and the way in which we choose to express them.
It isn’t just not enough. It’s minus nothing, as it undermines our value to the industry, our right to be here, and our right to be outraged about what has happened.
Lindsay: The response provided by the Brewers Association to the collective letter of objection is once again a disappointing display of empty rhetoric and a failure to address the valid concerns raised by the LGBTQIAA2S+ community and their allies. As Ruvani stated, the BA’s dismissal of the comprehensive letter, consisting of 953 words and signed by 1,749 individuals, with a mere 138-word reply is an insult to those who took the time to articulate their experiences and demand meaningful change.
The selective approach of reaching out only to Brewers Association members and CBC attendees who signed the petition demonstrates a lack of inclusivity and fails to recognize the impact of the issues on the broader industry and community. By limiting the conversation to a select few, the BA perpetuates exclusionary practices and dismisses the voices of those who were not present at the conference but were still affected by its repercussions.
Moreover, the BA’s suggestion that others can reach out to them for a conversation at a generic feedback email address is impersonal and lacks transparency. It is the responsibility of the BA to proactively seek out and address the concerns of marginalized communities, rather than placing the burden on individuals to initiate contact.
Once again, the BA attempts to dictate the tone and manner in which those affected should express their concerns, disregarding the justified anger and frustration felt by the marginalized communities. By dismissing their emotions and urging them to engage in a forgiving and non-confrontational manner, the BA perpetuates a harmful dynamic that undermines the voices and experiences of those affected.
This response not only falls short of addressing the concerns raised but also perpetuates a culture of gaslighting, dismissal, and silencing. It diminishes the value of marginalized voices within the industry and fails to acknowledge their right to be outraged by the ongoing issues and systemic injustices. The BA’s response is not just inadequate, but it actively undermines the progress and inclusivity that the craft beer community should strive for.
Harmful Discourse and Lateral Violence
The discourse surrounding the Craft Brewers Conference exposes a deeply troubling strategy, which is often seen in furthering the marginalization and division of communities. As can be seen in this Beer is for Everyone’s post, conversations surrounding the experiences of marginalized members of our community have often been weaponized to silence, dismiss, and undermine the validity of their lived experiences, perpetuating a harmful cycle that perpetuates systemic inequalities and obstructs progress towards a more inclusive and equitable industry. By weaponizing the differences in experiences within these communities, the goal is to dismiss the legitimate grievances of those who faced discrimination and safety issues, all while amplifying the positive experiences of others. This calculated approach deliberately undermines the voices and concerns of marginalized individuals, sidestepping the urgent need for accountability and substantial change.
View this post on Instagram
It is crucial to challenge the notion that the presence of positive experiences somehow negates or diminishes the very real and harmful experiences of others. And vice versa. The selective emphasis on the positive aspects serves to gloss over or downplay the pervasive systemic issues and structural barriers that continue to affect marginalized individuals. This strategy conveniently deflects attention away from the demand for true accountability and substantial progress.
Moreover, this divisive approach fosters a dangerous narrative that pits marginalized community members against each other, fragmenting their collective power and further perpetuating an oppressive status quo. By prioritizing the positive experiences and marginalizing the negative ones, those in power actively evade confronting the uncomfortable realities faced by marginalized individuals in the industry.
It is important to acknowledge the occurrence of lateral violence and its detrimental impact on marginalized communities within the craft beer community and industry. Lateral violence inadvertently plays into the hands of those in power by diverting attention and energy within marginalized communities toward infighting and conflict.
While the article focuses on the failures and challenges faced by various marginalized groups within the craft beer industry at the Craft Brewers Conference, I have witnessed lateral violence in the greater beer community, as well. One marginalized group will commit lateral violence to another marginalized group, as a sort of “oppression olympics”.
When we engage in these harmful behaviors towards each other, it distracts from addressing the root causes of systemic oppression and redirects focus toward internal dynamics. This division can perpetuate the status quo, allowing those in power to maintain their control and avoid being held accountable for their actions. This harmful behavior only serves to further divide and weaken our communities, hindering our collective efforts to challenge systemic inequalities and discrimination.
By succumbing to lateral violence, individuals inadvertently surrender their power and inadvertently reinforce the very structures of oppression they seek to dismantle. It is crucial for marginalized communities to recognize these patterns and work towards unity, solidarity, and collective empowerment to effect meaningful change in the industry and beyond.
This insidious divide-and-conquer strategy severely undermines the potential for collective action and obstructs the path to a more inclusive and equitable craft beer industry. It is crucial to resist the temptation to let certain experiences overshadow and invalidate the lived experiences of others. By acknowledging and addressing the full range of experiences, we can begin to dismantle oppressive structures and foster a genuinely inclusive and supportive environment for all individuals within the industry.
The Impact of CBC and the BA’s Responses
The impact of both the events at CBC and the BA’s response to them does not stop with the delegates affected. Not only does limiting responses to members and delegates only amount to de facto gatekeeping, as highlighted above, but it also ignores the way that these actions ripple through the industry in toxic waves, effectively legitimizing the behaviors that the BA is condoning. You didn’t have to be at CBC to be affected by what happened, and no one has the right to tell you how to feel or react to active threats to your participation in the industry.
The responses above demonstrate that not only is the BA as insular and regressive as many of us have feared, but it also is beholden to the forces within its membership who strive to keep it that way. Seemingly, the BA is supportive of diversity by lip service only, offering no action or accountability for any of the multiple issues outlined by Alworth.
There are undoubtedly members of the BA leadership who are passionate about changing this, who work tirelessly to diversify the industry, and without whose leadership, skills, and consummate professionalism we may not even be in a position to have this conversation. Yet the structural flaws in the BA as an institution have allowed both the events at CBC and the inadequate nature of this response to happen.
The only way to move forward in a productive and truly inclusive manner is to address these failings openly and directly, not gloss over them with empty corporate speak, and hope they go away. To offer those with experience and insight the opportunity to enact meaningful change from the top down and break the institutional stranglehold of those currently in power.