"Having an awareness of businesses’ motives, ethics and history can at least help you make informed decisions when it comes to buying your beer, booking your holidays or taking out a home loan," writes Nick Adams.
Nick Adams

25 Apr 2017 - 12:15 PM  UPDATED 26 Apr 2017 - 11:29 AM

Making ethical choices as a customer can be complicated at the best of times. In 2017, we’re told that it’s better to buy locally, to buy sustainable products and to support to companies that align with our ‘personal values’. It’s all very complicated, and things become even more complicated when you’re a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Recently, Australian corporations such as ANZ, Qantas and Fairfax have showed their public support for same-sex marriage with the launch of the ‘Until We All Belong’ campaign. Airbnb is taking centre stage with their contribution involving a specially designed ring to raise awareness about the lack of marriage rights for queer people.

Each ‘acceptance ring’ forms an incomplete circle, with the words ‘until we all belong’ engraved on its interior. The rings “symbolise the gap in marriage equality that we need to close. Wear this ring and show your acceptance of marriage equality,” say Airbnb on the campaign website. It’s only $3.50, covering the cost of production and postage. None of the proceeds go to any LGBTQIA+ charities.

The reaction to the rings has been… mixed.

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Yes, it is lovely gesture from Airbnb, and their support of marriage equality isn’t going to hurt the cause, but let’s be honest - it’s probably not really going to do anything either.

A more cynical reading, however, is that Airbnb is simply chasing the pink dollar. Looking progressive is good business, especially when the majority of your customers support same-sex marriage. Airbnb have basically nothing to lose by supporting this cause and everything to gain; free publicity in queer and mainstream media.

It’s hard to critique something like Airbnb’s efforts without sounding snarky and petty, and to Airbnb’s credit, they have been supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community in the past, including enforcing a policy where hosts cannot deny guests based of their sexuality or gender identity. In terms of direct support for queer people, Airbnb doesn’t exactly sound like one of the bad guys. But indirectly, things start to get complicated.

Airbnb's business model may not directly target the queer community, but it does affect young and marginalised people locked out of the rental market in major cities, and many of those people tend to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly in major cities.

Queer people face homelessness rates above the rest of the population, with gay men and lesbian women three times more likely to be homeless than straight people, according to a report from the Gay and Lesbian Foundation of Australia.

We talk about our right to marriage, but isn’t our right to shelter more important?

The impact of Airbnb on Sydney’s rental market has become an increasing concern as it contributes to pushing up prices and driving out permanent renters.

According to research published in the Journal of the American Planning Association this year, academics from the University of Sydney found that almost a third of Airbnb listings in greater Sydney are by people with multiple properties, delivering $600 more monthly income than permanent rentals. The research found that only a small portion of the population benefits from Airbnb income.

“While it is recognised that not all forms of online homesharing have had a serious impact since 2011, it is clear that providers like Airbnb are not helping the affordability problem facing many Australians on low incomes,” said Professor Nicole Gurran from the university’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning.

Is it wrong to support a business that supports same-sex marriage but contributes to locking these same-sex couples and queer individuals out of rental properties? It certainly doesn’t feel great, but that’s up to you to decide.

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Is Coopers okay now? 

On the opposite side of the issue, Coopers recently found themselves on the receiving end of a whole heap of negative feedback for daring to debate marriage equality. As part of the ‘Keep it Light’ video series - produced by The Bible Society - Liberal MPs Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson debated the merits of same-sex marriage while drinking a deliciously light Coopers. The family-owned and run brewer also released a commemorative light beer to celebrate 200 years of charitable work done by the Bible Society.

The reaction from the LGBTQIA+ and larger community was… not great. Bars and clubs began threatening to pull Coopers from their taps and fridges if something wasn’t done about the perceived lack of marriage equality support, while customers began to look to other beers. 

Eventually, Coopers made an official on-camera apology to the LGBTQIA+ community, one where they looked like they were being held literal hostage. It ended with them officially ‘supporting marriage equality’ and cancelling their commemorative beer with The Bible Society.

While the response to the original video from the LGBTQIA+ community was overwhelmingly negative, it immediately died off once Coopers officially ‘endorsed’ marriage equality. Even though other damning anti-LGBTQIA+ revelations had come out in the meantime.

It was revealed that Coopers have donated over $175,000 to the Liberal party since 2000, and they have made no promise not to do so in the future. In the eyes of many, the Liberal party has been an enemy of same-sex marriage, safe-schools and LGBTQIA+ rights throughout history. So as a company they officially support same-sex marriage, but also actively have fought against it with their dollars. As a queer person, is it really ethical to support a company that supports a political party that doesn’t respect you?

Before making up your mind, remember that Coopers are one of the only major breweries that is still Australian owned. If you’re buying other major beers, your money’s leaving the country. So what’s worse; supporting a potentially homophobic Australian brand or a mysterious international conglomerate? That’s why this whole thing is so complicated. 

Issues like this are obviously not important to everyone. There are of course LGBTQIA+ members of the Liberal party who put their political beliefs above their identities, and that’s fine. That’s their choice.

Being an ethical queer customer isn’t as easy as writing a list of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ companies and supporting the nice ones. And this isn’t a thing you can sidestep. We’re all a part of this system, so it’s good to question things, even if we’re not perfect in our own buying behaviours. 

Having an awareness of businesses’ motives, ethics and history can at least help you make informed decisions when it comes to buying your beer, booking your holidays or taking out a home loan. It’s worth thinking twice before giving up your own cash, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and dig beneath the surface - you might be surprised by what you find.

Love the story? Follow Nick on Twitter at @nickdms.