CNN hosted VA Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who legitimized the anti-LGBTQ backlash against Bud Light

Conservatives have spent weeks hammering the beer brand for a collaboration with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney

On April 25, CNN anchor Erin Burnett hosted Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) and asked about recent boycotts against Bud Light resulting from an anti-LGBTQ backlash to the Anheuser-Busch's partnership with a transgender influencer. Youngkin used the interview time to insist that companies are “damaging” their brand by “taking social positions” and legitimize harassment of companies that publicly acknowledge the existence of trans people. 

Conservative media and politicians have spent weeks relentlessly lambasting Bud Light and parent company Anheuser-Busch for collaborating with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. The partnership was not out of the norm for the company, which has a history of supporting LGBTQ rights. Still, right-wing media have chosen to make an “example” of the company and bring it “pain” and “suffering” for its collaboration with Mulvaney — which consisted of merely a sponsored Instagram post directed at her many followers and a single custom-designed six-pack. 

The campaign against Bud Light is only the latest move by conservatives to villainize trans people and ultimately drive them out of public life. These attacks are paired with legislative action by Republicans, with hundreds of bills currently moving through state legislatures that aim to chip away at transgender rights. 

Still, Burnett hosted Youngkin to discuss the protests, among other topics, despite his clear record of stoking culture war grievances for political gain. And it wasn’t the first time CNN has given him a microphone for his agenda. 

In the segment, Youngkin pointed to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) corporate policies, which have become a common right-wing rallying point to hammer companies for pursuing diversity initiatives. Youngkin claimed that “by taking social positions,” companies “are isolating, if not damaging, their customers and their brand.” Burnett did not press Youngkin on his suggestion that simply supporting the existence of trans people is a controversial “social position.” He also claimed that we need to “step back and try to get common sense back into this arena,” even though conservatives are on week three of melting down over an influencer deal from a beer company. 

Burnett did ask Youngkin whether the free market should be allowed to speak for itself without public pressure from politicians, which Youngkin dodged by saying that “not everything needs to be politicized” and “companies should just recognize that there are ramifications.” Following these comments, Burnett concluded the segment with little pushback. 

Video file

Citation From the April 24, 2023, edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront

ERIN BURNETT (ANCHOR): I do have to ask you about one other thing. And these are the things that now politics, unfortunately, in this country has too often become, which is that, you know, issues like a Bud Light boycott become front and center. People close to Trump talk about it, Trump talks about it, Ron DeSantis talks about it, and so here we are. 

I mean, The Wall Street Journal reports two executives at Anheuser-Busch have been placed on leave after the company sponsored those Instagram posts of Dylan Mulvaney, who is a transgender influencer who has millions of followers on Instagram and TikTok. So after these posts, Kid Rock, the musician, posted a video of himself shooting cases of Bud Light. And, as I said, many on the right called for a boycott of the company, including Gov. Desantis was critical as well. So, governor, what do you think? Were these calls for a boycott of Bud Light coming from the right warranted? 

GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN (R-VA): If we step back and we just clearly recognize that the world of ESG has gone way out of bounds from its original idea — I mean, originally, ESG was focused on having sound environmental policies that are good for the environment and good for companies, having a recognition that a diverse thought team built in order to represent the best problem-solving was good, and having world-class governance, that's what ESG was. And it has migrated so deep out of bounds that we do see that companies, by taking social positions, are isolating, if not damaging, their customers and their brand. And so this is just the reality. 

And if we could just step back and get ESG back in the box where it belongs and not forcing people to make a statement about the product they buy and whether they agree with it or don't. People just want to buy products that are solid products that give them great services. They want to be able to visit theme parks without making a statement. And I think this is a big moment for us to step back and try to get common sense back into this arena, that we have companies that make great products and provide great services, and we should allow them to do that. 

BURNETT: And obviously, you know, environmental and social governance policies, when you talk about ESG. But, governor, to your point, obviously theme parks, you know, I know you've got Lego coming, and we're talking here in the context of Disney. But, you know, as a person who ran one of the largest private equity firms for decades — and you're talking about let businesses do what they do — is it appropriate for governors, for people in politics to come out and make these big statements and have punitive policies towards what companies do, or should you just let the free market speak for itself? 

YOUNGKIN: Well, I think that there has been a huge movement to put politics not just in the classroom, which we've been addressing in Virginia and to get Virginia back focused on teaching our children the basics of all of our history, the good and the bad, to make sure that they can read by the third grade, to focus on math. And we've seen the same movement of politics into the boardroom. And we should just take a big step back and recognize that not everything needs to be politicized. And when a boardroom presses into political issues and social issues, it does create a moment for a debate, and there's nothing wrong with the debate, but companies should just recognize that there are ramifications, and I think Anheuser-Busch has recognized that.

BURNETT: All right, governor, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.