Coachella's Donations to Anti-LGBT+ Efforts

I’ve just become the author of all controversial news for Her Campus Elizabethtown, and I’m down with it. I’ve now written about the controversies of the Salvation Army, Chick-fil-A, and now welcome to the article about Coachella. Coachella lasts about two weeks in the middle of a desert in California, and has featured performances by artists including Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Beyonce, Zedd, DJ Snake, The Weeknd, and so many more. It just ended the 21st this month, and not enough people are talking about the problems with it. If you read my Chick-fil-A article (which you should), this is a similar controversy where the owner of Coachella donates the money made from the event to things that people who attend Coachella don't support. No matter how you feel about the event, if you've never gone, if you want to go, or if you're sick of the popularity of the event like I am. In my opinion, everyone attends just to post their makeup and outfits (and James Charles can post his ass) and they all ignore that they're contributing to some really bad stuff. So let's settle it here and now. Where is the money for Coachella going?

Philip Anschutz is the head of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), founded in 2002 and based in LA. AEG is the company that owns and operates the Coachella festival (Observer). In 2012, the New Yorker called Anschutz “the man who owns LA”, because his many shares and companies were able to transform downtown LA into a booming economy by creating the Staples Center (The New Yorker). Anschutz “has made his fortune in oil and gas, real estate, railroads, telecommunications, and sports and entertainment. He is one of the largest landowners in the U.S., and his empire of more than a hundred and fifty companies, nearly all privately held, is worldwide. He is philanthropically active and has donated more than a hundred million dollars to create the Anschutz Medical Campus, at the University of Colorado” (The New Yorker).

However, Anschutz is a very private man. He lives in Denver, so the CEO of AEG lives in LA by the headquarters without him. Anschutz would even go unrecognized at events that he attended that he funded himself because he is such a private person. (The New Yorker). Observer.com claims that it’s “No wonder this guy doesn’t give interviews. When your personal ideologies run contrary to the brand you’ve built, staying out of the public eye is good business” (Observer). Observer.com points out the “follow the money” mentality, that even though Coachella isn’t advertising the beliefs Anschutz holds, those that support the festival by attending, support his beliefs (Observer).

AEG got ahold of a company called Goldenvoice in 2001, which is their main forefront to advertise musical festivals, so AEG isn’t the face of Coachella, Goldenvoice is. However it’s important to note that AEG and Goldenvoice are not the same company, and aren’t made up by the same people (Observer). Goldenvoice runs tons of other festivals besides Coachella, and even tours for huge names like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift (Pitchfork). So keep in mind that from 2001 and onward, AEG is the parent company of all Coachella festivals, which has been running since 1999.

Let’s talk about the controversies behind Anschutz. The following in this paragraph is what was known about Anschutz by 2012 when The New Yorker covered it. Anschutz has always been a huge fan of the Republican Party and donates thousands to candidates and campaigns, he hosts hunting parties for his rich friends, and he has donated to the Institute for American Values (whose leader supported California's Proposition 8 in 2010, an unconstitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage). He also supports a foundation that aids workers who oppose unionizing, supports a government-free oil industry (AKA he doesn’t care for the environment in the slightest), donated to the Americans for Prosperity group that advocates that global warming doesn’t exist (and that the oil and gas industry should be less regulated), and he’s tried his best to overturn laws against fracking (which also ruins the environment). Since 1987, Anschutz has sued the IRS a total of seven times. Someone doesn’t like having to pay millions in taxes (The New Yorker). He also funded efforts against gun restrictions, efforts for pro-life efforts, and has a history of paying Mike Pence (who we know) and Mike Coffman (a Congressman who accused Barack Obama of being born outside of the U.S. to make his presidency illegitimate (I’ll just be name dropping those two politicians out of the many) (Digital Music News).

Keep in mind that people didn’t really know the ties between Coachella and donations to homophobic groups until Freedom for All Americans released information about Anschutz’s generous donations in 2016 (Pitchfork). He had been donating to three specific homophobic groups since 2014, but stopped in 2016 when everyone found out. Don’t worry, because in 2016 he still donated to other homophobic groups, including Dare 2 Share Ministries, Young Life, MovieGuide Awards, The Navigators, and the Center for Urban Renewal and Education  Daily Beast, Pitchfork). Despite this, Anschutz denied he was homophobic, calling it fake news. In a statement, he turned to his companies to defend himself, saying that “‘We are fortunate to employ a wealth of diverse individuals throughout our family of companies, all of whom are important to us—the only criteria on which they are judged is the quality of their job performance; we do not tolerate discrimination in any form’” (Pitchfork). However, this isn’t over labor practices, this is over the fact that the fairly-queer crowd of Coachella is helping Anschutz donate millions to conservative groups (Pitchfork).

In the same statement, Anschutz added that he never funds groups with the intentions of funding anti-LGBT+ efforts, assumingly because he just funds Christian groups. He also claims that when he or his foundation, the Anschutz Foundation, becomes aware that a group receiving their donations is homophobic, all donations will be stopped. (Remember this for later, because we’ll be touching on it when we talk about 2018) (Pitchfork).

So how much was donated and to which groups? Anschutz continues to donate to different homophobic groups from the ones he helped in 2016, because for just 2017, news sources found $190,000 was donated to multiple anti-LGBT+ groups, including Alliance Defending Freedom which has used religious freedom as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT+ members, the National Christian Foundation that funds heavily anti-LGBT+ groups, and the Family Research Council that is considered an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. During the 2016 election, Anschutz and his wife donated $1,012,000 to Republican candidates and political action committees, and $500,000 to the Senate Leadership Fund that supported anti-Democratic campaigns. (Advocate).

Certain artists spoke out when people found this out, including Mitski who told her fans that she was still going to attend coachella because it would hurt her career not to, but she asked her fellow artists in the lineup to be sure the environment was safe for all (Pitchfork). The band Show Me the Body also had major problems with this, and their lead singer Julian Cashwan Pratt called her pay for Coachella “blood money” and the festival was “fascist” in her eyes because it directly funds these groups. Pratt ultimately decided that all of their income made from their Coachella performance would be donated to an LGBT+ foundation, but that was just one band in 2017 that did this, it would need to be the whole lineup to make an impact on Anschutz’s damage to the LGBT+ community (Advocate).

Tickets for the 2018 Coachella sold out in hours, although more people were aware of where the money was going, not enough people cared. Sarah Rose, an LGBT+ member and advocate, cared enough. Rose started a petition to get the lineup of 2018’s Coachella performers to donate their earnings to pro-LGBT+ groups. The petition never reached its goal of 13,000 signatures (Digital Music News).

Most of the sources are from 2018, despite the fact that Coachella just happened in 2019, it’s controversy seems to have been mostly breezed over by now. Remember when Anschutz said he would cease donations to anti-LGBT+ groups? By 2018, he finally managed to follow that statement, but he was still funding businessmen, politicians, and campaigns that were pro-guns, republican, opposed government regulations, pro-life, pro-immigration reduction, ignorant of global warming, anti-marijuana, pro-Trump, and of course homophobic (Daily Beast). Even if some of these things you may not have problems with, the point to focus on is that the people who attend Coachella and perform at Coachella do not agree with these views, but they’re helping donate millions to them (Source: Jezebel).  

Obviously denying his homophobic accusations wasn’t enough to appease the backlash, so Anschutz donated one million dollars to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Anschutz got in a few words at the time of this generous donation, and he managed to say “I support the rights of all people and oppose discrimination and intolerance against the LGBTQ community” (Consequence of Sound). But the timing of this donation shouldn’t be ignored, having taken place only weeks before the first weekend of Coachella 2018. Was Anschutz just trying to make sure his attendance rate was up, or is he finally learning “to put his money where his mouth is”? (Them).

So Coachella 2018 happened and it was super popular as always. Let’s move on to 2019. Anschutz is “no longer donating to individual politicians or organizations that wear their bigotry on their sleeve. Instead, his donations have gone to individual GOP state party organizations and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to whom he funneled $134,400. So, while he’s still donating to people in the business of disenfranchising minorities, he’s not boosting organizations that openly describe homosexuality as a ‘Satanic perversion,’ like he used to” (Consequence of Sound). Which I’d like to say is a step up, but it’s still not good.

In 2018, queer celeb Cara Delevingne spoke out against Coachella, claiming she refused to go because it supported a man who is pro-guns and anti-LGBT+. In 2019, a few more celebs followed her footprints, including two of of Ewan McGregor’s daughters (BBC). But boycotting isn’t too feasible, according to Out.com, because AEG is a huge company. AEG has venues in metropolitan areas all over the US, and any sort of music industry stadium or theatre has a 50% chance of being AEG or tied to it. This ultimately means that “if you go see a touring act of almost any popularity in the United States, you’re probably giving AEG your money” (Out). AEG runs so many different festivals that artists never really speak out against Coachella because it means they won’t get booked anywhere, that’s why no artist announced as part of Coachella’s lineup has ever dropped out. Out.com hopes some artists rejected being put on the list, but couldn’t speak publicly of it (Out).

Pride.com posted about how gay 2019’s Coachella was going to be, boasting that the lineup had tons of queer artists, including Janelle Monáe, SOPHIE, Christine and the Queens, King Princess, Blood Orange, and many more (Pride). Ariana Grande made history by covering the giant screens of her set in a pride flag during her performance, and “Twitter users described it as a big ‘fuck you’ to Anschutz” (Gay Star News). However, I’ve seen tweets myself where people pointed out it was cool and all for Grande to make such a statement, but she still made this man millions by performing at Coachella, and not stopping him from donating his money to homophobes. So did putting up a rainbow really do that much?

Let’s not forget the production companies, sports teams, arenas, oil companies, and the rest of Anschutz’s empire, which makes him the 100th richest person in America with a net worth at $11.2 billion dollars (Out). The DiamondBack News puts it plain and simple, “Even if you can afford it, don’t go to Coachella” (DBK News). DiamondBack talks about how even though performers use the platform to spread love, it’s important to keep the conversation alive and don’t forget where the money is going, and understand that it won’t suck that much to just stream performances online instead of contributing money to Coachella (DBK News).

We’ve gone through a lot, and it’s an overwhelming amount of stuff that we can’t really do anything about. Unfortunately, nothing’s going to stop Anschutz from earning the high figures he does annually, so I don’t think boycotting Coachella is the answer. Anschutz has shown interest in stopping his donations to some things, like homophobic and discriminatory groups, but he doesn’t seem to want to back down from his political views, drug views, environmental risks, abortion views, and gun views. It does suck that people who don’t agree with these views are still attending Coachella without caring about Anschutz’s donations, but in my opinion, even if Coachella was so heavily boycotted that it was cancelled, Anschutz would still be able to afford the hefty donations he makes from all of the other companies, businesses, and land he owns. The man is 79 years old, so I say we just wait for him to die and hope that AEG, the Anschutz Foundation, and his money won’t continue these donations. And in the end, I can very much promise you that, as a lesbian, I will never attend Coachella.