[Update, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2:55 p.m.: Since this story was first published, Philip Anschutz has released a statement denying that his foundation ever knowingly funded any anti-LGBTQ initiatives. You can read his full statement at the end of the post.]
Is some of the money you spent on your Coachella passes going to fund anti-LGBTQ groups? That's the unsettling implication of an article posted yesterday by Uproxx that has since spread like wildfire on social media and spawned dozens of copycat and follow-up articles from other publications (um, hi).
According to Uproxx (and Afropunk, which ran a similar story that's been less widely cited because it's behind a registration wall), Philip Anschutz, who owns AEG Live, the world's second largest presenter of live music, sports and entertainment after Live Nation, “has donated some of his considerable wealth to anti-LGBTQ groups like Alliance Defending Freedom, National Christian Foundation and Family Research Council, three groups that seek to push back against gains made by LGBT people using lawsuits and lobbying.” AEG Live, in turn, owns Goldenvoice, the Los Angeles–based concert promoter behind Coachella.
The article also claims that Anschutz supports climate-change denial, citing a Greenpeace report alleging that he attends “strategy meetings” with the Koch brothers twice a year. Anschutz began accumulating his wealth (he's the 39th richest person in America, according to Forbes) when he acquired his father's oil-drilling business, though he has not been directly involved in the petroleum industry for several years.
Uproxx's source for this information appears to be a story published by The Washington Post last July, which in turned pulled most of its information from a report by Freedom for All Americans (FFAA), which battles LGBTQ discrimination. According to FFAA, Anschutz's foundation gave $190,000 to anti-LGBTQ organizations between 2010 and 2013.
In response to the Post's report, the Anschutz Foundation issued a statement denying that it was part of any “vast right-wing conspiracy” to curtail LGBTQ rights. “The Anschutz Foundation donates to hundreds of worthy organizations each year, and it does not attempt to dictate to those organizations how to spend their monies,” the statement read in part. “Moreover, those donations are made in accordance with our process and guidelines, and neither process or guidelines identify or reference in any way sexual orientation or gender issues.”
So if you have progressive views on LGBTQ rights and environmental issues, should you boycott Coachella? Even setting aside the fact that Coachella 2017 has already sold out (and if you got tickets, reselling them or not attending would be a purely symbolic act), it's complicated.
For one thing, Coachella is just one piece of a vast AEG Live empire that you're probably already supporting, whether you realize it or not. AEG Live owns Staples Center, so if you've ever been to a concert or sporting event there, you've put money in Phil Anschutz's pocket. Through its regional subsidiary Goldenvoice, it produces not only Coachella but also FYF, Stagecoach and Desert Trip, and owns or books shows at a dozen California venues, including the Shrine, the El Rey, the Roxy and the Fox Theater Pomona.
And it's not just the concert industry keeping Anschutz on the Forbes list. Like soccer? Hockey? AEG Live own the L.A. Kings and the L.A Galaxy. It manages the L.A. Convention Center and is in talks with the city to expand it. It even holds the concession on the goddamned Grand Canyon.
So the larger issue here isn't whether Philip Anschutz is a homophobic bastard. He's an old billionaire from Kansas — of course he's probably a homophobic bastard. And as a onetime oil tycoon, he's probably supported climate-denying pseudoscience, too. (At the very least, he owns publications — oh yeah, we almost forgot, he's a media mogul, too — that regularly publish anti-environmentalist articles like this one.) Denying climate change is what old oil-tycoon billionaires do — though it's worth noting that Anschutz is currently trying to build the biggest wind farm in North America. So again, it's complicated.
Instead of boycotting
The larger issue is that Philip Anschutz is just one highly diversified corporate mogul among many — and corporate moguls, as a general rule (though not always), tend to hold very conservative social and political views. In one study cited by the Uproxx article, a Drexel University professor of environmental science identified the Anschutz Foundation as one group out of 138 (that's not a typo — 138) that have given money to what he calls “U.S. climate-change countermovement organizations.” So boycotting Coachella to save the planet is a little like turning your thermostat down one degree during our current cold wave — it couldn't hurt and might even help, but you don't get to high-five yourself and declare, “Problem solved!”
None of this is to say you shouldn't boycott Coachella. If you don't want your money to support Philip Anschutz and AEG Live, then by all means do so. Support independently produced festivals such as Soulquarius and Lightning in a Bottle instead.
But be sure to understand the bigger picture here, too. Boycotting one festival, even one as prominent as Coachella, isn't going to make a dent in AEG Live's bottom line or do anything to change its owner's views on climate change, marriage equality or any number of other issues. In fact, it's more likely to have a negative impact on the folks at Goldenvoice, who don't necessarily share their boss's agenda and, at the end of the day, are just focused on putting together a great festival, not using Beyoncé as a Trojan horse to roll back LGBTQ rights. (Boycotting everything AEG Live owns, books or manages is better, but still unlikely to cause Anschutz much harm in the long run.)
Instead of a boycott, I propose this: Go to Coachella, but speak out. Make a donation to Freedom for All Americans in honor of Philip Anschutz. Find a pro-LGBTQ organization going to Coachella and offer them your time, money and support. Write to your favorite artist and ask them to say something from the stage, or cut their set short in protest. Wear a rainbow flag all weekend — an empty, symbolic gesture, sure, but if enough people do it, the media swarming all over Coachella will have to write about it, and negative press is far likelier to get under Anschutz's skin than any attempts at a boycott.
Let's make this the gayest Coachella ever. It will send a message and, not incidentally, be way more fun than just sitting it out.
[Update: A representative for AEG Live forwarded the following statement from Philip Anschutz in response to this and other recent reports that he has supported anti-LGBTQ organizations:
“Recent claims published in the media that I am anti-LGBTQ are nothing more than fake news – it is all garbage. I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation. 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.
“Both the Anschutz Foundation and I contribute to numerous organizations that pursue a wide range of causes. Neither I nor the Foundation fund any organization with the purpose or expectation that it would finance anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and when it has come to my attention or the attention of the Anschutz Foundation that certain organizations either the Foundation or I have funded have been supporting such causes, we have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups.”
We will have more on this story as it develops.]
[Notes: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that CRSSD Fest is produced by Goldenvoice. Although Goldenvoice was involved in the festival's first year, it is no longer affiliated with CRSSD. An earlier version also implied that AEG Live does not yet manage the L.A. Convention Center. It it actually already one of its properties. We regret the errors.]