What's The Damage?

My name is Scott Kirkaldy and I love beer. 

I've been lucky enough to work in the craft beer industry for the past seven years, working in some of Melbourne's great beer bars where my love for craft beer has flourished and I realised this was an industry full of passionate and amazing people – an industry I wanted to be part of, but was never 100 percent sure if it would accept me.

As a whole, working as a gay man in the beer world has been mostly trouble free. At the start, however, I was full of anxiety and apprehension about meeting new people: should I "come out" to them now or later? Should I come out at all? Is it even any of their business?

Growing up Newcastle really decreased my fabulousness and thus it wasn't immediately apparent that I was a gay boy. I still don't know if that's a good or bad thing. So I made a conscious decision not to hide my sexuality. I felt it was more important to be true to myself and, if I wasn't accepted, so be it. 

Yet again, the people of the craft beer world didn't let me down. I sat next to brewers and reps, bottleshop and venue managers and owners. And, of course, the craft beer drinking public and unsung heroes of hospitality. No one cared. 

Occasionally someone would drop an F bomb – faggot – and I would be thrust back into reality. Back to the insecurity and anxiety. I would debate in my head whether to say something or not. Be true to yourself would always be the answer. If I knew them it would usually just take a glare for them to figure out their misstep. If it was a drunk punter, it might take a "Pull your head in, mate". 

I know it's not homophobia and that language / meanings evolve; however, I don't ever want someone to feel uncomfortable or distressed. 

I went on to work as a rep with the amazing crew at Old Wives Ales and later with Square Keg, selling great brands like Pikes, Fixation and New Belgium among others. I cherished working with both organisations, not only because I worked with astonishing people but because they really took quality and fresh beer to the next level. Then, mid last year, I left rep life and started with The Crafty Pint, helping them work with beer businesses across the country – or, to use my glamorous job title, in "client liaison".

Apart from Coopers' misjudgment during the same sex marriage debate, it's been pretty smooth sailing. Until Monday afternoon.


Some Background

On Monday afternoon, a Facebook post by Victorian brewing company Southern Bay brought into sharp focus once more the impact irresponsible online actions can have on the beer industry, individual businesses and the community as a whole.

A meme equating non-alcoholic beer with "gay lemonade" instantly attracted condemnation from many in the beer world and was removed within a couple of hours. The initial post and subsequent apology also saw abusive comments directed at many of those who had criticised the brewery for its behaviour.

For a small yet growing industry that claims to hold itself to higher standards, the impact of such missteps – in this case, one that has been picked up by some national media platforms – does nothing to help broaden beer's appeal or encourage greater inclusivity.

In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) said: "As a sector that prides itself on its diversity and its difference, it is important to us that we are welcoming and inclusive of all members of both our industry and the wider community. Our collective strength as an industry lies in the vibrant group of individuals that work hard to brew, market and serve independent beer."

IBA chair Jamie Cook had earlier told The Crafty Pint: "It is disappointing to see ongoing examples of packaging and marketing activities that have been released without thought to the impact on members of our community. 

"All members of our industry have a joint responsibility in maintaining a reputation as responsible brewers. The actions of one brewer can have an impact on the reputation of all brewers, and these examples aren’t helpful in terms of building credibility as an industry."

But, as Scott has discovered after openly criticising the brewery online, it's not just the brewery in question or the wider industry that is impacted. He – and others who took to Facebook to criticise the post – faced a barrage of abuse from commenters, even after Southern Bay had removed the post and issued an apology.

As Dr Belinda Barnet, a senior lecturer in Media at Swinburne who specialises in areas including digital cultures and social media, told The Crafty Pint, any company that intends to post on social media needs to think about the social ramifications of their actions as well as the social impact it might have on people reading it.

"If you post content, whether that's content in an ad or a meme or a joke," she says. "If you post content that is demeaning to a certain sector of the community, that will have a negative impact on that sector of the community."


Taking A Stand

Craft beer lover Scott Kirkaldy.

 

I generally try not to comment too much on social media in relation to beer stuff as I see myself as a representative of a bar, a brewery or now Crafty. However, as with the Coopers mess, as a gay man in the craft beer industry, this week I felt I had to act. 

I don't want us to be special or different. I want us to be equal. So, as the one of the few gays in the craft beer village, I feel it's my duty to stamp out any toxic behaviour in our fantastic industry. I'm 42-years-old – practically dead in gay years – so I feel a responsibility to clear out old, ignorant ideas, hopefully making it easier or more comfortable for those following me. 

Figures show LGBTIQ youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide. As a 15-year-old, while watching a SBS documentary on Gays in New York, I put two and two together and finally accepted that I too was gay. After it sunk in and I stopped crying, my very second thought was that I can't live with that shame and it would be best for me to just kill myself. Best thing for me, best thing for my family. 

Luckily, I never acted on that second thought. And I have never looked back. No kid should ever see that as an option. So I feel I must do everything in my power to eradicate any stigma around being queer. And if that means calling out bullshit in an industry I know and love, so be it.

I won't be deterred by faceless online bullies calling me names. They see a joke. I see a horrible statistic. 


The Fallout

The day after posting the meme, company director Nick Warming announced he had resigned from his position as CEO. Earlier in the year, a complaint about a Twitter post by the brewery that related to excessive consumption was upheld by ABAC (The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code Scheme). This had led to them parting company with the social media company with whom they had been working. 

"Just personally, I'm taking it very hard," Nick Warming told The Crafty Pint before announcing his resignation. "I understand the outrage.

"I do all the Facebook posts for the brewery; it was my responsibility alone."

He said that, following the ABAC decision, "we thought we could probably do what the social media company was doing anyway; I can do that sort of stuff and be quite careful about it. As time slipped by, while I was very careful about promoting excessive drinking, this one slipped by."

Nick says he hadn't been creating memes for Southern Bay's social channels but sourcing beer-themed memes from the internet. In this case, he says he lined up seven to appear daily on their brewery Facebook page last Wednesday, adding a comment to each post.

"What happened in this particular incident [is] I didn't really delve into the depth of it. It was definitely a mistake on my part," he said. "I'm certainly not homophobic and I'm certainly very progressive in my views of the world. It was just something that slipped through. I'm just really, really sorry that it happened."

A call from a Southern Bay rep alerting him to the reaction the meme had created led to Nick pulling the post and publishing an apology followed by the resignation announcement. At time of writing, this was still attracting comments. However, those made by Scott and some others criticising Southern Bay had been removed while those in support of the company remained.

"It's a genuine mistake and I didn't mean to cause offence," Nick said. "I know that members of the community are upset and they do get picked on unfairly. It's something that is unfair.

"The plus side is that it's started a discussion about this and made me learn a lesson."

UPDATE: Southern Bay's Facebook page now appears to have been removed.


Lashing Out

I knew what this was going to unleash. I commented that it was completely unacceptable and followed it up with some stats on youth suicide and depression. Southern Bay responded emphatically insisting it was an accident and the apology was genuine. But the damage had already been done. 

If a business finds themselves in a situation like this, in which commenters on their social pages are posting abusive comments – I got "Snowflake!" "Sook!" "Cry baby!" "A sad c@#%!" "A piece of shit!" and much more – they should be denouncing such behaviour and removing offensive comments. It would make it much easier to recover from their missteps. 

People need to learn there are consequences to their actions.

It's really disappointing in such situations to be told our feelings aren't valid, that we shouldn't be offended – we're all being too precious, we shouldn't comment – often from folks who will never have experienced discrimination or ridicule. 

It's not about political correctness or freedom of speech, it's about respect. 


Getting It Right

On Tuesday, the IBA went on to offer advice to help brewers avoid making mistakes with their branding or marketing.

Jamie told The Crafty Pint: "The IBA Beer Labelling Guidelines were provided to all independent brewers to acknowledge that small start-up breweries may not have the same resources as the industry’s more established members. The Labelling Guidelines highly encourage our members to familiarise themselves with the ABAC Code and to ensure that they take it into account when developing their branding and marketing activities.

"The IBA has the discretion to suspend and expel a brewery if they continue to put the reputation of the industry at risk. Whilst the Board has not had to take this action in the past, it may consider it necessary to take the necessary steps to protect the members and the IBA’s reputation in the future. Any expulsion of a member would also restrict them from using the independent seal."

Forethought and common sense are just as important too. 

"Accidents do happen more often just because social media is becoming more prevalent," says Belinda. "You just need to be aware of what you post."


Moving On

The outpouring of support for me and for this issue has been overwhelmingly positive. As a whole, it's a brilliant industry full of amazing people. For everyone who has supported this, I am eternally grateful. I saw your comments and your thumbs up. It fills me with such hope. It gives me strength standing up for something that seems obvious. It makes me feel like I'm not walking down this road alone. Thank you.

But, while I love this industry with all my heart, I feel we have a long way to go. Like the broader community, we are lacking in women, First Nations people, in people from culturally diverse backgrounds and, of course, the LGBTIQ community. 

With the last of those, I have long wanted to start a social group for queers with an appreciation of beer. But after this experience I think we need to take the lead from the Pink Boots Society (which supports women working in the beer industry) and expand that social group idea to a support group, one representing LGBTIQ people in and around the craft beer industry. 

There is plenty of room for more gays in the craft beer village.


If you've been affected by any of the issues addressed in this article, you can contact:

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