Over the past decade or so, Bulleit bourbon (and its green-labeled brand-mate, a rye whiskey) has become immensely popular as a mid-range product that embodies the idea of affordable luxury and hovers at the knife’s edge between artisanal and mass-market. Owing to a relative absence of phenolics — the flavor compounds that come across as a harsh quality — Bulleit is fairly well-regarded, and not too proud to make itself widely available at Costco in 1.75-liter bottles retailing for under $35. Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Ky., by Tom Bulleit — whose family traces its whiskey-making roots back to the 1830s — it’s subsequently become part of global spirits corporation Diageo.
The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT watchdog group, has named Diageo the “Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality” for nine years running. But, apparently, the Bulleits are homophobic af.
Hollis Bulleit, daughter of Tom and known as the “First Lady of Bourbon,” posted to Facebook that she and her wife, Cher, had been squeezed out of the family business — as well as the family itself — because they are lesbians.
“One is not respecting personal family business by staying silent when people’s civil rights are at stake,” she writes, detailing the difficulty of separating business concerns from family matters, and adding, “In light of my experience, I do not understand how the company I worked for is on many of the top 10/ 50/ 100 ‘best places’ for LGBTQIA employees to work.” Full text below, emphasis added.
I believe that the subject of homophobia needs to be addressed based on some of the conversations on the page. One is not respecting personal family business by staying silent when people’s civil rights are at stake. In 2007, Sarah Schulman wrote a groundbreaking book, The Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences. She discusses the misperception that homophobia within a familial construct is often misconstrued as private business. This perspective is the root of large spread public homophobia and leads to the acceptance of hate crimes. Since Cher and I have been together she has been excluded from “the family business” from the start; yet Tom’s second wife and all of my stepbrother’s girlfriends were included in photos, event invites, and press. Even though my work events were FAMILY WORK events both parties played that to their advantage when it came to the exclusion of my family – Cher by acting as if I was a single ambassador and not a family member. In the course of ten years Cher and I spent less than three weeks time in the company of the Bulleit family. I was forced to deflect questions about my family at work events which put me in a horrible position not of my making; either through assumptions, omissions, or direct advice. The family went for years without seeing each other in private or public; we barely spoke on the phone, or exchanged emails. For example, when my step-grandmother passed I got a text. In 2008, I was asked to come home for Christmas; yet Cher was not invited. The only holiday that we attended was Thanksgiving in 2016, and then we were promptly uninvited via text from the following core family Christmas. And because family was business and intertwined with a global corporation, I find it odd that I did not benefit from the departments and safeguards that are put into place to either intervene or provide mediation or educational diversity training as would be the expected protocol for employees in this type of situation.In light of my experience, I do not understand how the company I worked for is on many of the top 10/ 50/ 100 “best places” for LGBTQIA employees to work. I’m sick of hearing stories from sales reps that I am not working because of problems I have with my family, and hearing the opposite from friends of the family who blame Diageo for the fact that I am not working. If these parties wanted to make this situation work I was ready to sign in June of 2016. Therefore, I can easily deduce that the “problems” were only excuses. After ten years of experience, one could conclude that no one knew what to do with a non-straight woman besides ignore me and reap the benefits of my relationships and sales. Shortly after coming out the closet a decade ago not one family photo has been taken of me (or with me and Cher) with the core Bulleit family. Many events took place at the Bulleit family home with Diageo employees and no one ever said a word about what was obviously missing from photographs or the events (Cher and I). For the past decade, I have held these secrets; which have only served to exacerbate my suffering. The times I asked for help I did not receive it and soon thereafter I was out of a job. No one should have to make these choices. I gave my life to my family and my brand but I also was expected to give up my dignity. The psychological effects of this erasure and these unfair and unjust pressures have had negative affects on my well being. The phrase “blood is thicker than water” simply makes no sense to me anymore. Writing about these facts is like choking on thick hot blood. We tell ourselves now that gay marriage is legal and that everything is okay. Everything is not okay. Everything is far from okay. Our president just tried to impose a transgender military ban – wake up. Unfortunately people know the “right” things to say, but they do not believe them – it translates to hidden homophobia, transphobia, and racism. I should never have been put in a position to hide my family’s homophobia or my company’s complacency in order to keep my job. I did nothing wrong. I have nothing to be ashamed of. But the punishments, the silent treatments, and the threats continue. When you chose to be silent in the face of this type of behavior you are not being well mannered. You are choosing to hide because you can and you are protecting yourself. Which on a personal level leaves people like me isolated, powerless, and vulnerable to powerful institutions.
As Queerty points out, it’s not merely a case of he-said, she-said family squabbles coming to light. On Dec. 23, 2016, Hollis Bulleit received an email “telling me that I was no longer working for Bulleit or representing the brand.”