On April 1, TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney uploaded a video of herself with a couple cans of Bud Light. In the video, there was a photo of a beer can with her face on it. The video, a part of Bud Light’s March Madness campaign, featured the signature little quips that have helped earn her 10.8 million followers on the platform, and showed her encouraging people to enter a giveaway. Within a week, the 26-year-old influencer became the target of conservative vitriol online as many right-wing commentators expressed anger about the beer company partnering with a transgender woman. Since then, Mulvaney has taken a step back from the spotlight and has been silent on social media.
But on April 27, Mulvaney returned to TikTok and addressed her followers for the first time since the fiasco began to explain her absence. “I’ve been offline for a few weeks, and a lot has been said about me, some of which is so far from my truth that I was like hearing my name, and I didn’t even know who they were talking about sometimes,” she said. Mulvaney said that she decided to prioritize her mental health and take some time before responding.
The backlash to Mulvaney and Bud Light comes amid ongoing attacks against the rights of the LGBTQ+ community across the United States, as many states introduce new legislation restricting people’s freedoms. These prospective laws include access to gender-affirming healthcare and to restrooms and locker rooms that match people’s gender identity. Mulvaney, who started posting her “Days of Girlhood” diaries on TikTok in March 2022, has skyrocketed to fame within the year since coming out as transgender. But the recent Bud Light controversy has made the influencer, who also uses Instagram to promote her content, a target of much-unwanted attention. Here’s everything you need to know about the controversy and Mulvaney’s response.
What was the controversy that started this all?
At the beginning of April, Mulvaney uploaded a Bud Light-sponsored post on Instagram and shared a photo of a beer can with her face on it.
The lighthearted post detailing how to enter a giveaway was thrust into the spotlight when it quickly became a talking point for right-wing media, including Ben Shapiro, Matt Walsh, and many other figures with large followings. Kid Rock shared a video in which he shot at a couple of boxes of Bud Light with tears in his eyes and a MAGA hat on his head. “F-ck Bud Light, and f-ck Anheuser-Busch,” he said after completely missing a whole box.
There was also a viral video of a man in a Walmart destroying multiple 12-packs of beer. The original poster uploaded the TikTok video on April 17, at the height of the Mulvaney backlash; the implication was that he was destroying the cans as an act of protest. The video was circulated across different social media platforms before The man in the video was apprehended by police. Forbes reported that he was charged with “Criminal damage to property; Felony Battery; Physical contact in rude, insulting, angry manner, and Assault.”
TikTok users say that he appears to think he’s destroying the Anheuser-Busch-owned Bud Light, but the boxes contain Busch Light—which the same parent company also owns. Mulvaney’s sponsorship also prompted conservatives to boycott Bud Light and switch to Coors Light, highlighting a lack of awareness that the latter company has been, in fact, an outspoken supporter of the LGBTQ+ community.
Mulvaney was also the subject of a since-deleted episode of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Battleground podcast. She baselessly called Mulvaney “one of the biggest pedophiles in America today” and misgendered her.
What was Bud Light’s response to the right-wing reaction?
The uproar prompted the parent company to release a statement regarding the controversy, but many felt the response was tepid at best. The CEO of Anheuser-Busch, Brendan Whitworth, said in a statement posted to Instagram, “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.” In a statement previously given to TIME, an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson said that they’ve worked with influencers in the past and have given commemorative cans before.
But for activists like Matt Wagner, the vice president of an LGBTQ+ marketing agency, the statement was not enough. Wagner told TIME’s Anisha Kohli, “I think that if a company is going to take a stand by being inclusive, in some way, shape, or form—Bud Light for example, with Dylan Mulvaney—and there’s backlash that receives attention, the company in an ideal world would respond in a more full-throated way.” He continued, “If I were a partner, an influencer or creator of a company or brand that received backlash, largely as a result of my very existence as a human being, I would want that company to stand up for me.”
How did Mulvaney respond to the conservative backlash?
On Thursday, she uploaded her first TikTok video in three weeks, which differed from the content she normally posts. Instead of starting with her usual count of how many days she’s identified as a woman, she starts with how many days she’s been alive, to “leave gender out of this since this is how we found ourselves here.” Mulvaney tells her followers that the uproar was “so loud” that she “didn’t feel like [she] was a part of the conversation.” She said that she decided to “let them tucker themselves out”—which seems like a nod to the now-fired Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who spoke about Mulvaney on his show.
Love ya ❤️❤️
In her usual conversational tone, Mulvaney told her followers that she is doing “OK” and is “trying this new thing where [she doesn’t] share anything before she’s ready.” She added that what she has been struggling with most is “the need to dehumanize and to be cruel,” referencing the right-wing vitriol that has been spewed her way, saying that the commentary reminds her of childhood bullying, only now the hatred is coming from the mouths of adults. She said that she is trying to hold true to her faith and continue having a loving attitude toward everyone, “even the people that make it really hard.”
Mulvaney ended the video, which has now been liked 1.5 million times, by saying that she is ready to get back to making people laugh and continue sharing tidbits about her life outside of her identity. “I don’t know if reincarnation is a thing, but in my next life, I would love to be someone non-confrontational and uncontroversial,” she said.