The truth behind Coachella

By MERT ALI KIRAZ | April 24, 2019

Illustration by Flo McQuibban

As spring blooms, nothing complements it better with arts and popular culture than the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Since 1999, this festival has attracted hundreds of thousands of people every year, enabling people to enjoy the creativity of fellow attendees and artists who are very much alike. 20 years after the inauguration of the festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, the annual event is as popular as ever. Though known among the public as a space for open expression and diversity, Coachella’s management might not be quite as representative of these values.

Philip Anschutz, a notoriously press-shy American billionaire, with an estimated net worth of over US$11 billion and currently 128th on Forbes list of billionaires, is the founder and chairman of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). Back in 2001, AEG bought Coachella-founders’ Paul Tollett and Rick van Santen’s organization Goldenvoice.

Well known for being a Christian conservative with strong beliefs, Anschutz has always been quite active in his philanthropic endeavors. He founded large parts of the Foundation for a Better Life, promoting “good values” such as honesty and optimism in 2000, and frequently donates to hospitals, schools, and similar institutions. His efforts even earned him the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership 2013.

However, a 2016 investigation by the bipartisan campaign Freedom for all Americans revealed Anschutz’s involvement in the passing of 200 bills across multiple US states restricting the rights of US-citizens from the LGBTQ community shortly after the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015.

Specifically, the organization reported that a total of US$190,000 were donated to the three following organizations by Anschutz between 2010 and 2013:

– The Family Research Council (FCR), a self-proclaimed pro-marriage and pro-life organization, advocates for the maintenance of traditional marriage in law. It also regularly publishes anti-LGBTQ articles with the latest, denying the fact that sexuality is mutable.

– The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is an organization which heavily funds, lobbies and advocates for the “sanctity of life, and marriage and family”. It is known as one of the largest Christian interest groups in the US and, similarly to the Family Research Council, regularly publishes articles attacking LGBTQ rights. To quote directly from a handbook published by the organization with the purpose of avoiding lawsuits regarding discrimination: “We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God.”

– The National Christian Foundation (NCF) is a Georgia-based NGO which advises philanthropists on how to donate wisely to the causes they support. The organization has contributed over 6 million dollars to the Family Research Council and over 50 million dollars to the Alliance Defending Freedom.

The Anschutz Foundation’s tax filings made to the IRS (the US’s tax authority) uncovered by online music magazine Pitchfork confirmed these allegations in January 2017 and even found donations to the ADF and NCF as late as 2015.

Philip Anschutz responded at the time by saying “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.” He claimed that any donations to LGBTQ hate groups were made due to support of the organizations’ other causes and without knowledge of their anti-LGBTQ activities. Furthermore, the organization emphasized that the donations to the groups in question stopped in 2016.

Pitchfork’s report, however, unveiled that while Anschutz did cease further donations towards these specific organizations, there have been payments towards at least five other LGBTQ-hate groups, among them The Navigators – who have identified homosexuality as a form of “sexual brokenness” alongside incest and sexual abuse – and Dare 2 Share, an organization labelling it as “Satanic perversion.”

Aside from anti-LGBTQ collectives, Anschutz supported multiple controversial agendas. His donations have also made their way to NumbersUSA, a self-proclaimed “immigration-reduction organization”, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-marijuana group, and, according to OpenSecrets.com*, over a million dollars towards various republican candidates during the 2016 election, among which were pro-life and pro-gun candidates.

These political implications coming from the owner of Coachella are especially bizarre when looking into the festival’s headliners. One of the most prominent headliners 2019, Ariana Grande, has been outspoken and politically active for a while now: She supported Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives, made appearances at New York City Pride week’s Dance on the Pier and performed a Concert for Charlottesville in response to white supremacist attacks in 2017.

In addition, this year’s lineup features Janelle Monáe, a pansexual musician and actress who has been heavily outspoken about her support for the LGBTQ-community. After her coming-out in April 2018, Monáe quickly rose to the status of an artistic icon within the LGBTQ-community.

Approximately a year after Pitchfork’s report, Anschutz managed to engage in some damage control by donating 1 million US-dollars to Elton John’s AIDS Foundation LGBT fund. According to OpenSource.com, he has stopped donating to openly anti-LGBT organizations. The Republican Party, however, has continued receiving donations as high as 134.000$ in 2018. Specifically, several thousands were donated in support of anti-same-sex-marriage, pro-life members Paul Ryan and Orrin Hatch.

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