The daughter of the man who founded Bulleit Bourbon says she was pushed out of the company for being openly gay, despite the distillery's parent company's record for being the Human Rights Campaign's Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality for nine consecutive years.
Hollis Bulleit, 43, alleged in a series of Facebook posts last week that she was fired from her position as a brand ambassador for Bulleit Bourbon—one she'd held for 25 years—in December after she brought her longtime partner to Thanksgiving dinner.
“The only holiday that we attended was Thanksgiving in 2016, and then we were promptly uninvited via text from the following core family Christmas," Bulleit wrote. "In the course of ten years Cher and I spent less than three weeks (sic) time in the company of the Bulleit family."
Bulleit, who's been heralded as the "First Lady of Bourbon," says she's been out of the closet for the last decade, and her sexuality was no secret from her relatives. Still, she says her family went out of their way to make her feel unwelcome, and the company to whom her father sold Bulleit— Diageo—did the same, taking photos of her family members and their significant others at corporate events while excluding her and her partner.
“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 … 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 gave my life to my family and my brand but I also was expected to give up my dignity," Bulleit wrote.
Diageo, which according to Forbes is considered the 11th most diverse and inclusive publicly traded company in the world, negates Bulleit's allegations, telling Forbes:
It is unfortunate that we were not able to come to terms on the multi-year contract that we recently offered to Hollis. However, to insinuate that the failure to do so was due to bias of any kind is simply unfair and inaccurate. We are very proud of our long track record of work, through many of our brands, to support the LGBT community. We are appreciative of Hollis’s past efforts on behalf of the brand and the industry.
Some of Bulleit's peers have also questioned her claims of discrimination, with one friend telling Forbes, "She's been out for many years. So this anti-gay bias is strange, especially to the liquor world. It's no secret."
Still, Bulleit says Diageo has made her life very difficult. She writes:
I cannot get job references from Diageo or Tom Bulleit, further limiting my career options. I cannot make a living simply dressing up and being fabulous or as the life of the party. Therefore my livelihood and future was taken away and my talents were squandered, of which do not easily translate to other jobs. This past year I did not only lose an over 25-year career, but I also lost myself. I literally lost my name and the worth that comes with it.
Bulleit's allegations have prompted numerous vows to boycott the otherwise well-regarded bourbon company.