I Know Starbucks is Not an Anti-Gay, Homophobic Company (by Policy)…. BUT…
Yesterday while I got my hair cut, my wife witnessed something in Starbucks (while she hung out with Lily, waiting for me) that she felt couldn’t go unnoticed or unmentioned. Her letter says it all, but I wanted to share this open letter to Starbucks corporate office as a plea for awareness and solidarity. Please forward this link on… and please leave comments to show your support. Let’s all let Starbucks know that this is not OK. Missy keeps saying that a stranger to us, Jeffrey, had a HORRIBLE day yesterday, let’s see if we can make his (and others’) todays and tomorrows better.
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I am writing this letter to you as a loyal customer with concerns. I know probably 90% of the letters you receive trying to solicit something from you probably start the same way, but this is different. When I say, I am a loyal customer I mean you have had me for the better part of my adult life, hook, line and sinker. I will spend the extra $2.50 for a cup of your coffee. When I worked in Hoboken I would walk an extra three blocks for your coffee, walking past a Dunkin Donuts, Panera, Macdonalds and two bodegas to purchase from you. Every morning I drink my coffee out of one of your ceramic mugs and I have for years. A dozen of them line my shelves, (even the poorly conceived “Father’s Day” argyle mugs from 2005 that have metal bottoms which means I can’t pop it in the microwave to reheat) I only buy Starbucks for my home consuption. When you roll out a new product, I flock to your nearest location like a moth to a flame. I mourned the loss of the Chantico and I even rushed out to try that banana mocha abomination (a match made in hell) blindly following your suggestions like a lemming. I know, and speak your “lingo” that grates on me like nails on a chalk board and is sometimes so complicated I feel like I speak a second language. I even, as much as I am ashamed to admit it, buy most of the adult contemporary CDs you peddle in the front of the store. By the time I reach the front of the line somehow the newest James Taylor CD or whatever swing jazz collection you put together seems like something I can no longer live without. I am your disciple. I am part of the Starbucks machine. I am your dream customer because whatever your company puts into the market, I have and I would have continued to buy. I never felt bad about my commitment to your chain either because I felt like you were a company that was ethically sound. Your commitment to free trade, The Starbucks Charitable Foundation, your appearance as a diverse work environment. These are all things that I as a customer felt good about. I felt like I was supporting a company that although huge, I felt you were doing your best to “do good” and leave a positive mark on the world.
That was the case, until yesterday.
Which is why I am writing to you today.
The sentiments above, about me being a loyal customer were not written to solicit anything from you. I do not want free coffee or a refund. I ask, as a loyal customer for the past 15 years that I have your attention. Your time and consideration.
Yesterday when I walked into your Centereach, Long Island location I saw one of the most brazen and unapologetic displays of homophobia I have ever witnessed in my entire life. What was most concerning about it was it was perpetuated by not one, not two but THREE of your employees and it was directed towards a fourth employee. I don’t know this man, but I know his name is Jeffrey because the woman (who seemed to be in charge of this circus) loudly scolded, spoke to in a condescending manner, humiliated, and then let go. In the middle of your store. Two feet away from my table. Then when Jeffrey, who was visibly shaken went to the bathroom to collect him self, the women at the table went on a long, ranting homophobic rant that lasted about five minutes. This rant transpired two feet away from my table where I sat with my daughter. A three year old child, with two mothers. I have never, in my entire life seem such a gross and unapologetic display of ignorance and intolerance. The most horrific aspect of it was that it was by someone that your corporation put into a position of power. I have never, ever in ANY context seen ANYTHING so unprofessional in my entire life. I was horrified that my daughter was exposed to that.
The whole incident spanned about 15-20 minuets. It looked like it was a sit down discussion about something that had happened in the store, an earlier problem. What that was, I couldn’t be certain. I do know however, the fact that Jeffery’s sexuality was brought into the conversation (and it obviously was for me to know about it) is inappropriate. The woman (Who I will refer to going forward as the “Manager” although she may have been someone from Human Resources) spoke to him in a sharp condescending manner. She told him that they were not interested in his politics or beliefs and his thoughts were down right offensive to his co-workers. They did not want to hear about his personal life. When Jeffrey pointed out that they ALL talked about their personal lives (during the course of the conversation I learned that the manager had a daughter that went to tennis camp and another one of the women had a birthday coming up so the irony and the hypocrisy of that statement was mind blowing.) That his beliefs were not welcome at Starbucks. She went on, an on and on talking about leadership building workshops where she learned to “Keep it to herself” (again I will remind you of tennis camp). She was even so condescending to tell him,
“It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but ten years from now you will thank me for this…”
For what? For for letting him go for speaking about his personal life? For learning to put up with bigotry in the work place?
She kept reminding him, “You are not fired but….” as if to say, you are not fired but you are really not welcome here anymore. I assume this was a clever HR move so he would not be able to collect unemployment. He told her that he felt like he was being FORCED to leave because he felt like the “problems” at that location were not being addressed and the workplace had turned into a hostile environment. She in turn told him that if he was not, “Part of the solution, he was the problem.”and his two weeks notice would not be needed. He asked if he would be marked by the corporation as “un-hireable”
She smugly looked at him and said,
“Well I don’t know. It’s not looking good for you.”
Basically threatening his professional future.
Know, I am not going to swear by what the original confrontation was. I only heard bits and pieces, but I know that worker was attacked and humiliated on the middle of your shop floor. I don’t care what his offense was, that sort of business should be conducted in a back room. I also know, the “manager” was not willing to listen to him and personally attacked him several times with snide, condescending comments. Telling him, in the subtext of her words that he was “Less than” and his personal belief system was no longer welcome at the shop.
The event got more horrific, when he, who had kept his composure through the entire incident, not once raising his voice despite being attacked, got up from the table to go to the bathroom to cry in private.
Then the three women turned on him like Vultures.
“I’m done. I’m done. Nobody wants to hear it anymore. I don’t care who he is dating. I don’t want to hear about it.”
“He should not get upset at the things people say to him. He should be used to it. It’s not like he turned gay yesterday.”
“I used to listen to it, now I’m just sick of hearing about it.”
“Nobody does, but it’s over now. You won’t have to hear about it anymore.”
It went on, and on and on.
The focus of their discussion then when he left the table, was not about an incident that occurred in the previous days. It was about how they were intolerant to his lifestyle, nobody wanted to hear about the fact that he was gay, they didn’t want to be exposed to that. The focus was not about his poor performance as an employee but their intolerance towards him as a person. I sat at there at my table with the impression that,
This man, this Starbucks employee was losing his job, because he was gay.
Whether that was the case or not. Whatever Jeffrey’s offense might have been… that is how one of your loyal customers perceived the events as they transpired based on the actions and the statements of your “manager”. She was bigoted, intolerant, insensitive and no matter how upset she was at Jeffrey, her comments and sentiments should not have been overheard by one of your customers, gay or not.
So I guess the biggest irony is, that nobody in the Starbucks that afternoon wanted to hear her politics, the very thing she was scolding Jeffrey for.
When Jeffrey returned from the bathroom she asked him for his keys. She was pretending to be sensitive and offered him her card if he needed to talk. Which disgusted me because, she was anything but concerned for his well being.
I followed Jeffery out of the store horrified by what I had just witnessed.
I said to him, “That was unreal. That was “bullshit” and I was so sorry.
He walked away at first, then he approached me and said, “Thank you.”
I hugged him and he said,
“I came to this company because I thought it was supposed to be better. I thought that it was a positive and tolerant work place to work. I was passed over for promotions, they hired from the outside, I fought against their vendetta. I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t have a chance here.”
I hugged him again.
Disgusted that something so ugly, so cruel could happen in this day in age in America and that the perpetrator was basically patting herself on the back. Not caring that she had not only destroyed this man’s life, but that she also humiliated him and threatened his future. She was going to sleep soundly that night. She was going to get away with her gross display of how disgusting one human can be to another if they have a position of power and slap a fake smile across their face.
I walked away from Jeffrey and I started to cry. At how cruel we can still be to each other. How awful I felt for him. I strapped my daughter into her car seat and I thought about how in this society we are so self congratulating as we scream to the rafters promising our children,
“It gets better!”
I found myself wondering, “Better than what?”
What I saw on that Starbucks floor was pretty awful.
I have had friends tell me, to boycott. I have had other friends tell me that Starbucks is a positive and tolerant corporation. The latter has always been my impression. I don’t think this is how Starbucks wants themselves represented. However, I think you should be aware of the people who you currently have representing you and the way they are doing it. I am hoping by bringing this to your attention, you will do the right thing. As you can tell by the tone of my letter I am not a political activist. I am not militant and I do not have an axe to grind nor am I looking for a soap box. I’m pretty boring to be quite honest with you. I do not even march in pride parades and I swear I own not a single thing that has a rainbow on it. I don’t celebrate my diversity, That’s simply not the type of person that I am. In fact, I’m more the type to wallow in how mediocre I am. I am an average American who just so happens to be gay. I live my life, I raise my family and I hope to also leave a mark on this world that is positive. I do not like seeing anyone hurt, abused and degraded. I know that should go without saying, a sentiment akin to “All babies should be fed.” but after yesterday, and what I witnessed, I feel like it has to be said.
I want to still be able to walk into a Starbucks with my head held high. I want to drink your drinks, speak your code and even buy your newest record releases, even though they make me feel middle aged and unhip… and feel good about it.
I want you to restore my faith that you are the company I always thought you were.
Please don’t let this incident go unnoticed. Do something, anything you can to make this right. Please protect your (former) employee. Take a step, and take action to protect basic human dignity. To protect equal rights and equality. Please do something. I don’t want you to lose my business forever.
A loyal customer,
Edited to add: we have been contacted by Starbucks. Please see updates here: https://lilfamilyblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/starbucks-update-part-1/
I can’t reply to every comment here, but if you’re a media outlet, Missy is available for interview. If you have questions, Please contact me directly at LilFamilyBlog @ gmail dot com.
Thank you so much, everyone!
3/12/13 – Updated to add, Lil Family Blog can now be found at http://LilFamily.com Please visit to read updates to THIS story, and new events (including a new addition to our family!)