Starbucks is giving everyone a great big hug in a (reusable) mug with its latest campaign and is flying the pink, white, and blue flag high to combat transphobia. While the coffee giant is known for its ethical stance of sourcing and the environment, it’s now turning its attention to the LGBTQ+ community. However, is there a dark side to this seemingly colourful campaign?
The issue of transgender rights came to the forefront of the media’s attention in 2019 — with no small thanks to a certain POTUS — however, Starbucks UK has taken its latest campaign further than most.
Promoting the hashtag #WhatsYourName, the advert follows a young man called James. The 90-second advert follows him throughout the day as he’s continuously referred to as “Jemma” and clearly struggles with his identity.
It ends with James walking into a branch of Starbucks and being asked what his name is. The smiling boy responds with “It’s James” before the name is written on his cup. Things round off as the words “Every name’s a story” appear on the screen.
The emotional ad was accompanied by a Tweet from the company that read, “At Starbucks, writing your name on a cup and calling it out is a symbol of our warm welcome. Starbucks welcomes you, whoever you are”. Sadly, it wasn’t long before the haters started spitting their coffee and venom at social media.
There was a much more bitter taste in your morning cup of joe though. In a wave of controversy, former and current Starbucks employees exposed the latent transphobia reportedly lurking within the company’s rank.
starbucks wouldn’t let me change my name on my login unless i legally changed it. they have also denied multiple trans employee’s request for gender confirming surgery. i have been outed by every manager about my trans identity without my consent. https://t.co/VawEUiWERJ— donate to trans woc (@teejleaks) February 3, 2020
Stories ranged from refusing requests for gender reassignment surgery to simply changing your name on a company login. As one person wrote, “Starbucks puts on a nice show of support, but no substance”. Another claimed, “I’ve worked with more transphobic and homophobic managers/shift supervisors in my seven years at Starbucks than I have at any other stodgy office job I’ve had—gotta love Starbucks’s commitment to being ‘woke’ and ‘hip,’ though”.
Starbucks has released a statement saying these stories are “concerning”, however, they’re worrying in their number and backed up by the recent case of a former employee who sued the coffee brand. Maddie Wade sued Starbucks back in 2018 for harassment and discrimination as she claimed her manager misgendered her and “engaged in other hostile behaviour”.
Although Wade’s case was dismissed by a Fresno County Superior Court judge, she’s appealing the decision as was equally unimpressed by the latest commercial. Wade’s attorney, Arnold Peter, issued a scathing statement that branded the UK ad a “cruel slap in the face”.
Peter wrote, “How are we to believe this kind of message when Starbucks’ own attorneys forcefully argue that misgendering and other hostile behavior endured by a transgender employee does not constitute harassment or discrimination?
“While Starbucks may indeed encourage their employees to treat all customers with respect, their recent arguments in court call into question the true intent of their corporate position on LGBTQ rights. It is insincere for Starbucks to take this kind of public position in their customer marketing while treating their own transgender employees like second-class citizens.”
Thankfully, there’s another positive message to go hand in hand with the James advert. Starbucks is also releasing special edition cookies with profits going to transgender charity, Mermaids. Mermaids is known for its work helping transgender children, with Starbucks promising 50p from every bright biscuit sold will go to a target of £100k to expand the charity’s helpline services.
It’s a novel idea but has rattled the cage of The Telegraph‘s Douglas Murray. Worryingly, Murray uses his platform in one of the country’s biggest broadsheets to slam both Starbucks and Mermaids — even dubbing the charity as sinister. As someone on Twitter wrote, it’s hard to work out which Murray hates more, Starbucks or trans people.
Even though there are split views on Mermaids’ methods after accusations the charity has “aggressive” tactics, at least Starbucks is trying to do something for the trans community. Unfortunately, while the heartwrenching campaign and idea of doing a good deed has noble intentions, Starbucks is struggling to shed a barrage of bad PR surrounding its latest marketing move.
Whether you love Starbucks’ latest campaign or see it as a move too late in the company’s chequered past of transgender issues, it’s definitely sparked an interesting debate that stretches far beyond the LGBTQ+ community.
[Featured Image: Starbucks/Pixabay]