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Starbucks serves an empty cup to LGBT media

Iconic brand doesn’t advertise in queer outlets

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(Photo by Marco Paköeningrat via Creative Commons)

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series highlighting large companies that talk the talk, but don’t always walk the walk when it comes to supporting LGBTQ customers.)

Many are happy to stand in line for what they serve at Starbucks—but the global coffee conglomerate has left LGBT media standing at the altar, rebuffing repeated proposals to court a demographic of discerning tastemakers who would, seemingly, make for a marriage made in marketing heaven.

“It’s surprising to me that Starbucks wouldn’t target ads to our community,” says Todd Evans, president and CEO of Rivendell Media, which places advertisements for the National LGBT Media Association. Together, the Association’s members—including Boston’s Bay Windows and the Washington and Los Angeles Blades —reach an estimated 500,000 weekly print and online readers.

Evans, who had just returned from a Starbucks run when the Blade spoke with him, said numerous deep dives searching LGBT media for the company’s ubiquitous mermaid logo left Rivendell treading water in a sea of unproductive efforts.

“We monitor all LGBT newspapers and websites to see who’s out there, advertising,” said Evans of his sales team, “and they’ve not come across our radar as doing any outreach. Like Apple, the thing I would most want to say to them is, with a company with a presence in every major urban center, they have to know the LGBT market is a big part of their clientele.”

Evans says Rivendell has been reaching out to Starbucks “for years,” through its various advertising agencies (currently Spark Foundry). “And the answer was always, ‘Starbucks doesn’t do print.’ Now they do. I see their ads all the time, in the New York Times and Martha Stewart Living Magazine, so we know they’re predisposed to having creative [print-centric material at the ready]. That’s all the more reason for Starbucks to be more precise in their marketing. We will definitely be reaching out again shortly.”

Also making the case for direct marketing is Michael Yamashita. The president and CEO of BAR Media Inc, Yamashita is publisher of San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter, a member of the National LGBT Media Association.

“It’s as close as you can get to speaking directly to the LGBT consumers, and the decision makers in the community,” says Yamashita, of advertising in print and online, via LGBT-focused outlets.

Bay Area Reporter reader surveys, he notes, consistently show LGBT readership is “interested to know which corporations support them,” and more inclined to give those corporations their business.

“There are several Starbucks locations in the gay [Castro] neighborhood here,” said Yamashita. “They’ve been a mainstay for years. Our sales manager, he’s pretty aggressive about trying to get local corporations to advertise with us, but we’ve never seen any advertising from them.”

That absence is not just felt locally, says Bay Area Reporter vice president of advertising Scott Wazlowski. “I’ve been here since 2010, and, to the best of my knowledge, they’ve never done any print or online advertising in our publication—and beyond that, I don’t think I’ve seen them in any LGBT publication.”

Although Rivendell handles national sales, Wazlowski did reach out to Starbucks locally, and was “told by the store manager the only thing they could do to show any support would be to provide product” at Pride or other notable LGBT events. Starbucks, he notes, “brings coffee and pastries for each of the monthly membership meetings of the Castro Merchants.”

A tasty treat perhaps, but of no help to the bottom line.

“We didn’t want that,” said Wazlowski. “We wanted an ad in the paper. Advertising in a local or regional publication says, ‘We care about you, and we care about the news that affects your community.’ Anecdotally, advertisers who do that seem to do better, in terms of having an impression among our readers.”

Wazlowski cites San Francisco Federal Credit Union as a success story of how local engagement pays dividends. A winner of its Reader’s Choice Award for Best Bank or Credit Union, they never, Wazlowski recalls, “showed up on the radar until they placed ads with us. They skyrocketed in the ratings, and have held that position ever since.”

Wazlowski attributes this ascension to advertising “at least once, monthly, or in special editions” as well as, in past years, having a booth at the Castro Street Fair. “That multi-pronged appeal to the LGBT community,” he says, “has proven very successful.”

Much more successful, says Yamashita, than gestures perceived as merely symbolic, or downright opportunistic. “It’s a frequent criticism,” he notes, “to see a lot of these corporations participate in our Pride parades and events in the month of June. But they are nowhere to be seen before or after. People do see that concentrated presence in June as a token recognition. That’s pretty much the heart of the matter right there.”

Echoes of token recognition reverberated through two weeks of email communication, when the Blade’s request for an interview with a Starbucks representative was answered by a Seattle-based member of global communications firm Edelman.

Replying on the day of this reporter’s deadline to repeated requests to answer a series of questions sent via email, Jonathan J. Cruz, Account Executive, Starbucks Corporate & Crisis Communications, wrote, “Apologies for the delay as we worked on gathering details for you. Unfortunately we are unable to facilitate your request for an interview, but we’re happy to share more details on how Starbucks supports and advocates on behalf of the LBGTQ+ community.”

Starbucks’ “longstanding commitment to creating an environment of belonging and inclusion” was one such example. Ally status was further claimed, when Cruz noted U.S. and Canadian customers were privy to “limited edition rainbow Pride cups, and our in-store partners (employees) had the option to wear Pride t-shirts.” He also noted the raising of a Pride flag at Starbucks’ Seattle headquarters (“for the sixth year in a row”), and a June 2019 partnership with the Born This Way Foundation, in which the Starbucks Foundation engaged in “matching donations to the BTW Foundation up to $250,000 which will be used to increase access to mental health resources and support organizations that empower the LGBTQ+ community and young people across the country.”

Bringing a perspective from the town where Starbucks started, Seattle Gay News editor George Bakan said of their local presence, “They spend a lot of money at Pride, they sponsor community events, and they have a scholarship fund. There’s lots of ways you can help a community besides advertising in the gay press, as much as I hate to say that. I’d love to get a big check from Starbucks every month, to help my business. But I’m much more concerned with their equitable hiring, and welcoming everybody as a customer. A gay couple holding hands will not elicit a smirk or a comment from somebody behind the counter at Starbucks… It’s one thing to talk about equality. It’s another thing to act upon it.”

In the realm of LGBT engagement, Starbucks should act now, says Evans. “Like Apple, they’re not the only game in town anymore. Pretty much everyone makes a latte today. Why not capitalize on their already loyal following?

Still, Evans observes, the java conglomerate consistently “comes up as a gay-friendly company” in surveys, and places well in the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index.

But they’re hardly immune from controversy. In May 2018, the company shuttered thousands of its U.S. stores for a training session, after the April arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia location. A photo from a May 29, 2018 NPR article showed a sign on a Starbucks cafe in Portland, Maine, noting the shutdown’s purpose was to “reconnect with our mission and share ideas about how to make Starbucks even more welcoming.”

In 2015, a gay D.C. man filed a discrimination complaint claiming the manager of a Dupont Circle Starbucks called him anti-gay slurs and assaulted him. “You are fucking with the wrong one and I will break your neck you little fag, and I will break your spic boyfriend’s neck as well,” the complaint quoted the store manager as saying to the gay couple.

Evans also noted an annual kerfuffle that began in 2015, when Starbucks introduced a red cup for the holidays, instead of a Christmas-oriented one.

“I literally heard about that while I was in line at a Starbucks store, looking at one of their Advent calendars,” recalls Evans. “It was a really poorly handled public relations thing for Starbucks, because they didn’t push back. I thought, ‘Oh, what a shame.’ LGBT consumers are fiercely loyal… The idea is to turn your best customers into your advocates—and this is a company, like Apple, that could really do that with just a little specific outreach. I know it would certainly make me feel better about the amount of money I spend there.”

Moral support aside, Evans makes the case for a presence in LGBT media thusly: “Who are the people reading it? The people who care the most, the people who want to see who is reaching out to them, who want their business. So from a corporate standpoint, they haven’t been open to it, but maybe it’s time to say, ‘We should support our best customers. It is time do this.’ ”

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Tennessee

Tennessee 7th grader kills himself after anti-LGBTQ+ bullying

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Eli Fritchley via 'Justice for Eli We Must Stop the Bullying' GoFundme page

SHELBYVILLE, Tn. –  A 12-year-old boy took his own life after enduring apparent months of what his family and others labeled ugly vitriolic anti-LGBTQ bullying and abuse.

Eli Fritchley, a seventh-grader at Cascades Middle school located in Wartrace in Bedford County, was found on Sunday night, November 28th, 2021, by his mother who walked into her son’s bedroom and discovered his lifeless body.

In an emotional interview with Nashville ABC news affiliate WKRN 2‘s reporter Stephanie Langston, Fritchley’s parents described him “as a peaceful soul who wasn’t afraid to be himself.”

“He didn’t care, or at least we thought he didn’t care, and that’s what’s really difficult for us because we thought he didn’t care,” his parents said as they teared up.

Eli painted his nails, loved the color pink and wore the same SpongeBob sweatshirt nearly every day.

“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon,” his mom Debbey explained, saying he loved doing the laundry and cleaning his clothes every day.

His parents told Langston that their son was not accepted by his peer group at the school.

“He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was gay that he was going to go to Hell. They told him that quite often,” said Debbey.

His parents heard his cries but didn’t realize the extent of the pain that the youth was experiencing adding that their son never blamed anyone.

“It was really abusive. I don’t think it was ever physical. I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt,” said his father Steve.

“This has just blindsided us. This is something we would have never, ever expected,” his mother added. “That’s been really hard. That image was terrible until we got to hold him yesterday. Now that image is gone, because the only thing we could think of yesterday when we were kissing and loving on him was how angelic he looked. He absolutely looked angelic. He’s just an angel,” she cried adding, “We all failed him. We all failed him. It’s as simple as that.”

The parents told Langston that they are determined to stop bullying adding that they hope raising awareness will ensure that other kids or their parents goes through the heartache they are experiencing.

“I honestly think education, education, education for everyone where bullying is concerned because it is a problem, not just in Bedford County. It’s a problem everywhere,” they said.

According to WKRN 2, “the Fritchleys were regulars at Penalties Sports Bar & Grill in Shelbyville. The owners of the restaurant, Rob and Shondelle Lewis, say they are like family and they are heartbroken over the loss of Eli. In an effort to help, they created a Gofundme as the Fritchleys are looking to start a foundation to bring awareness and help educate people about bullying and suicide awareness.”

I hope and pray, this unfortunate event we are going to make something of it. We’ve got to. We are going to come up with some sort of antibullying program through this Gofundme page where I pray to God this will not happen again,” said Rob.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health examined depression and suicide risk among LGBTQ youth from rural areas and small towns compared to urban and suburban areas.

The Key Finding was that nearly half of LGBTQ youth in rural areas and small towns reported that their community was somewhat or very unaccepting of LGBTQ people compared to just over a quarter of those in urban and suburban areas. The data also shows that LGBTQ youth living in rural areas and small towns had slightly greater odds of depression and attempting suicide.

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Bedford County parents grieve son bullied before suicide

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New York

New York man arrested for threatening mass shootings of LGBTQ+ people

Defendant allegedly threatened bombings and mass shooting that would make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub Attack “Look Like a Cakewalk”

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World Pride, New York City June 29, 2019 (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

CENTRAL ISLIP, Ny. – Agents from the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested and charged on Monday a Long Island man on a warrant issued by United States Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke for mailing letters threatening to assault, shoot, and bomb LGBTQ+ affiliated individuals, organizations, and businesses. 

According to Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, of the FBI New York Field Office, who announced the arrest, Robert Fehring, 74, a resident of Bayport, New York on Long Island, since at least 2013, had been sending individuals associated with the LGBTQ+ community letters in which he threatened violence, including threatening the use of firearms and explosives. 

In the criminal complaint and affidavit for arrest, federal prosecutors allege that one letter threatened that there would “be radio-cont[r]olled devices placed at numerous strategic places” at the 2021 New York City Pride March with “firepower” that would “make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk,” referencing the 2016 attack in which 49 persons were killed and dozens wounded at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“As alleged, the defendant’s hate-filled invective and threats of violence directed at members of the LGBTQ+ community have no place in our society and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” stated Peace.  “This Office is firmly committed to protecting the civil rights of all members of every community in this district, including the LGBTQ+ community and other minority communities.”

Fehring is also alleged to have a sent a letter threatening the organizer of a June 2021 Pride event in East Meadow, New York, which stated:

“[W]e were right there you…FREAK!!!  They couldn’t get a shot off at you, slithering around the back stage area like a snake.  Too many cops.  Very disappointed.  But your time has come. . .. They are out to KILL you….and your boyfriend.  You are being watched.  No matter how long it takes, you will be taken out…. high-powered bullet…. bomb….knife…. whatever it takes.”

On November 18, 2021, members of the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad and the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force executed a search warrant at Fehring’s home in Bayport, New York, and recovered photographs from a June 2021 Pride event in East Meadow, New York, two loaded shotguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, two stun guns, and a stamped envelope addressed to an LGBTQ+ affiliated attorney containing the remains of a dead bird. 

“Fehring’s alleged threats to members of the LGBTQ+ community were not only appalling, but dangerous, despite the fact he hadn’t yet acted on his purported intentions,” stated Driscoll.  “As the primary federal agency responsible for investigating civil rights violations, the FBI takes all threats of this nature seriously.” 

The New York Executive Director of NYC PRIDE Sandra Pérez told the Blade in an emailed statement; “We take any and all violent threats seriously and report them to the appropriate authorities. We received threatening letters earlier this year and reported them. We appreciate the work of the Justice Department in investigating this situation. We are cooperating in any way we can, and we remain committed to the safety and well-being of the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Gay City News editor  Matt Tracy reported that Fehring appeared in court on December 6 before Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke and was released on $100,000 bond. He is restricted to home detention with location monitoring, according to prosecutors. He is not allowed to have any firearms or “destructive devices,” is barred from contacting any of his alleged victims, and cannot go to the places he is said to have targeted.

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Kentucky

Another Trans person confirmed murdered this year- USAF vet & Mother

Her friends will always remember her infectious personality & her unmistakable laugh. She loved others passionately and fiercely

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Cris Blehar, (Family Photo)

MEADE COUNTY, Ky. – Another Trans person has been confirmed murdered this year bringing the deadly total to 49 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2021 according to a tally kept by the Human Rights Campaign.

Cris Blehar, a 65-year-old white transgender woman, mother, and U.S. Air Force veteran, was discovered stabbed and shot to death by Meade County sheriff’s deputies who had responded to her rural home on Woodland Road in the Flaherty area. Deputies had been dispatched to perform a welfare check from an unidentified person concerned about Blehar.

The Elizabethtown, Kentucky, News-Enterprise newspaper reported that the Kentucky State Police had made an arrest in the case only a few hours after Blehar’s body was found of Vine Grove resident Tyler J. Petty, 18.

Tyler J. Petty, 18
(Mugshot: Meade County Sheriff’s Department)

“There was no relationship between the victim and the suspect. We believe he worked for her,” said Kentucky State Police Trooper Nicholas Hale in an email to the News-Enterprise. Petty was arrested and brought to KSP Post 4 and was interviewed about the case. Police say he admitted to killing Blehar. A trial date has been set for June 2022.

The murder in this rural area about an hour Southwest of Louisville on May 19, 2021, was brought to the attention of the Human Rights Campaign this week when Blehar’s cousin Mark Stephens contacted HRC to ensure that she was “remembered, honored, and counted” as a member of the transgender community. 

In a statement to HRC, Mark Stephens said;

“If there is one thing to know about Cris, it was that she fought fiercely to define her life as SHE wanted. Whether it was her military service, her 20+ year career in the airline industry, or her post retirement decision to buy a farm & start a family of her own. She lived life to the fullest and wanted everyone around her to live their best life as well. Growing up ‘different’ in Kentucky is certainly no easy task, something we shared in addition to being cousins, and she tackled it with the passion and zeal that only she could have. Her friends will always remember her infectious personality & her unmistakable laugh. She loved others passionately and fiercely, none more than her own son, Maverick.”

Blehar’s son Maverick Thompson paid tribute to her, writing:

“Cris was an amazing mother and a wonderful person. She had so much love and brought a smile to many. She had a hilarious sense of humor that will live on through those that knew her. She will be sorely missed!”

According to her obituary, Blehar was a former law enforcement officer in the U.S. Air Force and retired from United/Continental Airlines. She also worked as an Uber driver and loved animals and bowling.

HRC has officially recorded 49 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2021, more than in any year since we began tracking this violence in 2013.

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