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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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New York Governor Cuomo signs Gender Recognition Act into law

“New York continues to lead the way in ensuring LGBTQ people are treated equally in every part of the law and society”

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NY Governor Cuomo Signs the Gender Recognition Act (Screenshot via Gov. Cuomo YouTube Channel)

ALBANY, Ny. – New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the state’s Gender Recognition Act Thursday. With a final push shepherded by openly gay New York State Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, (D), the New York State Assembly passed New York Senate Bill S4402 and its Assembly companion bill A5465, (GRA) two weeks ago in early June.

“Every New Yorker deserves to be free from discrimination and have state-issued identification and processes that respect them for who they are, recognize their gender identity and protect their safety,” Governor Cuomo said. “New York continues to lead the way in ensuring LGBTQ people are treated equally in every part of the law and society, and this bill is another landmark that ensures New Yorkers can express ourselves for who we are.”

On Wednesday, Lambda Legal and Governor Cuomo reached an agreement that puts on hold the lawsuit Lambda Legal filed on behalf of Sander Saba, a nonbinary transgender New Yorker seeking an “X” gender marker on their New York state driver’s license. In exchange for putting Mx. Saba’s lawsuit on hold, the State has committed to update its legacy computer system to be able to issue state ID cards and official driver’s licenses with X gender markers by May 24, 2022. 

“Lambda Legal applauds the signing of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) into law, an important and long-awaited bill we strongly supported for years. […] This long-awaited law will remove the publication requirement for name changes, allow for a self-attestation system for DMV-issued IDs, including drivers’ licenses, allow for gender-neutral X markers on state-issued IDs, and codify into law several recent legal wins by Lambda Legal and others such as allowing for self-attestation and X gender markers on NY State birth certificates, permitting corrections to the gender marker on minors’ birth certificates, and permitting parents to correct the parent’s name and gender on their child’s birth certificate, among other important updates. We welcome Governor Cuomo signing this bill and hope the state continues to ensure all transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming New Yorkers have access to correct documentation,” Ethan Rice, Senior Attorney with the Fair Courts Project at Lambda Legal said.

“This change will bring New York up to date with the 19 other states and the District of Columbia that maintain policies respecting the lives of nonbinary people and giving them access to accurate identity documents and the ability to be fully themselves in their day-to-day lives,” Rice added.

“We are thrilled to know that after years of advocacy, transgender and nonbinary people in New York now finally have many more of the critical protections we need. The Gender Recognition Act makes updating ID documents easier and less expensive by removing both the requirement for a doctor’s note to change gender markers and the publishing requirement for court-ordered name changes” said Charlie Arrowood, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund’s  Name Change Project Counsel. “Having accurate ID documents that reflect who you are is critical for the health and safety of transgender and nonbinary New Yorkers.”  

WATCH: Governor Cuomo Signs the Gender Recognition Act

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Transgender immigrant activists march to White House

Marchers demanded end to ICE detention of trans, HIV-positive people

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Transgender immigrant activists who marched to the White House on June 23, 2021, stand in the intersection of 16th and H Streets, N.W., near Black Lives Matter Plaza. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — More than 100 people marched to the White House on Wednesday to demand the Biden administration end the detention of transgender people and people with HIV/AIDS in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities.

Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado and other marchers left National City Christian Church in Thomas Circle after organizers held a “funeral” for three trans women — Roxsana Hernández, Victoria Arellano and Johana “Joa” Medina Leon — who died while in ICE custody or immediately after the agency released them.

Hernández, a trans woman with HIV from Honduras, died in a hospital in Albuquerque, N.M., on May 25, 2018, while in ICE custody. Arellano, a trans woman with HIV from Mexico, passed away at a hospital in San Pedro, Calif., while in ICE custody.

ICE released Medina, a trans woman with HIV from El Salvador, from its custody on May 28, 2019, the same day it transferred her to a hospital in El Paso, Texas. Medina died three days later.

Hernández’s family has filed a lawsuit against the federal government and the five private companies that were responsible for her care.

Isa Noyola, deputy director of Mijente, one of the immigrant advocacy groups that organized the march, emceed the “funeral.” Noyola played a message that Hernández’s nephew in Honduras recorded.

“The state does not recognize our humanity,” said Noyola, who became emotional at several points during the service.

A press release that announced the events said 25 trans women who had previously been in ICE custody participated. They, along with other participants, blocked traffic at the intersection of 16th and H Streets, N.W., near Black Lives Matter Plaza for several minutes before they marched into Lafayette Square.

March participants also carried three pink coffins that represented Hernández, Arellano and Medina. They propped them up on a security fence along Pennsylvania Avenue before they staged a die-in.

The march took place a week after Mijente and seven other immigrant advocacy groups in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and acting ICE Director Tae Johnson demanded the release of all trans people and people with HIV who are in immigrant detention facilities.

The White House on Tuesday announced asylum seekers who saw their cases closed under the previous administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy will be allowed to enter the U.S. in order to pursue them. Vice President Kamala Harris, who traveled to Guatemala earlier this month, has also acknowledged anti-LGBTQ violence is one of the “root causes” of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle.

‘Our only crime is to seek opportunities, to seek refuge’

Li An “Estrella” Sánchez, a trans woman from Mexico’s Veracruz state who the U.S. has granted asylum, is among those who participated in the march.

She told the Los Angeles Blade during an interview in Lafayette Square after the march that she spent 13 months in ICE custody at three Georgia detention centers — the Atlanta City Detention Center, the Irwin County Detention Center and the Stewart Detention Center — before her release in 2013. Sánchez, who founded Community Estrella, an Atlanta-based organization that advocates for ICE detainees who identify as LGBTQ, said she and other trans ICE detainees face inadequate access to health and solitary confinement, among other things.

“I know first hand what they felt,” said Sánchez, referring to the three trans women who died in ICE custody or immediately after their release. “I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy to be in a jail.”

“Our only crime is to seek opportunities, to seek refuge, to seek protection, to seek security,” she added.

Sánchez also had a message for President Biden.

“Listen, because the people are continuing the fight,” said Sánchez. “You have promised to support the LGBT community and you are really forgetting the immigrant community.”

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Chaos erupts at Virginia school board meeting over trans students rights

Two people arrested, two others injured

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Screenshot via WJLA ABC 7 News Washington

LEESBURG, Va. — The Loudoun County School Board abruptly ended its meeting Tuesday as chaos erupted after parents who were against the school district’s implementation of Policy 8040 failed to observe rules regarding disruptions and decorum.

Loudoun Now reports Vice Chair Atoosa Reaser made the motion to curtail public comment about an hour after that portion of the meeting began. A brawl then broke out between members of the public, and Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department deputies were called to clear the room. 

Two people were arrested, and two people also suffered minor injuries. The names of those who were taken into custody and injured have not been made public.

The school board resumed its meeting at 6:30 p.m. after it ended the public comment session and deputies cleared the room. The school board entered into closed session to meet with legal counsel and discuss negotiations involving a bid award.

In light of the events that transpired at the school board meeting, a group of LGBTQ groups in neighboring Fairfax County in a statement called upon prominent community members to condemn the anti-transgender hate in Loudoun County.

“A coalition of organizations based in Northern Virginia is calling on local officials … to condemn the rise of anti-LGBTQIA+ hate, in particular animosity towards transgender and gender-expansive students, on display in Loudoun County,” reads the statement 

“In addition, the coalition is asking for the denouncement of support for this hate from other local groups, including the Fairfax County Republican Committee, the Family Foundation of Virginia and the Family Research Council,” it adds. “Finally, the members of these organizations are requesting visible displays of support for LGBTQIA+ students, particularly trans and gender-expansive students, in both words and deeds.”

More than 300 people attended the school board meeting, with many of them opposing Policy 8040 which would allow transgender students to use their preferred name and pronouns regardless of the name and gender in their permanent education record. The proposed policy would also not require them to provide any substantiating evidence.

Parents also expressed their support for Policy 8040 during the public comment session.

They spoke in favor of inclusivity and equality in the Loudoun County School District.

Parents who were against the policy cited the need to respect biology and privacy as their arguments. In addition, some speakers, including former state Sen. Dick Black expressed anger at the previous school year’s events such as the suspension of physical education teacher Tanner Cross after he refused to refer to trans students using their preferred pronouns.  

“The crowd repeatedly cheered public speakers who lashed out at school board members and denounced the plan that would provide bathroom and locker room access based on a student’s gender identity,” WTOP News reports.

Only 51 of the 249 speakers who had signed up for public comment ended up speaking before Reaser’s motion was passed.

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