Metro Weekly

Starbucks Accused of Removing Pride Decorations

Coffee giant Starbucks is denying accusations that its managers are taking down Pride decorations to avoid anti-LGBTQ backlash.

Starbucks cup – Photo: Noel Reinhold, via Flickr.

Coffee giant Starbucks is denying accusations that it is banning Pride-themed decorations from its stores. Some of its employees, however, are reporting otherwise.

Starbucks Workers United, a union representing company employees, previously alleged in a Twitter thread that the company’s corporate management has asked workers to take down Pride decorations over the past two weeks.

“Taking a cue from Target, who bowed to anti-LGBTQ+ pressure and removed pride merchandise, corporate and district management are taking down the pride decorations that have become an annual tradition in stores,” the union tweeted.

“Starbucks is powered by many queer workers, but management has failed to materially support the LGBTQ+ community. Last October, some workers have reported that their transgender benefit plan changed, causing them to pay out of pocket fees and lose access to certain providers,” the thread continued.

“If Starbucks was a true ally, they would stand up for us, especially during a time when LGBTQ+ people are under attack. A company that cares wouldn’t turn their back on the LGBTQ+ community to protect their already astronomically high profits.”

Starbucks Workers United claims that workers in Massachusetts were allegedly told there weren’t enough “labor hours” for employees to spend decorating. In Oklahoma, other employees were allegedly told it was a “safety concern to block windows with flags” in light of harassment and threats against Target employees over that company’s Pride-themed merchandise, reports NBC News.

According to The New York Times, several stores in Manhattan, even in the traditionally LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods of Chelsea and Greenwich Village, have no Pride or rainbow-themed decorations visible, while workers in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia — as well as other states — have reported that store and district managers have been asked to either take down existing decorations or were told they would not be allowed to decorate stores for Pride month, compared to previous years.

The reasons for the lack of décor run the gamut.

One worker was told that decorations need to be “standardized” across regions. One partner — how Starbucks refers to employees — was told by their manager that hanging a rainbow flag might make customers uncomfortable.

Others claim they were told that if they hung a Pride flag in the store, the store could be asked to show equal representation for other groups, such as the anti-LGBTQ right-wing organization the Proud Boys. Similarly, a transgender employee at a Starbucks in Olney, Maryland, told the Times that his manager suggested that hanging a Pride flag would mean the store would have to display a Confederate flag if asked.

Still other partners report that managers have expressed safety concerns, citing the backlash that companies like Bud Light, Target, LEGO Group, and even companies that were held in high esteem by social conservatives for their opposition to LGBTQ rights, such as Chick-fil-A or Cracker Barrel, have received for embracing the LGBTQ community or celebrating Pride Month.

Starbucks — which recently received a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, intended to measure how LGBTQ-friendly or supportive a corporation’s employee hiring and benefits policies are — disputed the notion that it was directing managers to strip away Pride decorations.

“We unwaveringly support the LGBTQIA2+ community,” Andrew Trull, a spokesperson for Starbucks, said in a statement. “We’re deeply concerned by false information that is being spread especially as it relates to our inclusive store environments, our company culture, and the benefits we offer our partners. There has been no change to any policy on this matter and we continue to encourage our store leaders to celebrate with their communities including for U.S. Pride month in June.”

After Starbucks Workers United’s tweets, the company sent a note to North American corporate and retail leaders that said there was no ban on Pride decorations in stores. But several managers interviewed by the New York Times said they had not received that communication.

In a follow-up interview with the Times, Trull said the examples of banning Pride decorations in some stores were the “outlier versus the norm.”

However, he did concede that local store leaders have discretion in how a store looks. He also acknowledged a company-wide safety rule that prohibits hanging things in windows in a way that blocks workers from seeing outside. He noted that some stores may face restrictions in their leases that influence whether they can put up decorations.

When pressed, Trull said Starbucks had not received any credible threats against staff members or stores.  

Trull noted that Starbucks has previously provided Pride pins and flair for employees to wear, but no pins were distributed this year.

The company did tout the release of Pride-themed cups and tumblers available for purchase at stores where merchandise is sold, which Trull pointed to as evidence that the company is not backing away from its support of the LGBTQ community.

Trull, who is gay, added that he personally felt “seen and valued” as a company employee. “I think boiling down the LGBTQ support that Starbucks offers to the declarations that are placed in its store is a little reductive.”

But Starbucks Workers United pushed back against those claims with more examples in another Twitter thread, accusing the company of “gaslighting” LGBTQ employees and customers by denying that some managers are exercising their “discretion” to block Pride decorations from being displayed.

“This is the type of gaslighting that workers are dealing with at the bargaining table and why we need a union contract to cement store policies and our rights IN WRITING,” the union tweeted. “@Starbuck – the jig is up, it’s time to negotiate.”


The controversy comes at a time when corporations are receiving blowback from conservatives for touting any form of LGBTQ visibility, with many of those enraged by companies’ embrace of Pride claiming that “wokeness” is being pushed in their faces to virtue-signal support for the LGBTQ community.

The blowback to LGBTQ-friendly companies — including calls for boycotts — appears to coincide with a flurry of anti-LGBTQ legislation being pushed in 41 states and in Congress by Republican politicians, as well as an increase in anti-LGBTQ protests since June of last year, according to the Crowd Counting Consortium.

Conservative activist Charlie Kirk, the leader of Turning Point USA, pointed to the union’s tweet as an example of another “woke” company caving to pressure to withdraw its support for the LGBTQ community.

Other right-wing pundits have previously said the point of the boycotts and social media campaigns is to make it unpalatable for customers to be associated with “woke” companies, in the hope that companies not targeted by boycotts will ultimately reverse their pro-LGBTQ policies or refuse to acknowledge or celebrate LGBTQ Pride. 

“Starbucks has banned Pride decorations in its stores halfway through Pride Month, the company’s workers union has revealed. Leftwing Trans activists claim this means Starbucks is ‘caving.’ Good! Keep the pressure on, folks,” Kirk tweeted.

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!