Seattle Pride sells out to Starbucks, blocks ad against union busting

An ad against union busting submitted by Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) to the Seattle Pride Guide has been rejected, after Seattle Pride made the decision to side with corporations against LGBTQ+ workers. The ad, which was co-signed by 23 labor and community organizations, said, “Workers rights are trans and queer rights” and “Starbucks: you can’t be pro-queer and anti-union. It’s time to stop union busting!”

Ad designed by Arthur Pratt, a trans man who was fired from Starbucks because of his union activism. Small text reads ‘A union contract is one of the strongest ways for LGBTQ2IA+ workers to protect their rights and ensure equity & inclusivity at work — especially as some states actively pass legislation to deny and restrict our humanity.’

The ad was designed by Arthur Pratt, a trans man who was fired from Starbucks because of his union activism. Submitted by the deadline, the ad was singled out for an atypical process of review by Seattle Pride and subsequently rejected.

The story on the ad’s exclusion was originally published by the Seattle Gay News, which obtained comments from Seattle Pride and Encore Media — the ad agency that manages advertisements for Seattle Pride. Seattle Pride’s leaders denied that they deliberately blocked the ad, claiming that it was actually just an “unfortunate series of miscommunications” and that “there was simply no space left for a full page ad.”

Comments from Encore Media to the Service Employees Union (SEIU, which SBWU is affiliated with) however, reveal the real reason the ad was blocked. “My concern is that Starbucks is one of [Seattle Pride’s] sponsors,” said a representative from Encore. “I do not want to jeopardize our relationship in any way, so I flagged the ad for their approval.” (

Starbucks has platinum sponsor status with Seattle Pride, which requires donating at least $150,000. It’s clear that Seattle Pride has been bought off by Starbucks and is throwing working-class LGBTQ+ people under the bus in favor of a multinational coffee behemoth with a reputation for brutal mistreatment of its workers.

Smashing the sham of rainbow capitalism

SBWU, the union representing nearly 8,000 Starbucks workers across more than 300 stores, has made LGBTQ+ struggles a main focus of organizing since the start of the union campaign. Despite Starbucks co-opting rainbow pride imagery as a convenient way of marketing their products to a young audience, the actual conditions for LGBTQ+ workers in the company have pushed many to fight for change.

In addition to the dozens of individual horror stories from queer and trans workers about discrimination and mistreatment from managers, Starbucks has taken a systemic approach to targeting LGBTQ+ workers in the union drive. The company threatened that unionizing could jeopardize the gender-affirming health care coverage for transgender employees — in other words, “if you unionize, Starbucks will take your gender-affirming care away from you, so don’t even try it.”

This sinister tactic of withholding lifesaving treatment from trans workers fighting for their labor rights is particularly egregious at a time when rights and care for LGBTQ2S+ people, especially youth, are being stripped away across the country.

This shows that when profits are threatened, even so-called “progressive ally” companies like Starbucks and its former CEO and former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Schultz will stoop to the same level as rabid bigots like presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when it comes to the rights of LGBTQ2S+ people.

We need to smash through the sham of rainbow capitalism and understand that professed corporate support for LGBTQ2S+ causes is only paper-thin. It is a cynical endorsement of a sanitized version of the struggle, intended to capture and tame queer people’s righteous indignation at the capitalist system that oppresses them, and redirect it into a harmless call for representation in advertisements.

Only an anti-capitalist orientation — that treats queer and trans liberation as an essential part of the class struggle — can provide a genuine way forward in fighting for LGBTQ2S+ liberation.

Starbucks threatens and fires workers for organizing; Black and Brown LGBTQ+ workers face the harshest union busting. Starbucks holds hostage lifesaving health care against trans workers. Starbucks bribes LGBTQ+ organizations to silence queer and trans workers. Starbucks is on the front line of gentrification, in its home base of Seattle and across the country, where working-class Black, Brown and LGBTQ2S+ people are forced out of their homes due to the high cost of rent.

Starbucks has no place at Pride!

The author is a bisexual nonbinary former Starbucks worker in Buffalo, New York and an organizer with Starbucks Workers United.

Arjae Red

Published by
Arjae Red

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