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2 Bay Area Starbucks shops take down pride displays

A Pride flag hangs in the window of the Starbucks at 1390 Market St. in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Sarah Holtz/The Standard | Source: Sarah Holtz/The Standard

Starbucks Workers United, the labor union that represents thousands of the international coffee chain’s American employees, has the internet abuzz this week after reporting that workers from Oklahoma to Ohio have complained that Starbucks management is no longer allowing Pride month decorations inside its stores. 

This news comes as numerous Target stores across the country reportedly removed their Pride-themed merchandise and displays in response to a battery of anti-LGBTQ+ backlash. The move drew criticism from the queer community and its allies, who held it up as proof that Target is less an LGBTQ+ ally and more an agent of hollow corporate pinkwashing

While Target stores in the Bay Area have kept rainbow-colored decor on display, Starbucks workers at two locations say their stores are not allowing Pride month decorations.

Workers at recently unionized Bay Area stores in Sunnyvale and Pleasanton told The Standard they have not been allowed to put up rainbow flags at their respective cafes.

Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull denied the allegations, saying that they are a “misleading and false assertion” by Starbucks Workers United and confirming that the company empowers store managers to “decorate their stores for all heritage months.” 

“We unwaveringly support the LGBTQIA2+ community,” he wrote in a statement. “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.”

Dahlia Maldonado, an employee at a Starbucks on South Mary Avenue in Sunnyvale, said that she hung a small rainbow flag on the front window of her workplace at the beginning of June to commemorate Pride month, noting that she and several of her coworkers identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Starbucks employee Dahlia Maldonado took a photo of the pride flag she hung up at her workplace at 1291 South Mary Ave. in Sunnyvale in early June 2023. | Courtesy Dahlia Maldonado

After asking her store manager whether she could decorate the store for Pride Month, Maldonado said the district manager said no to anything Pride-related in the front of the house or on the windows, only in the employee breakroom. 

Previously, Maldonado said she was not aware of any official store policy on decor. She said her manager cited “the Siren’s Eye”—an unofficial guideline referencing the Starbucks mermaid logo, which dictates that workers must do “what looks best” for their store. The same day she posted her rainbow flag, Maldonado said it was taken down without a word. 

She added that she feels Starbucks has followed the same script as Target—caving to a right-wing backlash against queer and trans communities. 

“I understand Starbucks is a business, but for them to be pushing this faux progressivism with no actual support whatsoever is frustrating,” she said. 

Tasha Fields, a shift lead at a Starbucks in Pleasanton, said she shares this frustration.

“We don’t have Pride decorations, which is crazy because everyone besides one person in our store is queer,” she said. 

Fields’ workplace recently instituted a no-decoration policy, meaning she and her coworkers weren’t allowed to decorate during the holiday season, either. She said she suspects the denial of Pride flair is partly a form of corporate retaliation—the store voted to unionize in April—and partly a reaction to the bomb threats and other forms of violent backlash that may have led Target stores to remove their Pride month merchandise.

In response, Starbucks shared a statement from May Jensen, the company’s vice president of partner resources.

“It is willfully and recklessly false to claim that Starbucks is anything other than a fully supportive ally of this community that makes up a significant part of our workforce,” she wrote. “We can have many different points of view about unions, but we should all have the same vision for how all people, including LGBTQIA2+ people, should be treated—with respect, support and allyship.”

Meanwhile, workers at other local Starbucks stores said they haven’t heard about any changes to the decoration policy. An employee at the location on 18th Street in the Castro, who asked to remain anonymous, noted there is a large rainbow flag hanging in the store. 

Affectionately nicknamed “BearBucks,” this store voted to unionize last August. It’s located in the heart of a historic LGBTQ neighborhood of San Francisco, where a massive rainbow flag flies year-round just around the corner.

A Starbucks is decorated with LGBTQ+ pride flags in Union Square in New York on June 24, 2020. | Noam Galai/Getty Images

A Starbucks on Market Street near Civic Center also has hung a large rainbow flag in a display of LGBTQ+ pride.

While Starbucks has affirmed its policy allowing heritage month displays in stores—decorations used to commemorate occasions such as Black History Month—Maldonado said the decision on Pride decor must rest within the managerial chain of command but noted managers receive their directives from corporate. 

“It feels like the company is prioritizing profits over morals and values—or maintaining a safe space for its workers,” she said.