A Starbucks Boycott Backfires
How an Anti-Gay Group Made Coffee Lovers of Us All
After confronting Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at last week's annual Starbucks shareholders' meeting, a furious National Organization for Marriage (NOM) announced an international boycott against the coffee company because "purchasing a cup of Starbucks equals support for gay marriage."
But so far, "We're not seeing any impact," says Starbucks spokesman Zack Hutson. If anything, NOM's attack has endeared Starbucks to the public and sends a message to Fortune 500 companies that defending gay rights is safe political ground.
The clash began during the question-and-answer period at the shareholder meeting, which was held at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, when NOM's Jonathan Baker scorned the company's "controversial" position to uphold marriage equality on the fall ballot in Washington State.
"I would assure you that the senior team of Starbucks discussed this, and it was, to be candid with you, not something that was a difficult decision for us," Schultz said to a burst of applause from the stock-holding crowd. "We made that decision in our view through the lens of humanity and being the kind of company that embraces diversity."
When pressed by another NOM spokesman whether it is "prudent to risk the economic interest" of the company to support gay marriage, Schultz remained unfazed. He explained that Starbucks employs 200,000 people—with the obvious subtext that the number includes lots of gay people.
NOM, of course, was outraged.
Within hours, the group launched a "Dump Starbucks" campaign—which featured more than a dozen blog posts, the promise of ads around the world, and an online petition at www.dumpstarbucks.com.
One problem, though.
Not only is Starbucks unaffected, but as of March 27, NOM had reported barely 22,000 signatures on its petition. That's a drop in the coffee cup compared to marriage-equality advocates. Just one of several groups who began counter-organizing, www.sumofus.org, collected names for a "thank you card to Starbucks for standing up for gay rights." That petition, as of March 27, had a staggering 281,000 signatures—more than 10 times NOM's.
Those trying to uphold marriage equality are, well, chugging coffee.
"There has been an incredible Facebook campaign of photos of people drinking coffee at Starbucks," says Equal Rights Washington's Josh Friedes. "In some ways, NOM did our work for us. They are highlighting the fact that major corporations based in Washington State are supporting marriage equality and that an out-of-state, anti-gay organization is spearheading the movement to derail it."
Also, Friedes noted: "NOM for years has been so feared for having been so strategic. Now for the first time they appear to be flailing because the proposed boycott of Starbucks was incredibly poorly conceived."
NOM didn't respond to a request for comment.