Earlier this week, Missy Alison took to her family blog and wrote an open letter to Starbucks’ corporate offices about a discriminatory incident she witnessed toward a gay employee at its Centereach location.
As she and her 3-year-old daughter sat at a table, writes Alison, three employees, one of which appeared to be a manager or human resources representative, verbally attacked a homosexual coworker.
“Yesterday when I walked into your Centereach, Long Island location I saw one of the most brazen and unapologetic displays of homophobia I have ever witnessed in my entire life,” reads the June 13 post on her Lil Family Blog. “I have never, in my entire life seen such a gross and unapologetic display of ignorance and intolerance.
“The most horrific aspect of it was that it was by someone that your cooperation into a position of power,” she continues. “I have never, ever in ANY context seen ANYTHING so unprofessional in my entire life. I was horrified that my daughter was exposed to that.”
Alison told Starbucks and readers the incident lasted between 15 and 20 minutes and that the sexuality of the employee—who she identified only as Jeffrey to protect his privacy—was blatantly discussed in front of other employees and customers.
“She told him that they were not interested in his politics or beliefs and his thoughts were down right offensive to his coworkers,” she writes, adding that the female “manager” stated Jeffrey’s beliefs were not welcome at Starbucks.
Though Jeffrey was never fired, Alison explains, it was implied that he was not welcome at the establishment. Jeffrey, she writes, held back his tears until he was in the privacy of the bathroom, and then walked outside the store. Alison followed and gave him a hug.
Most disturbing to Alison was her belief that Jeffrey’s chastisement had nothing to do with his performance as an employee at all, but rather, she writes—because of his sexual orientation.
“The focus of their discussion then when he left the table was not about an incident that occurred in the previous days,” she writes. “It was about how they were intolerant to his lifestyle, nobody wanted to hear about the fact that he was gay, they didn’t want to be exposed to that. The focus was not about his poor performance as an employee but their intolerance towards him as a person. I sat at there at my table with the impression that, this man, this Starbucks employee, was losing his job because he was gay.”
The response to her post was dramatic and immediate. Alison’s detailing of Jeffrey’s plight was shared across social media sites Facebook, Twitter and other blogs. Media outlets across the country and even in Canada picked up the story. In less than 30 hours since Alison’s initial post, it garnered more than 200 comments and more than 15,000 views, according to a June 14 update on Alison’s blog.
The same day, Starbucks Executive VP of Partner Resources Kalen Holmes posted a statement on the company’s own blog, titled “Our Dedication To Embrace Diversity,” and linking to Alison’s original post regarding her observations.
“We are disheartened by the allegations reported in an East Coast Starbucks store and are taking immediate measures to investigate and take any steps necessary to make this right,” writes Holmes. “The actions reported do not correspond with our values, who we are as a company or the beliefs we try to instill in our partners.
“Starbucks has supported the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] community for many years, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind,” she continues. “We have one of the largest Employer Resource Groups for LGBT employees in the United States helping to raise awareness about issues in the communities in which we live and work.”
Jeffrey also wrote a letter to Alison’s blog thanking her and all those who’ve supported him: “Missy consoled me outside of the Starbucks location in Centereach, Long Island on Sunday afternoon just as she described… Thank you all for your supportive letters and encouragement.”
Holmes responded to inquiries regarding the specifics of any disciplinary actions taken as a result of the incident with the following: “As this is a personnel matter, it is our policy not to provide such details regarding those steps.”
David Kilmnick, CEO of the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY) Community Center who is a customer of the Starbucks location in question, tells the Press he is upset by the allegations.
“From what I hear, it sounds like an extremely disturbing incident that would make customers and employees and not feel safe,” he says. “Discrimination has no place in our society. If people think they can say what they want without repercussions, they’re sadly mistaken if these allegations are true.”
Missy’s wife, Dana, tells the Press via e-mail that she and her family are pleased with the attention the incident has gotten and the role they have played in spreading the word.
“Awareness is the first step to change,” she writes. “Hopefully people everywhere will see the hurt and disgrace this has caused and think twice. Thanks to the glory of the Internet, people are accountable for their actions. This was an act of bullying and a courageous woman who took a stand.”
Jeffrey, through the Alisons, declined to be interviewed for this story.