Starbucks Banned Pride Decorations & Changed Union Healthcare Policy In The Latest Example Of Corporate Rainbow-Washing

Starbucks is the latest company to deny tangible support to the LGBTQ+ community.

lgbtqia flag in starbucks cup Manu Padilla via Shutterstock / Juan Roballo via Canva

On June 13, 2023, Starbucks Workers United announced that multiple Starbucks stores across the United States have banned Pride decorations, despite the corporation’s hollow claim that they are an LGBTQ+ ally. In addition to removing decorations displayed for Pride month, Starbucks has apparently also changed their union healthcare policy in ways that denies care to transgender people.

Starbucks banning pride decorations and changing the union healthcare policy is a clear example of corporate rainbow-washing.

Rainbow-washing occurs when companies use rainbow imagery in their logos, advertising, and merchandise to signal support for the queer community. It’s essentially a marketing tactic — one that’s utilized in time for Pride celebrations only to disappear the moment June turns to July.


An article from Wired Magazine in 2018 described rainbow-washing as something that “allows people, governments, and corporations that don’t do tangible work to support LGBTQ+ communities at any other time during the year to slap a rainbow on top of something in the month of June and call it allyship.”


Rainbow-washing is an empty gesture of allyship, a way for corporations to appear as though they stand with the queer community while valuing profit over community. Starbucks is claiming queer allyship in name only. The harmful reality of their actions proves that they represent the exact opposite.

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Starbucks Workers United published a tweet documenting employees’ actual experiences in the locations where they work. One employee’s account explained that their manager said “we can't decorate for Pride month because it’s ‘not inclusive.’” 


Another employee reported that “according to the district manager, the decor must be removed because ‘it’s not welcoming for everyone.’ Starbucks wants to welcome bigots into their spaces, while also exploiting queer workers and forcing them to serve those who would strip them of basic human rights. Starbucks has yet again shown their true colors; profits from bigots over people.”

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Starbucks denies making changes to store policy, despite employees’ accounts of being forced to remove Pride decorations from stores.

Andrew Tull, a spokesperson for Starbucks, issued a statement to The New Republic, claiming, “We unwaveringly support the LGBTQIA2+ community.” 

“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 US Pride month in June,” the statement continued. Trull also reported that Starbucks was “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.”

In addition to banning Pride decorations, Starbucks enacted changes to their healthcare policy, stripping various trans workers of their provided benefits package.

Starbucks Workers United 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.”


A petition titled “Let Starbucks Partners Decorate For Pride” makes the point that Pride decorations are not only valuable but necessary, stating, “in a time where LGBT+ rights, transgender rights especially, are under attack, it's important that both customers and partners feel supported and welcomed.” 


“Why is the company backing away from supporting its LGBT partners?” The petition asks. Starbucks has yet to answer.

Corporations like Starbucks, Target, and Anheuser-Busch have unparalleled levels of financial and cultural influence. These companies have made an active, calculated choice to turn their backs on the queer community at a time when our lives are in danger. We need authentic allyship now more than ever, and Starbucks has shown exactly where its allegiance lies. 

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Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers celebrity gossip, pop culture analysis and all things to do with the entertainment industry.