Starbucks CEO and president Howard Schultz has made another big gesture of support towards the LGBT community: to celebrate Gay Pride Month, a rainbow flag measuring eight hundred square feet is flying over the company’s world headquarters in Seattle, Washington.
According to a company press release, the idea came not from Schultz, but from Starbucks partner Anthony Hesseltine. When he saw the Seattle Seahawks flag flying over the building, he said, “It was such a surprise and it was so fun to see support for our hometown team. Then I thought, what if?”
When he brought up the idea of flying a Pride flag months later, “There was no resistance,” he said. “It was more difficult for me to find and purchase the flag than it was to get people in the building to support the idea of flying the Pride flag.”
Fortunately, as the press release notes, “as a sourcing manager for Starbucks supplier diversity program,” Hesseltine has connections. He was able to custom-order the flag, which is thirty-eight feet wide and nineteen feet high, from a manufacturer in Madison, Wisconsin.
He said, “I love it when a plan comes together. Since Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to pass non-discrimination laws, that was the icing on the cake for this project.”
He added, “Not everyone will approve of Starbucks flying the Pride flag. I don’t wish any harm by having the flag fly, but I do want people to reflect. The whole message is about diversity and accepting people for their differences. If you think about a rainbow, no one color is dominant. It’s a harmonization of different colors, each color contributing to the whole.”
A sales representative for Starbucks Branded Solutions, Melissa Nussbaum, said that the support of people like Schultz gave her more than just job security. “Being a partner at Starbucks gave me the courage to tell my family that I’m a lesbian.” After growing up in a small Washington town, she didn’t have that courage until 2008. She said, “Because Starbucks embraces diversity, and being gay is really a non-issue, I gained the confidence to be who I am.”
The press release also notes that Starbucks’ most well-known statement in favor of LGBT equality was spontaneous.
At the Starbucks 2013 Annual Meeting of Shareholders, a stockholder objected to the company’s support for marriage equality. Referring to the National Organization for Marriage’s boycott of the chain, he said, “In the first full quarter after this boycott was announced, our sales and our earnings—shall we say politely—were a bit disappointing.”
Schultz replied, “Not every decision is an economic decision.
“Despite the fact that you recite statistics that are narrow in time, we did provide a 38 percent shareholder return over the last year. I don’t know how many things you invest in, but I would suspect not many things, companies, products, investments have returned 38 percent over the last 12 months. Having said that, it is not an economic decision to me. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people. We employ over 200,000 people in this company, and we want to embrace diversity of all kinds.”
He was interrupted by applause by others present at the meeting, but soon continued, “If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38% you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.”