Starbucks Pride: A long legacy of LGBT+ inclusion

Take a look back at more than three decades of LGBT+ support and advocacy at Starbucks.

Len Larsen remembers when he first saw a pink flyer in come through his store mail. It was 1996, and he was a store manager back when the company had just more than 1,000 stores.

“But we were starting to talk about 2,000 stores in the year 2000,” said Larsen, who is senior manager of Starbucks Business Ethics and Compliance at Starbucks Seattle headquarters.

The gathering was a small one, with 15 or so LGBT+ partners from the company’s headquarters and nearby stores at a bar in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. “Starbucks had always been very inclusive, but we realized that we needed to become more organized,” he said.

By the next year, they marched as a group for the first time in the Seattle Pride Parade and were helping rally partners to participate in AIDS walks and fundraisers. Regular social gatherings, nicknamed “Beers and Queers” sprang up, and they began to invite employees from LGBT+ groups at other companies like Boeing, Amazon and Microsoft.

The partner group, which officially became Starbucks Pride Alliance Network in 2007, has grown to include thousands of partners in chapters around the world. They have also become powerful advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, and hope to do more in the years ahead both inside and outside the company.

Looking back, Jeff Jones, current co-chair of the Starbucks Pride Alliance, is proud of the group’s efforts. “We help connect partners with something bigger,” he said. “And we hope to use our influence to make the company more inclusive.”  

Starbucks History of LGBTQ Inclusion


Teaming up with Born This Way Foundation

Starbucks and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation come together to help make the world a more compassionate and welcoming place for the LGBT+ community. During Pride Month (June 1-30), The Starbucks Foundation is matching donations to Born This Way, up to $250,000, to make a kinder, braver world.


New and current partners can now choose to self-identify with the company as LGBT+ – similar to other identifications, such as disability, refugee, veteran and military spouse. The option was the result of efforts by the Pride Alliance partner network to create another way to build upon the company’s commitment to the inclusion and diversity of all partners.

Advocating for Civil Rights Protection

Starbucks joined over 200 companies to file a joint amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of LGBT+ rights. The landmark briefing argues that existing federal civil rights law should protect LGTB+ people from discrimination in contexts ranging from employment to housing, healthcare and education. To file the brief the company worked with prominent civil rights groups the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, Out & Equal, Out Leadership, and Freedom for All Americans.

Starbucks also joined the Human Rights Campaign’s Business Coalition in support of the Equality Act, a bill that would protect LGBT+ people from discrimination in housing, the workplace, public accommodations, and other settings under federal law. The Equality Act has since passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.


20 years of Pride

Two decades after Starbucks partners marched in its first Pride Parade in Seattle, hundreds of Starbucks Pride Alliance partners, friends and family join Pride events in London (above) and around the world.

Expanded benefits for transgender partners

Starbucks broadens its health insurance options for transgender partners to not only include gender reassignment surgery (which had been covered since 2013), but also a host of procedures that were previously considered cosmetic, such as breast reduction or augmentation surgery, facial feminisation, hair transplants and more. “Starbucks is taking a stand and standing up for trans people and saying that our procedures aren’t just cosmetic – they are lifesaving. They’re affirming,” said Ron Crawford, vice president of benefits at Starbucks.


The Starbucks Foundation contributes $50,000 to the OneOrlando Fund to help people and families impacted by the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla.

Calling for equal treatment

Starbucks joins with more than 200 other business leaders to urge equal treatment for the LGBT+ community. Lucy Helm, then general counsel and now chief partner officer, shares a letter to partners underscoring Starbucks commitment to inclusion. “From our very earliest days, we have strived to create a company and culture that treats everyone – partners and customers alike – with respect and dignity,” Helm wrote. “We will continue to champion these values and to stand for our partners, our customers and our communities.”

A perfect score

Starbucks earns 100 out of 100 for the first time on the 2015 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), an initiative administered by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation on corporate policies and practices as a top employer for LGBTQ workplace equality.


Say my name

In order to help partners in self-identification, Starbucks updates its technology systems to ensure that documentation in stores reflect a partner’s “known as” name or nickname that is consistent with their gender identity or expression. This is an especially meaningful move for transgender partners, who now see their preferred name each time they log in for a shift.

Creating safe spaces

Seattle Police Department Safe Place program rolls out to Starbucks stores in Seattle, with special designation as secure places for victims of anti-LGBT+-related crimes and harassment. More than 2,000 store partners receive SPD Safe Place training and window clings identify the 100 participating company-owned stores in the greater Seattle area.


Marriage equality becomes the law of the land in the United States thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling. Earlier in the year, Starbucks had signed on to The People’s Brief in favor of the decision.


Starbucks flies the Pride flag atop its Seattle headquarters for the first time. “Given our public stance on diversity and inclusion of all people, particularly on this issue, it makes sense to raise the flag in celebration,” said Lucy Helm, then-general counsel who is now chief partner officer for Starbucks. “Being open, inclusive and forward-thinking is at the core of what Starbucks is about.”


A vocal statement

Starbucks chairman and chief executive officer Howard Schultz makes a vocal statement on diversity and equality during a spontaneous exchange at the 2013 Starbucks Annual Meeting of Shareholders. In response to a stockholder who voiced his view that the company had lost customers because of its support for marriage equality, Schultz said. “Not every decision is an economic decision. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people.”

Expanding transgender partner support

Starbucks supports transgender partners by adding coverage of gender reassignment surgery to the company’s health benefits.

Promoting marriage equality

Starbucks files an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act. The year before, the company had joined with other Pacific Northwest employers in supporting marriage equality legislation in Washington state.


Starbucks joins (RED)™ to help invest in AIDS programs in Africa through the Global Fund.


It’s official

Starbucks Pride partner affinity group officially becomes the Starbucks Pride Alliance Network.

A culture of belonging

Starbucks issues Workplace Gender Transition Guidelines to support partners who are transgender or considering transitioning to promote understanding of fair and equitable treatment of transgender and gender-diverse partners.


‘The Way I See It’

Starbucks includes a quote from author Armistead Maupin on its cups as part of its “The Way I See It” series, a collection of thoughts and expressions printed on the back of Starbucks cups to inspire conversation.


The Human Rights Campaign’s first Corporate Equality Index includes Starbucks in its national benchmarking tool on LGBT+ corporate policies and practices with a score of 86.


LGBT+ partners meet informally at Seattle area bars which eventually becomes Starbucks LGBT+ partner affinity group. The group goes on to become the Starbucks Pride Partner Network and grows to include thousands of partners around the world.


Starbucks creates a new healthcare policy for employees with terminal illnesses to bridge the gap between the time they can no longer work until they become eligible for government insurance. The policy was inspired by Jim Kerrigan, a longtime partner who found he was unable to work due to the advanced stages of AIDS. Kerrigan died a year later, but hundreds of partners would continue to march in his memory to support AIDS research and programs.


Starbucks offers full health benefits to eligible full- and part-time employees, including coverage for same-sex domestic partnerships.