The so-called National Organisation for Marriage (NOM), an anti-gay activist group based in the United States, has declared war on Starbucks for supporting a gay marriage bill in its home state of Washington. When support for its “Dump Starbucks” campaign proved to be all too disappointing, the group decided to expand the boycott to countries that it thought would support its anti-gay message — namely Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Turkey and those in the Middle East, and China.
Explaining the rationale behind the boycott, NOM president Brian Brown wrote in a statement, “By making gay marriage core to his brand, Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz is telling millions of customers and partners who support traditional marriage in the Middle East, China, South America and North America that they aren’t truly part of the Starbucks community.”
“In our first week, we gained 25,000 pledge signers in the U.S. alone; today we go international, expanding DumpStarbucks.com campaigns into Mandarin, Arabic, Turkish, Spanish, and Bahala (one of the chief languages of Indonesia),” announced NOM President Brian Brown. “DumpStarbucks.com online ads will also start running in Egypt, Beijing, Hong Kong, the Yunnan region of China, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.”
It is not immediately clear why Yunnan was selected as a target region for the campaign ahead of other metropolitan regions like Shanghai and Guangzhou. Christian right-wing groups, however, have long been active in the province. In 2010, Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group raised eyebrows when Yunnan’s Education Bureau instructed schools and universities in the province to teach its abstinence-only education programme.
Despite its well-oiled campaign machines and deep pockets (NOM’s annual budget runs into the millions), global support for the campaign has been dismal. Starbucks did not detect a decrease in sales, and its stock has even risen since NOM kicked off with its boycott.
At press time, 32,239 people signed up in support of NOM’s boycott, but a counter-petition by online activism site Sum of Us to “Thank Starbucks” registered 646,669 supporters, or approximately 20 times as many signatures.
Dozens of otherwise disparate LGBT groups across China have used the opportunity as another excuse to come together. Organisers of the “Support Starbucks” campaign praised the coffee giant for its leadership in the area of corporate social responsibility, saying Chinese companies had a lot to learn from it.
Outspoken sociologist and sexologist Li Yinhe said in a message posted on her blog that NOM was wrong to think its message would resonate in China.
“There is a huge difference between China and the West when it comes to societal attitudes towards homosexuality,” she added. “Homosexuals in China have never experienced the sort of persecution as their counterparts in the West (who were even given the death sentence throughout the Middle Ages). That relative openness we see in history has brought itself to bear on attitudes towards modern gay rights, and acceptance of homosexuality among the Chinese public has been steadily going upwards.”
John Culver, president of Starbucks China and Asia Pacific, said at the recent Boao Forum that China was on track to be the company’s second largest market outside of the United States by 2014. In addition, the company was confident it would triple its number of China outlets to 1,500 by 2015.
More news on gay China here.
Watch Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz win applause for the way he addresses questions by NOM representatives at a shareholder’s meeting: