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  • Writer's pictureMadeline Kim

Starbucks holiday cup invokes LGBTQ debate

Updated: May 11, 2022

Art by guest Staff Artist


'Tis the season for holiday lights, gingerbread cookies, gift-giving... and controversies surrounding disposable cups at Starbucks. As it has since 2015, Starbucks finds itself caught in another cup controversy.


This year, Starbucks' campaign video features two girls. Many have interpreted the two girls as a lesbian couple, and many have noticed that the couple's hands are featured on this year's cup. Although when asked by Buzzfeed if the hands belonged to a lesbian couple, Starbucks did not give a straight answer and instead told consumers to interpret the cup — especially the hands — however they wish.


Prominent conservative commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted, "why can't [Starbucks] just make an apolitical cup," confirming that he believes sexuality is inherently political. He is in great company, considering the thousands of likes and supportive retweets.


War on Christmas aside, the fact that the association with the LGBTQ community has met such a response is disheartening. Had it been a man and a woman in the video and on the cup, people would assume the pair was a couple simply enjoying a hot beverage. However, because the pair has been interpreted as a lesbian couple, it has opened up a whole Pandora's box of criticism. Regardless, even if it were intended for the pair to be a romantic couple, the love that comes with the holidays, not the gender of those in love, should be the focal point.


Looking back at Starbucks' Christmas cups in years past, one can easily see that there is nothing inherently related to Christmas. Even before the controversial plain red cup that had everybody talking in 2015, holiday lights, ornaments, and snowflakes adorned the festive red cups. There were no Wise Men on their camels or Stars of Bethlehems printed on the cups, yet nobody announced Starbucks as a contender in the War on Christmas. However, the minimalistic design of the plain red cup seemed to spark the beginning of a now annual trend. In 2016, the green cup, which was faced with more controversy yet again for not directly displaying Christmasy illustrations.


Now, Starbucks has released a new cup that features a white heart framed by two hands. The white heart allows space for customers to place someone who is important in their lives. Starbucks claims that they intended to release two cups, but the second cup was not released until Nov. 26. Thus far, Starbucks has successfully avoided criticism for their new cup design.


Even after finding itself in the center of controversy, Starbucks is still dominating the coffee industry and enjoying growth over the years. Sure, Starbucks may lose a handful of consumers, but it has enough customers who will happily stand in line to get their festive beverages and be glad that the lines have gotten shorter for the holidays.


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