Caribou Coffee's Removal of LGBT Painting Sparks Controversy

The Northbrook coffee shop removed a homecoming image painted by a high school club after receiving complaints. Its corporate office said the store should not have done so.

The Caribou window before the decoration was washed off. Photo courtesy Debby Shulman.
The Caribou window before the decoration was washed off. Photo courtesy Debby Shulman.

By Stan Golovchuk

It is a homecoming tradition in Northbrook: Glenbrook North student decorate storefront windows across town. The yearly tradition pairs student groups with various businesses, and the result is a colorful celebration of the school's relationship with its surrounding community. 

But this year, the tradition has sparked a controversy.

GBN's Gay-Straight Alliance was tasked with painting Caribou Coffee in downtown Northbrook. A few days after the cafe's window was painted, the decoration was removed.

"They're the only window in town that decided to wash their window," said Debby Shulman, a Northbrook mom and member of Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). 

Glenbrook North found out that the GSA's decoration had been removed when the cafe's manager left them a message saying he heard a couple complaints about the window and decided to erase the painting, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Caribou responds

A representative for Caribou Coffee’s corporate office issued the following statement on behalf of the company after Patch reached out for a comment:

It is a corporate-wide key pillar that we are accepting of all individuals regardless of age, gender, race or sexual orientation. It’s our hope that all of our guests feel welcome in our coffeehouses. 

Unfortunately, the actions undertaken by the Northbrook store team were not in alignment with our executional standards and policies; however, we take full responsibility of these actions. 

We completely understand your concerns and we are taking an immediate review of our policies and practices at the store level to ensure every customer has a welcoming and positive experience in our stores.

Caribou's district manager, Meike Fonteyn, told the Chicago Tribune the brand is "open to a lot of possibilities to resolving this but it has to be authentic, not just saying, 'I'm sorry.'"

Community reacts

District 225 spokesperson, Karen Geddeis says the school is disappointed by the circumstances. 

"We are proud of our safe and open environment at GBN, where students support and respect each others rights as individuals,” she wrote in an email.

Shulman wanted to make sure people in Northbrook knew what happened. "As a member of PFLAG, I think it's pretty critical to let the community know this is unacceptable," she said. 

On the Northbrook Patch Facebook page, Melissa Miller Morreale urges residents to "not purchase Caribou Coffee or visit their establishments. This is outrageous!

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Brett Johnson October 02, 2013 at 03:32 PM
It looks like everybody got what they wanted. GSA got the attention they craved and Caribou saved face. Caribou made a point of not firing the manager because they wanted to make sure any gay customers would still encounter his hostility face-to-face. Now the straight community can enjoy their coffee without the gays bothering them. What a bunch of faux outrage that turned out to be!
char miller October 04, 2013 at 09:13 PM
Don't fire any one, or boycott the coffee shop... they need additional sensitivity training... and the training needs to be addressed immediately... the Management obviously never received this specific training and the corporate office needs to send a memo to the entire company to make sure all comply. Simply
Gilbert R Albright Jr October 05, 2013 at 08:11 AM
Can't people understand that the removal of the painting was a business decision. The job of a store manager is to SELL STUFF for the company that hired him, and NOT OFFEND customers so they won't shop there. ANY kind of display by a store that draws complaints from customers because they are offended by it and would drive away customers would be taken down by any concerned store manager. Even if it were a photo of Paula Dean, a breast feeding mom or Muslims kneeling in prayer. It has nothing to do with hatred, bias or bigotry. It is all about running a successful business. Businesses what nothing to do with anything that is controversial, draws complaints and will hurt sales and ruin the stores reputation.
Chris Smith October 05, 2013 at 11:56 AM
A coffee shop that serves BLT's? Sounds like a great idea!
Ginger Naylor October 05, 2013 at 02:59 PM
A company store that boasts support for any specific group and claiming it as art-- religious, political, or personal -- is wrong. And in this case, the head corporation, PFLAG and LGBT groups are wrong for assuming the rest of the community want to see it. So I guess, the only solution is to ban painting the windows by the school groups from now on.
Tom Soriano October 05, 2013 at 04:01 PM
Once again, a small group of mental midgets forces its' will on the majority! If you don't like the window painting, don't look at it. The people standing next to or behind you may not have a problem with it. What makes your opinion any more important than theirs?
William T. Rogers October 05, 2013 at 05:48 PM
Well at least now everyone is safe. After all, someone might see the window and decide to become gay!! You know how it is with this LGBT Crap - they can't reproduce, so they have to recruit. After all, even Ellen said that on her show that time at the airport!
Scott Fourhman October 05, 2013 at 06:32 PM
what a bunch of fuss over nothing both sides make me sick who cares
Judi Cornfield October 06, 2013 at 01:46 PM
Why can't people just let everyone live and be happy. Geez!
Joe Mamma October 06, 2013 at 05:20 PM
To me, they are still better than Starbucks. First of all, Starbucks coffee tastes like burnt bitter campfire ashes that have been reconstituted in pond water, that is strike 1. Strike 2 is Starbucks chased away all legal conceal carry people and told them they are not wanted in their stores. And 3, who has $13 bucks to pay for a cup of coffee and a side snack! With those kind of prices, you would think you were at a baseball game!
RAJ (Bo) McMerritt October 07, 2013 at 07:44 AM
great move, don't get pushed around by Sodomites ever, its not a hate crime if you do not agree with them, its freedom of choice....
JON TOLBERT October 07, 2013 at 09:17 AM
We would not have shopped there as well if we saw this immoral support in this store.
TB Player October 07, 2013 at 10:30 AM
America is truly going thru a sad, Uber-Liberal phase right now. We are at a point where if something offends a Gay person, it is viewed as bad, but if something offends a Heterosexual person, it is fine, as long as it promote the Gay Agenda. Seriously? What ever happened to Equality..? You know, the issue that Gays are always complaining about? Equality does NOT mean Sameness. We live in a Majority Rules Republic.
Jessica October 07, 2013 at 11:46 AM
char miller Sensitivity Training really, how about training that some coffee purchasers are religious people and do not agree with the gay life style? Should gay people also be given sensitivity training that dancing in parades with assless pants in front of little kids might be insensitive to parents and children? It is a business let them chose.
joe brewer October 07, 2013 at 01:31 PM
Instead of a coffee bean picture how about a Mexican jumping bean picture. Is that to many beans to be pc? 3.5% of people in the USA say they are gay but from the stink they raise you would think it's 35%. Too much ado about so-called implied slights (oh no) about gay people!
Igor October 07, 2013 at 07:13 PM
I don't care what people do. it's their life. I do object it being forced down my throat. I am straight but I don't go running down the street waving my hands and yelling "I'm straight, I'm straight. If you're gay, great for you. Have a good life, just stop slapping people in the face with it.
Crystal Cason October 07, 2013 at 07:44 PM
If there was a coffee shop that catered strictly to the LGBT community, then I could see them pushing their agenda in their shop windows. But this coffee shop serves everyone, and 97% of their customer base is straight. They're the ones who pay the bills.
mommatocharlie October 08, 2013 at 09:12 AM
If Caribou Coffee is truly not wanting to offend ANY of their customers, they will listen to their straight customers as well as their gay customers. The manager was right.
Michael Broussard October 08, 2013 at 09:51 AM
I am amazed at the gay outcry tone of a lot of these posts (for and against), given that the art was created by the school's Gay-Straight Alliance, a group that promotes acceptance, not gayness, and probably has more straight members than gay ones. I feel most sorry for the coffee store manager who had to grapple with how best to juggle his perceived duty to the school, his customers, and his company; I'm sure he made the best decision he could given the circumstances. And kudos to Caribou for all of their inclusionary corporate policies.
Tony November 03, 2013 at 07:32 AM
Reflecting back this is symbolic of the American sheer will to survive harsh challenges that would destroy most other people. Most of Northbrook streets are empty these days as most people are in government funded sensitivity training or boycotting stores. What silliness by all. Reality is that life continues as before the Caribou caper became an issue and a forgotten event except for the handful of "miserables" on both sides that aren't happy unless they are center stage ... Really? All this hoopla over some high school kids painting a window with non pornographic art representing a controversial issue that had to be taken down. The mssg you sent these well intentioned kids....Shame on those threatening to boycott and those finding it offensive. Too many Miserable people !


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