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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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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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