Starbucks Pride: Meet Devon (he/they), a store manager helping to create safe environments for trans partners and customers
Growing up, Devon knew he didn’t fit into his assigned gender, so as a teenager, using public washrooms in his city was difficult to navigate. A friend told him that if he needed a washroom to look for a Starbucks because their washrooms were open, safe, and gender neutral. It was the only place he knew he could use the washroom in peace.
As an adult, Devon joined the company as a barista, and eight years later, he is still at Starbucks, now a store manager, and helping to create a sense of warmth, belonging and safety for trans partners and customers.
Devon transitioned during his time at Starbucks and describes it as a steady series of steps rather than a big event.
“I gradually changed my name, my pronouns, and it was never a secret that I had been saving up for chest surgery for years. My whole life I'd presented as male as I possibly could. I mark starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as my 'transition'. This is the point where I physically started to change in ways that were obvious to anyone looking, and I dropped my tolerance for being addressed with female pronouns.”
Devon made the decision to share the news of his transition with his team at a store meeting not long after starting HRT.
“I knew my team was amazing, and we already had trans people on staff. It wasn't going to be a surprise to anyone, but even going into a best-case scenario it still made me pretty nervous. The build up to putting myself out there was much worse than actually coming out.”
When Devon talked to his team about his transition, he had a twofold goal in mind. First, as a trans person, he wanted to be supported in ways that were meaningful to him, and second, as a leader, he wanted his team to be clear on what they could talk about and where they should set boundaries, not only for his benefit, but for the benefit of all trans partners.
“To me, this is how we were all going to be most comfortable. I let my partners know explicitly that they are welcome to disclose my transition to customers who are curious. They can correct my pronouns, especially with regulars, but did not need to take it upon themselves to correct every passing customer who just didn't know better. We also talked about when to end conversations.”
Devon believes that with more visibility comes more understanding, and he has chosen to be to open about his transition to help create safe and welcoming spaces for other trans people.
“I am very fortunate to have a life that allows me to be open about being a transgender person safely. That is still a luxury not afforded to many trans people. If I can make a choice to be visible, and that helps change even one person’s perspective on trans people for the better, I'm going to do it.”
Transphobia is still an everyday reality for many trans people, and there is much work to be done towards acceptance. One thing that has been helpful in supporting partners manage these encounters is Starbucks Third Place Policy, which was introduced in 2018. Displayed in Starbucks stores across the country, the Starbucks Third Place Policy, is a set of clear principles that every person in the store will use the space as intended and communicate with respect and empowers partners to stand up against inappropriate behaviour.
““The Third Place Policy been big for partners because this is how we set boundaries and expectations. It gives autonomy to each barista to say no, this is not respectful behaviour, I need you to stop before we continue this transaction.”
Devon believes that Starbucks has laid a groundwork for creating safe environments for trans people, including respecting pronouns and gender identities explicitly in policies, resource pages with information by province, including trans scenarios in harassment training, the availability of branded pronoun pins, and Partner Networks to educate and celebrate LBGTQIA2+ identities. However, he adds that these things only make a difference if every leader applies and upholds them as standards on their team.
As someone who was unwilling to compromise on his identity, having a safe workplace where he is not at a disadvantage because of his gender expression and as a trans person was incredibly important, and he strives to create the same experience for others. Devon’s advice for leaders is to lean into uncomfortable conversations in team environments and to model behaviours of acceptance.
“When you are part of any marginalized group you are constantly assessing the environment around you for indications of safety and acceptance. Inappropriate jokes, turn of phrase, slang, can all be indicators of a less safe environment, and as a leader anything you don't call out, you endorse.”
He also wants leaders of trans partners to know that support can look different for every person, and being collaborative with the person will typically lend the best results. Education and awareness are so critical.
Devon’s first experience with Starbucks, using its gender neutral washrooms as a teenager, highlighted to him that Starbucks was more than just a coffee shop, and throughout his eight years at the company, he can now say that people in our communities come for coffee, washrooms, water, warmth, human connection and so much more.