(Photo by MatthewHoobin, from Wikimedia Commons)
ORLANDO | The founders of Peer Support Space are looking for answers after they were told by a Publix bakery that they could not write “Trans People Deserve Joy” on a cake because of a corporate policy.
The incident occurred on April 26 at the Publix at Colonialtown, located at 1500 E. Colonial Dr. in Orlando. Peer Support Space founders Yasmin Flasterstein and Dandelion Hill were purchasing a sheet cake for an event that evening that would focus on spreading love and support to the transgender community.
“The event was specifically to celebrate the trans community,” Flasterstein says. “We weren’t talking about specific legislation.”
When they put in the order for the cake, they asked for the phrase “Trans People Deserve Joy” to be written in icing on the cake.
“Yasmin and I deliberated a lot about what to write, but we felt this was the most simple, pure, and true declaration we could make and wanted to bring it as a sweet little token to our friends at the Trans Joy Event,” Hill said in an email to Watermark. “When we asked them to write it, I was so nervous because I have faced a lot of hostility in my neighborhood for being Queer & Trans.”
Hill goes on to say that when the person at the counter walked away, they knew ordering the cake was going to be an issue. Flasterstein walked away from the counter and Hill said that after about five minutes, the Publix employee returned.
“They came back and looked me — a Trans Non-binary person — dead in the eyes and told me they aren’t allow to write that, that they aren’t allowed to take a stance on those types of issues at Publix,” Hill said. “It was really gut wrenching to be told that my joy and that of my siblings is controversial. How can such a pure statement be divisive?”
Flasterstein returned, saw Hill was tearful and asked what happened.
“I went and asked to speak with the bakery manager, and I asked calmly and politely ‘Just to be clear, you’re not able to write ‘Trans People Deserve Joy’ because writing that is taking a stance on something?’,” Flasterstein says. “The manager said that is correct and told me that they could write ‘People Deserve Joy’ and leave room at the top.”
Flasterstein adds that the manager stated it was a policy from corporate and that it was out of their hands. Flasterstein had Publix write “People Deserve Joy” on the cake, leaving space at the top, and asked for extra icing. In the parking lot of Publix, Flasterstein wrote the word “Trans” on top of the cake herself.
“It was a beautiful event so I didn’t want to ruin it by talking about it then,” Flasterstein says. “So I waited a few days before posting anything but I was extremely disappointed that Publix would do this. I don’t think it is a neutral stance to refuse to write something like ‘Trans People Deserve Joy’ on a cake. I find it telling that writing ‘People Deserve Joy’ on a cake is not taking a stance but writing ‘Trans People Deserve Joy’ is.”
Six days later, Flasterstein took to her Facebook page and posted up what happened, along with photos of her finishing the cake decoration in the Publix parking lot.
Many people commented on their displeasure at what happened, as well as Publix themselves. A comment from the supermarket chain asked Flasterstein to send them a private message.
Watermark reached out to Publix asking for its official policy on cake decorating and to provide comment or an update on the situation that occurred. As of press time, we had not heard back.
Flasterstein however did reach out and shared her updates with Watermark. In an email sent by its public affairs office, Publix offered “sincere apologies” and stated “We are often asked to create specialty cakes with free-hand designs. Our policy indicates that our associates may write statements that are not copyrighted or trademarked, support a charitable cause, are factual and considered to have a positive connotation. As we indicated in our Facebook conversation, our associates should have fulfilled your request.”
In response, Flasterstein sent a letter on behalf of Peer Support Space, stating in part “Ironically, this Publix is nicknamed ‘Gay Publix’ as it’s in the heart of Orlando’s LGBTQ+ community. Many patrons are LGBTQ+, like ourselves. The bakery manager would not be swayed, though. She reiterated that writing on the cake what we had requested could be interpreted as Publix taking a stance on ‘the issue.’ She agreed to give us some icing so that we could do it ourselves. We appreciate the gesture, but it falls way short.”
The letter than asks Publix to “address a few questions [the bakery manager] was unable to.” The letter than asks:
-What “issue” are you referring to? It seems to us that trans people, like all human beings, are worthy of joy. What, in your views, makes them not worthy of the very human need of experiencing joy?
-What is the policy for cake writing? What is deemed appropriate or inappropriate?
-As a corporate citizen, Publix says in its website to be committed to diversity. Where does the LGBTQ+ community fit within your diversity culture?
-Is Publix in agreement with the actions of this associate? If not, what will you do to keep this from happening again?
“I’d like to highlight that this associate seemed to be genuinely convinced that she would lose her job if she accommodated our request,” the letter concludes. “We do NOT wish to get her in trouble, but we demand that you do better.”