040. Love

tldr: on coffee, cafes, and communities

“Love God. Love People. Love Coffee.”- Kuppa Joy

Every year, there is an event called ENS: Expression Not Suppression– a one day conference on gender, sexuality, and LGBTQ+ topics in general. It is like a local queer comic con for kids in the area. The one year I taught a session (on gender and sexuality as a spectrum), this event was held at Fresno High School. Across the street is one of my favorite coffee shops Kuppa Joy; and so, the morning of ENS, I grabbed a cup of coffee there and just waited. It was actually very meditative. Then I saw everyone looking out the window towards the banner for ENS, and all I could think was “I hope nothing bad happens today,” sitting in a Christian coffee shop, across from a queer event for local youth.

1. Love God

It isn’t a secret that Kuppa Joy (KJ) is Christian, with drinks called “Hallelujah” and “Amazing Grace”, and religious imagery everywhere:

Grand Cafe - Kuppa Joy
“Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and is, and is to come.”- Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!, and this sign at Kuppa Joy

Growing up queer in a conservative town like Fresno, I was constantly wondering if this place was homophobic. But, I quickly grew past that for the convenience. KJ is a 5 minute walk away from my high school, and, to be frank, I have never been treated any differently there for my beliefs (and lack thereof) or my sexuality. I just ignored the Christian part of the store’s identity, and instead focused on the good coffee.

Kuppa just lived in this grey area of moral ambiguity: should I be supportive of this place that may not support me/people like me? Do I need to worry about looking too queer to go in? Questions about Kuppa Joy’s ideology only grew over the pandemic.

The first thing I did when I got home May 28th (or rather, the first thing I did the next day), was get drinks from Kuppa Joy [and the Revue, of course]. I talked with one of the baristas about COVID stuff. They said (roughly) “It is really difficult to tell customers to keep their mask on– especially with the mask mandate ending on June 15th”. I get this, to some extent. They work in an industry where you cannot wear a mask to enjoy the product. But then you look at the other businesses in the area: Ampersand, the Revue, Quesadilla Gorilla– all of which don’t have indoor seating and require masks when interacting with their employees. [At least this was the case before June 15th.] Meanwhile, KJ has had indoor seating, without masks, for at least two months before the mandate ended (according to a friend of mine who stopped going to the Revue and started going to Kuppa Joy for the air conditioning).

So what is the difference? Is it the community as a whole? Or the expectations of the business? Or, the expectations of Kuppa Joy’s demographic?

Every now and then, KJ posts an Employee Highlight on their Instagram. Roughly two weeks ago, one of these posts gained traction, as it included the employee’s pronouns (they/them), as well as various things they enjoyed (like astrology). This post, simply put, received a lot of hateful comments. So, Kuppa Joy rightfully took it down, and posted a follow up to this, to help the “lack of clarity about what Kuppa believes.”

This is where I feel the most frustration, both from the coffeeshop, and internally. The frustration with Kuppa Joy comes from an amalgamation of their actions:
1. Taking down the post. This step I get the most. Some people on Facebook and Instagram were getting very angry that KJ took down the post when they had already taken down the hateful comments. But, who knows what this person was going through in person, not just on social media. Everyone should feel safe at their place of work, and I imagine (or rather, hope) that KJ talked to the employee first.
2. Their new post’s caption. This caption feels perfectly vague enough to frustrate both LGBTQ+ people (and allies) and homophobic people:

“To our beloved customers and our beloved staff:
Our goal with the weekly Employee Highlight post has always been to celebrate one of our wonderful team members, and to bring the community closer together around the mission of Kuppa Joy. This week we failed in that goal not only with a lack of clarity about what Kuppa believes in the initial post, but also with our subsequent decisions to restrict and remove the post. Our motives in the first instance were to bless someone that God loves, and our motives in the second instance were to protect that same person. Our deepest apologies to anyone who felt manipulated in either circumstance; that was the farthest thing from our intention.
As a company we stand for the intersection of love between God and His people, and have tackled the balance of Grace and Truth often. We believe it takes both sides of that equation to honor God and welcome all those that He loves, no matter what part of their journey they are in. We affirm the truth of God’s standards, holiness, and plan. We also affirm the patient and gracious way that he has saved us. This tension is the heart of the gospel.
We are so grateful to have a staff and community that can see our heart past flawed execution. We are honored to host your connections with each other, as we pursue growth in the way we honor the Almighty God and extend love to all.”

For me, this still lacks clarity, as the comments of this post are filled with people continuing to bash on the employee and other queer people. Comments along the lines of “As a Christian it is my duty to tell you that being queer is sinful”, and misgendering the employee (none of which have been addressed by KJ). So the question remains: Is KJ actually LGBTQ+ friendly? Or are they simply trying to cover up the fact that they had ever tried to be openly supportive?

As for the frustration I feel towards myself,

2. Love People

Sometimes I wish that I could just be the shell of a person. Just existing, without identity or want or need. Content with everything and anything however it is, every second of every day of my hypothetical monotonous existence. Okay, maybe a bit extreme, but I certainly feel this with some aspects of my identity. Most of the aspects I wish I didn’t need to want to change deal with labels. Disabled, Lesbian, Transgender, Low Income, First Generation, etc.. I wonder what life would be like if I never had to worry about these labels, but having these labels to begin with makes things that much more interesting. I get to feel passionate about issues that I will likely never fix, but that relate to myself and many other people.

For my high school career (or at least, the years I was drinking coffee), I saw Kuppa Joy as an empty shell. Devoid of politics and religion– just a place with coffee and people. A place that loved people and coffee, and just happened to love God. This allowed me the ability to escape my identity and find comfort in iced Almond Joys and cute stickers.

However, KJ doesn’t get this same luxury– the ability to escape the nuances of identity. In many ways (such as I do), they embrace these nuances, finding support with Christians who have their same religious beliefs. But with this support comes the disapproval of many in Fresno (based on religion or otherwise), and the support of many fringe groups (such as those who think talking about gender or sexual orientation at all is sinful).

Surface level, I always knew that this was true to some extent. A friend of mine cut out the G and the D on the Kuppa Joy Sticker and rearranged them, making it spell “Love Dog, Love People, Love Coffee”. Another has parents who refuse to drive them to the store at all. But the latter group of community members who take time out of their day to misgender both the employee and other commenters, and think it is their God-given quest to point out sinful (queer) behavior left and right, I hadn’t encountered before. This could be due to the fact that the shop I go to is in Tower– a part of my town that is (more often than not) pretty liberal.

Tower is where almost anything LGBTQ+ happens: the pride parades, a queer movie festival called Reel Pride, two gay bars, etc.. Tower was the first place I grew into my identity. Yet lately, it has been interesting/disheartening to feel things change. In the past year, a church has been in the process of buying the historic Tower Theater, the Proud Boys showed up in support of the church, and now silent protests happen every Sunday across the street with two cop cars and a barricade (for Us or for Them, who can really say).

Things are changing, and I wish it wasn’t an Us or Them situation. I tried not to think about which side KJ was on. But as things continue to heat up and polarize, it comes down to the question: do you love people? Their actions, or lack thereof, makes an answer to this question unclear.

3. Love Coffee

When I went to Cambridge, it felt like my world got smaller. I remember the sudden shock of buildings with “MIT” written on them when my fall roommates and I drove onto campus. Fun fact: when the total population of MIT’s undergraduate student body is nearly 5 times less than that of your local college, the campus doesn’t need to be nearly as big. This, coupled with essentially being alone in a dorm room all semester (due to COVID, to be clear), made me feel smaller. I hadn’t truly felt this way since middle school, when my life was home, school, home, rinse, and repeat. What made middle school so fundamentally different from high school for me was connecting with places and people in my community. So, I tried what worked before, and in my one hour of exercise, got coffee at 1369 Coffee House on Mass Ave.

After an entire semester of 1369, Caffe Nero, and Flour, I couldn’t tell you what an Almond Joy tasted like anymore. I also, however, couldn’t tell you what it felt like to use a coffee house to escape my identity, as I only took my coffee to go. I became more comfortable with my identity; there was never a moment where I had to deal with the aforementioned moral ambiguity.

Trying to decide if I should continue to support Kuppa Joy is difficult, and I am frustrated with myself because it shouldn’t be. Yes, I love KJ’s coffee, and baristas, and cookies (oh my god the cookies). There is a reason why “Love Coffee” comes third. For me, loving people comes first, and I shouldn’t support a store that doesn’t believe this (even if it is in their motto).

What Kuppa Joy did with their posts isn’t something new– it happens all the time. Bigger businesses can often try to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ people, only to be met with *some* backlash, and then said businesses try to move past this letting the pieces fall where they may. However, local businesses play a role in creating a welcoming environment for their customers.

I asked a friend and business owner of a local coffee shop for her thoughts on the matter:

“Small businesses have a huge opportunity and responsibility to their communities to provide a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. Ultimately, it is not only bad business, but it’s also damn morally bankrupt to pander hate to any human being– especially in the customer-facing service industry. Any business proclaiming to love people should be less about words (and wallets), and more about impacting lives through real respectful relationships.”

I don’t mean for this post to come off as anti-religious. If anything, I think this post is more of a call to action for Kuppa Joy. We are in a revolution of political advocacy. In the same way that it isn’t enough to not be racist, it isn’t enough to not be homophobic. For these reasons, I sadly think I am going to stop going to Kuppa Joy for the foreseeable future.

Love Yourself. Love People. Love Coffee.

Update: in talking with a past employee at KJ, it has been confirmed that the employee requested the post be taken down.

Published by Paige Bright

Hi- my name is Paige Alexandria Bright. I am a rising junior at MIT interested in mathematics and philosophy. I have been writing this blog since the beginning of COVID. Lets see where this goes.

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