Starbucks barista living in fear after confrontation with anti-trans customer goes viral

Vanessa Thomas (L) argues with Luna Spain (R) Photo: YouTube screenshot

Luna Spain — a 28-year-old transgender former manager of a Starbucks coffeehouse in Southampton, England — is demanding that the company that licensed the coffeehouse apologize for firing her after a video of her confrontation with a transphobic customer went viral on social media and right-wing mediasphere.

Video recently emerged of an April confrontation between Spain and an older woman who has since been identified as Vanessa Thomas. The video begins with Spain talking to Thomas and Thomas shouting, “Don’t ever call me transphobic, ever. You do not know me.”

Spain then points at Thomas and says, “You’re being transphobic, Karen,” a slang term for an entitled and unreasonably demanding white woman, often in a retail or fast food context. “Get out!” Spain urges Thomas while gesturing toward the exit.

Thomas repeats, “Do not call me transphobic.” Spain responds by clapping in her face, “You. Are. Transphobic. Now get out!”

“Absolutely,” Thomas says, as Spain responds, “You are trespassing now. Get out.” Thomas then mentions that cameras are recording their interaction. Spain then walks onto the patio to try to grab the phone of the man recording — he has since been identified as Thomas’s partner Mark Andrews, according to Vice News.

Andrews says, “Do you want some?” possibly insinuating a hostile confrontation. Spain replies, “Give me the phone.” Andrews says, “Let go of me. I’ve got plenty of witnesses,” as Thomas continues shouting in the background. The video ends soon after.

After the video went viral on social media and among right-wing media outlets like The Daily Mail and GB News, Spain said transphobes began abusing her online and in real life, even going so far as to publish her address and contact details online, leading to people knocking on her and her family members’ front doors.

However, Spain told Vice News the video doesn’t capture Thomas’ transphobic comments beforehand. Spain said Thomas referred to Spain and a trans male co-worker as “tr**nies” and misgendered both of them after she became upset about the coffeehouse not accepting cash for payment.

“[Thomas began] losing her mind after she deliberately misgendered my colleague standing next to me and I corrected her pronouns,” Spain said, adding that the misgendering “was deliberate and spiteful, not a mistake” as Thomas and others have reportedly claimed online.

“She said, ‘What is it with you tr**nies and all this gender stuff’ and ‘with you tr**nies it’s always all about gender’ – I cut her off and told her she’s not getting served. I asked her to come to the till and get a refund. But instead, she started getting louder and louder. She was calling me ‘a man’ as much as she could, and calling my colleague who is a trans man ‘a woman’ in front of a full store of customers and colleagues,” Spain said.

Spain said neither she nor her co-workers had ever dealt with such an incident before. She also said that she grabbed Andrews’ phone to get the video deleted so that she wouldn’t be targeted online as other trans people have been.

One customer who hid their identity for fear of retaliation told the aforementioned publication that Spain tried to de-escalate the situation but that Thomas should’ve just left rather than causing a scene.

Vice found that Thomas’s and Andrews’s social media profiles contained transphobic slurs, including on Andrews’s original posted video in which he reportedly referred to Spain as “he,” “it,” and “that.” In a comment, Thomas reportedly wrote, “I would have knocked it out if there weren’t cameras,” adding a cry-laughing emoji.

The coffeehouse workers notified senior management about the incident, and management initially supported Spain’s actions, Spain said. However, Spain received a call from the coffeehouse’s licensee, a company called 23.5 Degrees, asking her to resign. When she refused, she received an email one hour later firing her.

“There was no investigation, no meeting, just a cold email,” Spain said. She said she wants 23.5 Degrees to formally apologize for firing her and is pursuing possible legal action against Thomas for publicly lying about Spain and also against right-wing media outlets for “publishing my name, address, and private photos without even asking me for a comment.”

In a statement about Spain’s firing, a Starbucks spokesperson said: “We pride ourselves on offering a welcoming and inclusive environment, and expect everyone, including our green apron partners (employees) and customers, to treat one another with dignity and respect. Following an investigation, it was determined by the licensee that this partner be separated from the company.”

In the U.S., Starbucks has a perfect 100 out of 100 rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, a measure of a company’s pro-LGBTQ+ workplace policies. The company’s health insurance provides coverage for gender-affirming care for employees who work an average of at least 20 hours per week. In May 2022, Starbucks announced that it would pay travel costs for trans employees getting gender-affirming care in states that haven’t restricted such care.

Correction (5/19/23): A previous version of this story mistakenly attributed Spain’s firing to Starbucks rather than 23.5 Degrees, the company that licensed the coffeehouse and oversees its human resources.

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