Another Year, Another Stupid Controversy Over Starbucks Holiday Cups

Some conservatives appear to believe that this year's Starbucks coffee cops are "promoting a gay agenda."

2017 Starbucks Cups

Two years after becoming the focus of a bizarre ‘War On Christmas’ argument due to the fact that they had failed to include any depictions of Christmas season related symbols on their coffee cups, Starbucks is now being accused of using their holiday cups to promote homosexuality:

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, which means it is time to embark on a modern American holiday tradition: over-analyzing seasonally available Starbucks cups for signs of liberal nefariousness.

Starbucks has produced holiday cups for 20 years. Some have come and gone with little commotion, but others have drawn the ire of conservatives for what some have seen as a secular design scheme that failed to show proper respect for Christianity.

This year’s cup features nods to Christmas tradition, including a decorated Christmas tree, and was introduced by an online video that proclaimed “the holidays mean something different to everyone.”

But that big-tent approach wasn’t enough to avoid controversy. This year, critics wonder if Starbucks is using its holiday cups to promote homosexuality.

The controversy started with a promotional video for the holiday cups that received some praise from LGBT organizations:

From there, it apparently didn’t take much for some people to go off the rails:

The video itself did not attract negative attention. The latest controversy has focused instead on a pair of gender-neutral hands holding each other on the side of the cup itself.

Those linked hands came to wider public attention after BuzzFeed published an article about them on Wednesday.

It suggested the cup was “totally gay.”

“While people who follow both Starbucks holiday cup news and L.G.B.T. issues celebrated the video, the ordinary Starbucks customer probably didn’t realize the cup might have a gay agenda,” BuzzFeed said.

After that, it was off to the races.

Fox News picked up the story of what it called the “androgynous” cartoon hands, referring to Bible-quoting critics of Starbucks and criticizing BuzzFeed, which it said had “asserted the hypothesis is fact.”

The conservative site The Blaze also waded in, saying Starbucks had launched a “gay agenda campaign.”

Fox said it asked Starbucks about the cartoons but the company “neither confirms nor denies the allegations,” by which it presumably meant the promotion of lesbianism.

But in an email to The Times, Starbucks said it would let customers decide for themselves what the cup was about.

“This year’s hand-drawn cup features scenes of celebrating with loved ones — whoever they may be,” said Sanja Gould, a company spokeswoman. “We intentionally designed the cup so our customers can interpret it in their own way, adding their own color and illustrations.”

While the reaction to these cups has not been quite as vehement as what we saw two years ago when the company’s line of Christmas cups consisted of a simple plain red design without the snowflake and other winter designs that had been depicted on previous versions of the cup, that hasn’t meant that they’ve been without their own controversy. The conservative Media Research Center, for example, accused the company of using the holiday cups to “promote the gay agenda,” while conservatives on Twitter have made similar arguments. All of this because the cups include a depiction of what appears two be two women holding hands.

To all this ridiculous is, of course, a complete understatement. For one thing, these are merely coffee cups, the idea that they’re promoting any agenda at all is utterly absurd and indicates the same kind of perverse thinking that causes people to believe that there is even such a thing as a “gay agenda” or a “War On Christmas.” If nothing else this reveals the idiotic nature of the right wing at this point. First, they complain because Starbucks completely non-religious symbols of winter from their cup, now they’re complaining because the cup appears to depict a cartoon version of what appears to be two women holding hands. What will it be next year? Gay reindeer? Transgender elves? Or how about the fact that Santa Claus watches children at night? The ridiculousness of these people is beyond parody, so any one of those seem as likely as this year’s absurdity. It’s just a coffee cup people, get a life.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Two women holding hands…or Roy Moore holding the hand of a 14 year old.
    Which do Conservatives prefer…never mind, we already know.

  2. An Interested Party says:

    Some conservatives and so-called “Christians” are among the most insecure people alive…it is really fascinating how homosexuality preys so much on the minds of some…

  3. MarkedMan says:

    This. This is what you get with Republicans. What do Republican officials work on? Starbucks cups. Refighting the confederate war. Bathroom bills. And on and on.

  4. Mister Bluster says:
  5. Kylopod says:

    Maybe they got the idea from this guy:

  6. Mr. Prosser says:

    I assume the Republican brand of coffee is Chock full of Nuts slurped down in a mighty mug covered in flags, gun trademarks and crosses.

  7. Tyrell says:

    I liked the cups last year – a pretty red and green. This year’s cups look too busy.
    Who cares about cups anyway? In the trash when they leave.

  8. al-Ameda says:

    Some Conservatives: “Liberal elites on the West Coast and in the Northeast mock our values!”
    Liberal Elite: “What are you whining … er .. talking about this time?”
    SC: “Starbucks is forcing a gay agenda on us!”
    LE: “What?”
    SC: Don’t tell me that you didn’t see, on the side of their coffee cups, an image of a pair of gender-neutral hands holding each other!”
    LE: “And … you’d prefer that they be threatening each other with automatic weapons?
    SC: “You’re condescending attitude is exactly why Trump was elected!”

  9. Gustopher says:

    I eagerly await Starbucks just giving up and having the Blood Of Christ Latte.

    I assume it would be flavored with communion wine, and might have a wafer carefully placed on the rim like a lime.

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Cue up the latest installment of rage for the rage-a-holics.

  11. rachel says:

    JFC, isn’t it bad enough that Starbucks promotes mediocre, overpriced coffee? Now we get more moans about s stupid and irrelevant crap too.

  12. Mister Bluster says:

    In the trash…

    Good place for the Republican in Chief.
    I hear that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at Corcoran has a new vacancy.
    I’m sure that The Golden State would be glad to rent the space to the Feds!

  13. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Just saw that myself. Now he has Hell to look forward to. Good riddance.

  14. JKB says:

    And McDonald’s couldn’t even get a bite with their butt cup last Christmas.

  15. John Peabody says:

    If it’s ridiculous, why make a post about it? Well, it’s good for making a portion of Republicans look strange, so there’s that.

  16. Pete S says:

    Why are some conservatives so bound and determined to establish that conservative=delusional?

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @John Peabody:

    Thankfully, that cadre manages to make themselves look strange / fanatical / ok, just completely batshit crazy without the slightest bit of help from anybody else.

  18. Tony W says:

    I have always wondered what, precisely, is this “gay agenda” to which they keep referring? No socks with sandals? Mandatory nail grooming and fashion police for men? Short haircuts and strong home improvement skills for women?

    This divide-and-conquer, citizen-categorization theme is the core of the conservative distraction-instead-of-ideas approach. I’m tired of re-fighting the civil rights movement over and over again

  19. Mikey says:

    It’s a mighty weak faith that assigns genders to a pair of genderless hands drawn touching on a paper cup, then gets upset about its own inference.

  20. Franklin says:

    @JKB: Clever little edit, LOL!

    Anyone, is this controversy a Seinfeld episode? Either man hands, or the hand model episode? How does anybody recognize those hands as having a particular gender?


  21. MarkedMan says:

    @John Peabody: This is what Republican elected officials / Republican news media focus on instead of reality. Crap such as this is the bulk of Republican “policy”, and serves to obscure the little actual policy that Repubs work on, i.e. screwing everyone not a 0.1%’er in order to line the pockets of their owners.

    So yes, calling it out is important.

  22. MarkedMan says:

    It’s all about distraction. Here’s a technique in the labor disputes of the early twentieth century (and truth be told, from time immemorial). When a mine owner or other plutocrat learns that his workers are getting tired of bad wages, penury from the company store, and disregard for their health and safety, they hire a few black football players miners and then use their overseers to start spreading rumors amongst the original workers that these minorities are disrespecting your flagwomen. Those original workers then shift all their anger and frustration to the uppity blacks and spend all their efforts in putting them into place. If successful, they are satisfied with that accomplishment. If unsuccessful, their resentment and simmering continues, but only aimed at the uppity minorities. Either way, the plutocrats can continue shafting the workers and can always start another rumor if things start to heat up again.

    This works. It always works. This is what the Koch Brothers and their ilk do. And the Republicans are the overseers in this business. Some are smart enough and cynical enough to know how they are being used but are okay with that as long as it preserves their marginally better status. But most are too stupid and bedazzled by their overlords that they believe the nonsense and righteously pass it on.

  23. Facebones says:

    Aren’t these the same jackholes who were wearing the “F*** Your Feelings, Snowflake!” sweaters last year?

  24. KM says:

    I had to stare at my cup for a good 5 minutes to get what this was even referring to. I saw just hands and was like, is there a different cup or something? Nope, plain old hands. WTH do they know they are womens’ – the size wasn’t burly enough? Or that they are gay – was it the lack of rings because I gotta tell ya, that means nothing in today’s world fundies.

    Honestly, if all you were handed was the cup, you’d never know this was a thing. And wasn’t Starbucks already on the Con No-No list for boycotting? Who’s been cheating and getting a Peppermint Latte as “research” at FOX?

  25. Joe says:

    Where are we if we discover they are the hands of a gay man and a lesbian? Can they be holding hands then? Is that an agenda?

  26. gVOR08 says:

    I am a thoroughgoing agnostic, well, technically an ignostic. So, before all the conservative hoopla about “War on Christmas” starts up again, let me take this occasion to wish Doug, Steven, James, and all the commenters here at OTB a heartfelt Merry Christmas.

  27. CET says:


    Pretty much. As far as I can tell, ‘values voter’ pretty much means ‘sticking it to gays/blacks/non-Christians is more important than any actual policies.’

    The frustrating thing (and one of the reasons I don’t really consider myself a democrat, even though I’m still registered as one) is that I think the political left is developing a similar disease.

    We’re sliding into a new gilded age, and rather than talk about what tech companies are doing to our workforce, or an agricultural policy that has destroyed rural America, or a financial system that screws small businesses over while cozying up to Wall Street, we get lectures about mansplaining, laughably earnest debates about microagressions, and ‘vote for Hilary because of the glass ceiling'(!).

    I don’t think the Dems are deflecting on purpose (which is more than I’ll say for the GOP), I just think they’re stuck in a pretty deep rut. They can’t raise taxes without committing political suicide (and pissing off their own donor class), no one is willing to scale back funding for either the military or entitlements in order to free up money in the budget, and it looks like voters don’t really get that everyone from Monsanto to Amazon to United Airlines has the lower and middle classes by the balls. That pretty much leaves pushing around the deck chairs and finding new historical figures to re-analyze through the lens of modern identity politics.

    And mocking the flat-earth contingent for freaking out about coffee cup designs. Because everyone needs some entertainment.

  28. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Actually, are we sure they are both hands?

    Zooming in and looking closely at the drawing, that appears to be a hand on the right. But on the left, it could be… a foot? … Begging the question: Is Starbucks promoting some sort of seasonal fetishism?

    One can project much on art… Apparently, some seem to have some weird hangups.

  29. Mikey says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    Is Starbucks promoting some sort of seasonal fetishism?