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Starbucks joins program to offer safe haven to LGBT people from hate crime

Starbucks joins program to offer safe haven to LGBT people from hate crime

Officer Jim Ritter and a Safe Place sign outside a local Starbucks

Branches of Starbucks in Seattle have signed up to a new initiative to offer safe haven to LGBT people subjected to hate crimes, reports Seattle Times.

The Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) Safe Place program is the brainchild of gay police officer Jim Ritter.

Ritter, 54, is an SPD veteran of 30 years. He says he launched the Safe Place program in May so that businesses could become LGBT allies – with staff trained in how to call 911 to report hate crimes and to offer a safe space to victims until police arrive at the scene.

The program was partly inspired by an increase in reported hate crimes against LGBT people, particularly in the Capitol Hill area; the location of several of the city’s LGBT businesses.

It was also designed to help increase trust in the SPD and to assure the Seattle LGBT communities that the police take hate crime seriously.

Starbucks announced its participation in the program on Wednesday.

In a statement on Starbucks’ website, Ritter says that he was hearing from friends about more hate crimes than he believed were being reported.

‘I’m getting calls from people saying it had happened to them or their friends,’ he recalled. ‘I’m getting calls from people and they’re not matching up with the reports I have.

‘I’d say, “Well, did you report these?” and they’d say no. It was clear to me that this was a huge problem for us, because if we don’t know about it we can’t devote resources to it.’

Starbucks says it will be enrolling staff in all of its 97 stores in Seattle in the program, providing training for approximately 2,000 employees.

‘This definitely aligns with our values as an organization – to create a safe and inclusive environment in our stores,’ said Heather Jennings, director of Starbucks Regional Operations.

‘It’s been really well received by our store partners. I think what Jim is doing is about bringing the community together to say harming people, whether they be LGBTQ or not, isn’t acceptable.’

Participating businesses – including Starbucks – display a rainbow-designed badge logo. Another local business owner has already praised the visible display of support.

‘It’s really visibly queer in a way that I’ve been craving,’ said Karyn Schwartz, owner of Capitol Hill’s Sugarpill, said to Seattle Times. ‘Seeing some sort of representation of yourself that says ‘you belong here’ — it brings calm to your soul.’

Ritter says that he believes the Safe Place program has already had a positive impact and encouraged people to contact the police, with eight reported hate crimes over Seattle Pride season leading to seven arrests.

Since the program’s launch, he has approached 650 businesses but none have yet turned down his invite to get involved.

‘The victims of these crimes are feeling more comfortable reporting them,’ he said. ‘The officers are doing a great job making arrests. The community, law enforcement and prosecutors are working in unison to hold perpetrators accountable. I think the message is getting out there to people who commit these crimes as much or more than the victims.’

The program has the support of Seattle’s mayor, Ed Murray, who is also gay. When it was launched Murray said, ‘There is no place for bigotry or harassment in our city. We developed Safe Place so that businesses and community organizations can visibly stand up against intolerance and provide shelter to victims.’

Starbucks has developed a reputation as being LGBTI inclusive and supportive. It scored the top mark of 100 in the most recent HRC Corporate Equality Index and actively supported several Pride festivals over the summer. This included being a ‘gold sponsor’ of Pride London and Seattle Pride.

The First Starbucks opened in Seattle in 1971. It has since grown to include over 22,000 stores across the globe, almost 13,000 of which are in the US.