Couple Remains Kind In Response to Bigotry

noballoonsOn Friday, my friend Sarah posted this picture on her Facebook with this message:  “I’d like to order an anniversary cake for my partner. It should say, ‘Happy Anniversary, Lindsey! Love, Sarah’. Please make the cake in this picture (from the catalog), but with no balloons.” And this is what I got.”

The mess of a cake and the overall bigoted treatment Lindsey and Sarah received on their special day rightly appalled scores of people who began sharing the story and photo, creating quite the unexpected buzz.  Yesterday, after being flooded with calls and messages, and experiencing pressure from many to release the name of the bakery, Lindsey asked me if we would share their story and why they have responded as they did.  I gladly agreed.  Here it is, in their own words:

Hi! I’m Lindsey! My weekend has been far from quiet, given that a picture of our anniversary cake seems to be going viral. My partner Sarah and I have gotten a lot of reactions from all sorts of different people. Most people can’t seem to understand our approach to the event. I’ll begin by filling you in on the story from my perspective before sharing more about why Sarah and I have responded the way we have.

Sarah’s been indicating to me for a while that she had some small surprises planned for me at the end of this week. We’ve been doing a lot of celebrating over the past month as we’ve been together as a couple for a year. We often joke that you couldn’t put our story into fiction because no one would believe it. Even though we’re living it, it’s hard for us to believe sometimes too. Friday definitely fit the mold.

I knew Sarah was planning on making me dinner on Friday. The two of us were going to enjoy a quiet dinner at home. I can’t help that my introverted self relishes in the fact that meant an ideal Friday night for me. At noon, I got a text message telling me “One of my surprises for you is more of a surprise than I thought.” Sarah wasn’t quite sure the story would wait until I got home so I went out on my lunch break. During lunch, I received a picture message with the now-infamous cake. We both were laughing hysterically about the bakery’s inability to follow instructions. Some poor cake decorator had written “No ballons” on a cake clearly with balloons as decoration. I had previously shown Sarah the website for cakewrecks, and we thought we had a perfect contender.

After Sarah had shown me the picture, she shared the picture on Facebook. From there, the universe began to blow up a little as friends made all sorts of comments about our poorly decorated cake. I learned that the bakery had refunded Sarah’s money and offered her a second cake. We’re only two people so she declined the second cake. Sarah did try to advocate for a proper cake while at the bakery, but the manager wouldn’t budge on sending the scrawled cake out the door. We weren’t exactly planning on sharing our anniversary with the universe, but our emotions were oscillating and we wanted people to know that someone tried to rain on our (very small, very quiet) parade. It’s been great to see our friends being so fantastic and supportive. At some point, someone passed Sarah’s contact information to a reporter from the Advocate. Sarah agreed to the interview with the understanding that the reporter would only share our first names and would not be told the name of the bakery.

Since we first shared the picture and especially after the Advocate published the story, Sarah and I have faced all sorts of exhortations to name the bakery. People have urged us to consider everything from alerting the Better Business Bureau to publicly naming the bakery on every outlet possible. We’ve chosen not to reveal the name of the bakery, much to the chagrin and dismay of a few friends and several strangers.

We made our decision intentionally. I thought it would be worth sharing why we’ve made the decision that we made. Here goes some of our rationale in no particular order:

  • The bakery is a local business in Arlington VA. Most of our friends who want to know the name of the bakery live no where near the Washington DC area. This bakery is not a chain. They naturally avoid the bakery by living in different locations.
  • It’s our anniversary.  Call us nuts, but we’d like the focus to be on us and our special day. We’re not interested in having our friends zoom their energies on determining an “appropriate” response to this bakery. Since our friends aren’t exactly local, we don’t want to knowingly cause a wave of protests against this bakery. We live in DC, one of the most politically active areas of the country.
  • Naming and shaming creates an atmosphere of “good guys” and “bad guys.”  When you call someone out publicly, all of a sudden everyone can direct their rage at an individual (or an individual business). All too often it seems that the “fight for equality” means finding the “bad guys” and doing whatever it takes to mow them over. Anyone who earns the label of “bad guy” is still a person; and, in today’s political climate around GLBT issues, there are plenty of people willing to call a “bad guy” the “good guy” and vice versa. Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day happened because a group of people thought a business called out for their stance on marriage equality was worth supporting.
  • We’re not interested in becoming a target ourselves. At the end of the day, we’re having to make choices about how to best approach this situation given our best interests. We know that the bakery has all the necessary details to pursue Sarah. It’s part of the joy of being someone’s customer.
  • Focusing on individuals can ignore bigger problems.  As things stand, we have shared our story with a lot of people. We’re not rolling over silently and just taking an insult. The story has gone far wider than either Sarah or I could have ever predicted. But, even looking at the questions of LGBT rights in the public sphere, NOT naming the bakery gives us an opportunity to raise more substantive questions. Consider that what the bakery did is perfectly legal in the state of VA. They broke no laws, only rendered bad service. Sarah and I both work in VA where it’s perfectly legal for us to be harassed on the job if our status as LGBT people became widely known.  Additionally, it was surprising that this cake was produced. However, our own experience suggested that we had some reason to be wary of bakeries in VA. The political makeup of northern VA is generally colored red. If this story causes all bakeries in Arlington to look in the mirror to figure out if they could have had some part in making this cake, then I think that reflection is worth while.
  • The LGBT community is often portrayed as crying wolf and digging for reasons to pull someone into court.  Let’s be honest. If this bakery would have told us that they couldn’t have fulfilled our order, we wouldn’t have had a problem going to another baker. We care about this bakery, their customers, and their service. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing to keep their identity private. The bakery knows who they are… and if they want to come out of the woodwork and identify themselves, that’s their prerogative. We’re not going to force the issue.

Whether you agree or disagree with Lindsey and Sarah’s approach, I think it’s clear that their hearts are in the right places and their motives more intentional and kind than what many of us would be able to claim in such a moment.  So please take some time to leave your love and support for this couple in your comments below.  Questions are permitted but, on this post, I’m ruling out commentary.  Let’s just flood them with kindness.

Thanks all!

21 thoughts on “Couple Remains Kind In Response to Bigotry

  1. Happy Anniversary! O.K., I agree with your decision to protect the identity of the bakery. I agree with your decision to protect your identity.

    I love that you have adopted a graceful path in regard to this insult. Would you accept my prayers for your heart and for the transformation of the hearts in the bakery?

    Please, forgive the abject selfishness of my post. I feel that I have used to many I statements.

  2. Lindsay and Sarah, much congratulations to you on your anniversary. You both show class and poise in how you both approached this. I don’t think I could have handled it better. If this happened to me I would have put it on, as it deserves to be ridiculed. Even without the bigotry in icing on display; this cake was executed badly. All the best to you both!

  3. Thank you for sharing your story, and for choosing to approach this issue with a desire to find ways to build community, instead of being divisive. I applaud your kindness, gentleness, and resolve!

  4. Thanks for your intentional response to the resulting controversy regarding your anniversary cake. I agree that by not naming the bakery, you invite folks to think more broadly about the homophobia expressed on both individual levels (e.g., baker/cake decorator) and institutional ones (e.g., employment discrimination). May your cool headed activism and warm hearted response to each other and your neighbors serve you well in many more anniversaries together. Best wishes to you both.

  5. Okay, but one mistake: “The political makeup of northern VA is generally colored red.”

    Northern Virginia is the bluest part of Virginia. It is the proportionately small, densely-populated part of the state that has pushed the electorate to twice go for Obama and to elect Democrats to all five state-wide elected positions.

    And, Arlington is the bluest of the blue. The County Board is comprised entirely of Democrats and has been for quite some time.

    What you went through is inexcusable and as an Arlingtonian, I wish I could avoid patronizing the bakery that did that. However, I respect your position and the thoughtful considerations you’ve given to get there.

    • Thanks everyone for your kind comments. We really appreciate Heidi going through the process of moderating the comments so we can read the comment section. Throughout this whole ordeal, we’ve been reminded often of the first rule of the internet: NEVER read the comments!

      Since we’re reading the comments, we wanted to respond to Elle Kasey’s observation. Elle, you’re absolutely spot on in saying that northern Virginia (and especially Arlington) is very blue when compared to the rest of Virginia. We were writing from our perspective as District residents. Compared to the District itself where there is a comprehensive non-discrimination policy that includes protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, all areas in Virginia carry comparatively more risk for us as LGBT individuals. Thanks for challenging us on that point, and we hope we have succeeded in clarifying our perspective.

  6. Thanks for the explanation. I still don’t understand this part:

    “I learned that the bakery had refunded Sarah’s money and offered her a second cake. We’re only two people so she declined the second cake. Sarah did try to advocate for a proper cake while at the bakery, but the manager wouldn’t budge on sending the scrawled cake out the door.”

    They refunded the money. They apologized for the sloppy work. The offered another cake. Did they refuse to put the correct message on the second cake? Did you take this as a mistake on the part of the baker or as a deliberate homophobic act?

    • I don’t understand how someone could “advocate for a proper cake” and also refuse the manager’s offer of a new cake. Can you clarify? It sounds contradictory.

  7. Are they saying that the manager tried to insist that they NOT take the sloppy cake out of the store – and that the couple took it anyway? Declining the offer of a new cake and taking the messed up one home instead?

    • Hi Michael, we’ve seen your questions elsewhere, and we will answer them here.

      You asked, “Did they refuse to put the correct message on the second cake?” The answer is yes, they did refuse to put the correct message on the second cake. In addition to not wanting to waste food, this is why Sarah declined the offer of a second cake. It is unclear to us whether the second cake would have been blank or reproduced the first message. Moreover, the manager did not comment on the flavor mistake. Sarah was so bothered by the message that she didn’t clarify whether the second cake would have been of the requested flavor. Either way, the manager did insist on sending the first cake out the door with Sarah. They said they couldn’t take it back because they couldn’t sell a custom cake.

      Your next question, “Did you take this as a mistake on the part of a baker or as a deliberate homophobic act?” The answer is that we’ve considered both possibilities. It’s certainly possible that order instructions were written on the cake instead of the message. That said, Sarah never indicated my (Lindsey’s) gender when ordering the cake though she did mention she was ordering it for her partner. We were surprised at the degree to which this cake was wrecked: 1) it’s the wrong flavor with the wrong icing — Sarah ordered a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and we received a chocolate cake with butter cream icing, 2) the cake had balloons even though the instructions explicitly stated no balloons — even if the bakery had written the instructions, they had to write “No balloons” on a cake with balloons, 3) the message was nowhere near the message requested and 4) the quality of work was absolutely disgraceful given our expectations of baked good quality in the DC area — bakeries are a dime a dozen here with tons of competition to raise the quality bar. Even if this was an honest mistake, we would have expected a manager to do whatever necessary to set it right. In our case, providing Sarah with an option for a properly messaged carrot cake while figuring out their own way to do something with the wrecked cake would have been an appropriate way to set it right. That didn’t happen.

      You said, “I don’t understand how someone could advocate for a proper cake and also refuse the manager’s offer for a new cake. Can you clarify? It sounds contradictory.” As we’ve previously discussed, Sarah was advocating for a new cake with the correct message under the assumption that the bakery would take the first cake back and either fix it (and sell it) or dispose of it. Because the offer of a new cake did not include an offer to write the correct message and the manager insisted on sending the wrecked cake with Sarah, Sarah did not see any point in bringing home two cakes: a wrecked one and one that looked better but still did not have the correct message. We are only two people. As it stood, we couldn’t even finish one entire cake by ourselves.

      You ask, “Are they saying that the manager tried to insist that they NOT take the sloppy cake out of the store-and the couple took it anyway, declining the offer of a new cake and taking it home instead?” As we hope we have made clear, the manager insisted that Sarah take the wrecked cake out of the store.

      We hope that this clarifies Sarah’s interaction with the manager.

  8. Thanks for clarifying. I wish the Advocate had asked these questions. Their very poor reporting left many of these questions up in the air. Let me see if I now understand. You took the manager’s refusal to write the CORRECT message on the new cake as an indication that she was homophobic and bigoted. Is that correct?

  9. It is certainly clear that this was very bad customer service, but I am still trying to understand why you and Heidi consider it to be “homophobic” and “bigoted”.

  10. I am really sorry to be a pest and belabor this, but I am still REALLY confused about this part:

    “The answer is yes, they did refuse to put the correct message on the second cake. In addition to not wanting to waste food, this is why Sarah declined the offer of a second cake. It is unclear to us whether the second cake would have been blank or reproduced the first message.”

    Did she say, “I won’t put that message on the cake?” Did she say why? You say you were unclear as to whether the 2nd cake would be blank or have the same message as the wrecked one. Did she refuse to put ANY message on the new cake or were you unclear about that?

    • Hi Michael,

      Here is our response to your further line of questions.

      The manager did not specify why she was unwilling to put a new message on the cake. Sarah asked her if there was a problem with the requested message. She did not answer Sarah’s question directly; she only said that she couldn’t put the requested message on a cake. She did not say why. Sarah pushed for more of an answer as to why, but the manager kept dodging the question.

      Though there could be some possible other explanation for the manager’s behavior besides homophobia and bigotry, we as a couple need to put this incident in context with our previous experience at bakeries and other dining establishments in the DC Metro area. Up to this point, we had never received anything less than impeccable service at other establishments. The quality of baked goods in the DC area is honestly incredible. One simply doesn’t expect to see shoddy work from any bakery here. The combination of the shoddy work, the message that appeared on the cake, and the manager’s dodging the issue around the requested message is what leads us to believe that the cakewreck had some degree of intentionality. This, of course, is how we interpreted the situation. We weren’t expecting to have to explain what happened to us beyond our own circle of friends. Our friends have been awesome, and several friends have offered us a homemade cake when we see them next.

      Sarah did accept the refund offered by the manager.

  11. Thanks. That helps me to understand what happened. Now I may be able to answer some of the questions many people have raised about why you considered this to be an act of “bigotry” and “homophobia” and not just stupidity and bad customer service. I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

    Since some business owners are homophobic, if you ever order a cake again from a bakery, may I suggest that you talk directly to the owner or head baker, tell them exactly what you want (perhaps with a simple sketch) and get a face-to-face assurance that they can do it as requested? It sounds like communication really broke down somewhere.

    My husband and I were legally married this past July. Worried that there might be some objection or problem, I wanted to be sure the bakery would have no problem making a wedding cake for two men. They did not have an issue, did as we requested and the day went beautifully. I hope your next anniversary (and perhaps a wedding someday) will go without a hitch.

    Love to you and your sweetheart.

  12. I had some concerns when my husband and I were planning our wedding this July. I didn’t want any mistakes or bad feelings. I wanted to make sure they had no problem with the fact that it was a same-sex ceremony and reception.

    So I met in person with the owner of the bakery, who introduced me to the head baker. Both were very happy to do what I requested: A simple two-tiered cake, white frosting and no flowers. Chocolate.

    I also met with the caterer at the hotel where we would celebrate lunch with 20 friends. Again, I experienced nothing but good customer service. Everything went without a hitch. Same with room reservations and florist. I met with both service providers face-to-face.

    I am not sure if you ordered your cake over the phone, online or in the shop or who took the actual order. Either way, they could still screw it up, but meeting in person with the manager and getting a copy of the order in writing is always a good idea. Hoping you get the service you want and deserve if you ever decide to tie the knot and legal equality comes to your state.

  13. Hello Ladies and many many happy returns. I absolutely do not agree with your decision but I am glad that you are at peace with it. In the end, our word and our decisions are what we have to take with us.

    I do understand your rationale…and still sort of wonder if this was just a big hoax to prove some other point…like to get a conversation started. I guess even as a 48 year old man, the wounds of bullying still run deep within the child in me (you know, the one who went home from school almost everyday crying for about a decade of his whole early scholastic, emotional, spiritual, and psychological upbringing). Today, I just simply don’t let bullies, even adult bullies, get away with bad manners and behavior.

    I actually do have numerous friends in DC that would love not to give their hard earned money to bigots so if there were a way, I would love to figure how to guide them away from this establishment.

    Its sort of interesting. I worked in AIDS services in the late 80’s/early 90’s and know first hand how people in my community were treated as they were dying. I guess you just don’t forget things like that and unfortunately, those people still exist no matter how much time.

    In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with calling someone out. If it ruins their business, maybe they should not be in the business of selecting who has a happy experience and who does not just by their product or service.

    Happy anniversary to you again and thank you for your response.

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