Transgender Starbucks employee fired over viral spat with customer to speak out (2023)

Transgender Starbucks employee fired over viral spat with customer to speak out (1)

Photo: Luna Spain / Facebook

A transgender woman who lost her job as a manager at Starbucks — after an argument with a customer went viral — spoke exclusively to VICE News about the incident "to set the record straight."

In her first interview since video of the incident exploded online and was widely covered by the right, Luna Spain said the customer called her and another transgender co-worker "transvestites" and yelled sexist slurs in the packed Starbucks.



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After two years as manager, Spain said she was fired without even meeting her bosses at work.

Police told us they were investigating the incident, which took place in April, as a possible transphobic hate crime, and Spain said she was considering legal action against the customers, as well as her former employer.

Spain, 28, said his name, address and contact details were posted online after the video went viral and that "transphobic people started knocking" on his and his family's home.

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Footage taken at the Starbucks in Southampton, southern England, showed Spain arguing with a woman, named as Vanessa Thomas, while a man, believed to be the woman's partner, Mark Andrews, filmed the incident.

The video also shows Spain asking the customer to leave the store while slapping her in the face and calling her "Karen." The video ends with Spain approaching the man who filmed the incident and apparently grabbing the phone from his hand.

The video has been viewed on various social media platforms millions of times and has received coverage from right-wing publications such as the Daily Mail and GB News. The coverage focused mainly on the confrontation between Spain and the female customer.


But in an interview, Spain told VICE News that the video only shows the end of the incident and does not reflect what actually happened.

“The viral video doesn't show the customer calling us cross-dressers and making a gender rant. She doesn't show how it all started with her yelling why we don't take cash and demanding that we do. The internet is full of lies,” he said.

After the video went viral, Spain says she faced transphobic abuse both online and in person. While initial reports said he could face a police investigation, VICE News spoke to employees and customers who were all there when the incident happened, and the details are very different from what has been reported and shared so far. Spain said she had not been contacted for comment by the right-wing media that reported the video.

The Starbucks store featured in the video where Spain worked until recently is actually a franchise of UK company 23.5 Degrees. Officials there told us they had been warned not to speak to reporters.

"I'm the victim of a transphobic hate crime, but I'm being treated like a criminal," said a visibly shaken Spain.


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"The woman in the video was rude and abusive the entire time we were trying to serve her," he said. “She was furious that she couldn't pay cash, but it's a fairly common reaction from some of the older customers in our store, so I was ready to respond. But he just wouldn't accept it.


Spain said the client began "losing her mind after she intentionally abused my co-worker next to me and I corrected her pronouns," adding that "it was intentional and malicious, not a mistake as it seems to be claiming online."

“She said, 'what's up with you transvestites and all these genders' and 'with you transvestites it's always about gender' - I stopped her and said she wasn't being served. I asked her to come to the counter and get the refund. But instead, he started talking louder and louder. He called me 'man' as much as he could and called my colleague who is a trans man 'woman' in front of a shop full of customers and colleagues."

Spain said it was at this point that he lost his patience and wanted to remove the customer from the store.

“Of course, that's where the viral video starts,” Spain told me, adding, “People have to remember that we deal with all types of customers all the time, including transphobic ones, but none of this ever happened. . before. The customer was a big problem."

Asked why she took the client's partner's phone, Spain said: “I wanted the video deleted. I didn't want to be online and shamed like so many other trans people. When I couldn't, I grabbed the other customer by her bag and escorted her out of the store, immediately closing the door - which unfortunately broke the glass."


Team members and other customers who were there at the time confirmed these events to VICE News, and all continue to believe that Spain was not in the wrong.

One customer – who did not want to be named for fear of a backlash – told me: “A lot of what I'm reading about the incident online is absolute rubbish. The Starbucks girl tried to de-escalate the situation and when the customer didn't stop, she pulled her out the door like any security guard would. I don't see the problem. The customer should have left instead of causing a scene.


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Store staff reported the incident to senior management as soon as the customer left the store. The administration initially sided with Spain, he said.

“I certainly expected disciplinary action, as they said would happen, but I did not expect to lose my job. It's like they're trying to do damage control. "All of a sudden HR called me and pressured me to hand in my notice, and when I didn't, I got an email terminating my contract an hour later," Spain said. "There was no investigation, no meeting, just a cold email."

VICE News saw the termination email and questioned Starbucks Spain being fired without a full investigation or meeting. We also asked Starbucks what transgender employees should do when faced with customer abuse.


In response, a Starbucks spokesperson said: “We pride ourselves on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment and expect everyone, including our associates (employees) and customers, to treat each other with dignity and respect. Upon investigation, it was determined by the licensee that this partner had separated from the firm."

When Starbucks confirmed that Spain was no longer working at the store, so-called "gender critics" cheered on social media. They also flooded the Starbucks store, leaving negative comments on business review platforms and using the incident as an excuse to promote their transphobic narratives.

VICE News has seen the social media profiles of Thomas and Andrews, where they and their friends repeatedly use transphobic slurs. In the comments of the original post where Andrews posted the video of the incident, they refer to Spain as "he", "this" and "that". They also claim they've never been scared of Spain, using laughing emojis, with Thomas writing, "I would have hit it if there weren't cameras," adding another laughing emoji. VICE News reached out to Thomas and Andrews on Facebook to ask if they used transphobic slurs against Spain and his colleague and if their feelings had changed about the incident, but we did not hear back.

Spain added: “I'm angry, I'm upset and I'm having the worst mental health of my life, while the customer is laughing about it on Facebook. What do they want me to do? Decommissioning? I feel so unsafe every time I leave the house now - especially since the reporters have been talking to all my neighbors about me. Every person who walks past me is a threat. People on social media are trying to get me kicked out of university. I didn't do anything wrong."

Asked what happens next with the incident, Spain told VICE News that she reported the customer to the police. Spain said: "He clearly committed a hate crime against me - and my colleague - just because I was transgender."

“I also want a letter of apology from my former employers for not investigating properly. I seek legal advice about the client lying about me and the Daily Mail publishes my name, address and personal photos without even asking me for a comment.


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