Gloria Jean’s Coffees accused of homophobia in PR disaster

By Sarah Stowe | 29 Oct 2015 View comments

Gloria Jean's Coffees is the latest brand to fall victim of a social media PR disaster, with what was intended to be an opportunity to promote the coffee franchise's activities in the community resulting in a tirade of angry tweets.

The brand is being accused of homophobia on the social media site, following its launch of the #withheartlocal hashtag which it hoped would promote Gloria Jean's Coffees' work with various charities including the Kids Helpline, Camp Quality and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Unfortunately for the brand, this has resulted in a massive PR fail with many turning online to vent their anger at the franchise's association not only with religious group Hillsong (co-founders Peter Irvine and Nabi Saleh are both prominent members of the church), but also for making what's claimed to be a $30,000 donation to the Australian Christian Lobby, which has rallied against gay marriage.

Angry tweets include "Homophobic fundamentalist coffee chain with shit coffee “@HappySinger Gloria Jean’s bragging backfires" (liam_dwyer); "Ha ha Gloria Jeans! Looks like your hashtag backfired. That's what you get for funding homophobia & lying about it. #withheartlocal (commandereggman) and  "Shocking employers, discriminating values, financial supporter of homophobia campaigns by ACL, good one Gloria Jeans" (monty_muffin).

Gloria Jean's posted a response on its Facebook page on June 15, but it's done little to calm the activity on Twitter.

A section of the statement reads:

"Over the last few days there has been a lot of discussion about our company and we would like to take the opportunity to clear the air.

"Gloria Jean’s Coffees has a strong culture and belief in respect, equality and diversity. As a brand we comprise of many individuals including our Support Office team, hundreds of Franchise Partners and thousands of coffee house team members, each with the right to hold their own beliefs.

"As a company we hold no position on marriage law, and in line with our values support people’s freedom to choose who they love. We are not homophobic and are proud that our team members come from all walks of life and sexual orientations, and we respect everyone’s opinion and the right to freedom of choice – political, religious, marriage or otherwise.

"Again we would like to apologise for any hurt or offence which may have been caused by the paid advertising we undertook for the 2010 prime ministerial debate event, hosted by the Australian Christian Lobby.

"The paid advertising was undertaken on a commercial basis only, and it appears that there is now a perception that we endorse the views and values of the ACL. This is not the case. Gloria Jean’s Coffees does not support the independent views and values of the ACL.

"There is also still confusion about our relationship with Hillsong Church. Gloria Jean’s Coffees is a privately owned business and not owned by the Hillsong Church.

"This misunderstanding often arises because our founders are active parishioners of their local Hillsong Church."

Gloria Jean's Coffees didn't respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

What do you think? Are peoples' reactions justified? Or should a company be able to donate to which ever charity they like?