CakeGate: Whole Foods Strikes Back

It turns out no space is safe, not even Whole Foods.

Yesterday Austin native Jordan Brown, an openly gay pastor claimed that his local Whole Foods deliberately wrote a gay slur on a cake he ordered. According to his version of things, he did not see it until he got to the car. When Brown contacted Whole Foods, the employee was extremely apologetic, but then claimed that the bakery employee in question did not write the slur. Furious, Brown decided to stage a dramatic performance on the Internet, and hold a news conference, claiming that the anti-gay slur was akin to being called the n-word. The Twitter caption of the infamous cake read: “This is not the cake I ordered, @WholeFoods, and I am offended on behalf of myself & the entire #LGBTQ community.” Brown has retained an attorney and is in the process of suing Whole Foods for discriminatory practices.

It didn’t take long for Internet commenters to raise doubts about this incident; many have pointed out that the icing on the top portion of the cake and the bottom where the slur is allegedly written have two different handwritings and colors. Another curious detail is that the worlds “Love Wins” are written at the top of the cake, instead of across the center like most lettering, leaving space in the middle for someone to add something later if they wished. There are no witnesses who can corroborate Brown’s story. Whole Foods emphatically denies this claim, releasing a statement that they produced the cake exactly as Brown wished. Later that day, Whole Foods declared their intent to pursue legal action against him. In a few short hours, Brown went from being a victim of institutional abuse to a possible perpetrator of a hoax for media attention. While there is no evidence of the latter yet, with no definitive proof of anything, this is likely going to turn into a round of he-said-he-said until someone can no longer afford the legal fees, and by then the news cycle will have moved on.

This sort of stunt is not at all new in the social justice world. A young black gay pastor in Austin may feel he’s not being noticed enough for his progressivism and adds persecution to gain his moment in the spotlight. After all, if you’re oppressed, and there are no cameras, did it really happen? The video showing Brown’s purchase of the cake shows that the label is on the top of the cake box, not on the side as Brown demonstrates in his own personal video. Labels are very easy to move. Even the wording on the tweet rings false. “I am offended for myself and the entire LGBT community” seems scripted and unemotional. I can say from personal experience that when you’re called a slur, you’re not thinking about your community in that moment. You’re thinking about yourself. Your day is ruined and you’re angry. You’re too rattled to have a press conference and lawsuit. And how was he able to mobilize an attorney and the press so quickly? Things moved a little bit too fast in Brown’s favor.

There is enough discrimination against the LGBT community without having to deface a cake. It is possible this incident is a symbolic retaliation against local bakers who refused to bake cakes for same-sex weddings (a case that the bakers lost). Despite the fact that same-sex marriage is now legal, the cultural battle of forcing bigoted bakers to acknowledge same-sex marriages is ongoing. I don’t know whether bakers have the right to abstain from baking cakes for same-sex marriages, but I do believe that this miniature public relations war was over before it started.

Marjorie Romeyn-Sanabria is assistant managing editor at the National Interest. Follow her on Twitter @marjorieromeyn.