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Online Extra: Gays Across America: Almost 28K sign LA man's Starbucks petition

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Niko Walker
Niko Walker  

A transgender Starbucks worker in Los Angeles is pushing to have the company extend family leave benefits for fathers and adoptive parents.

The petition distributed by Niko Walker, 25, had garnered almost 28,000 signatures as of Friday, May 12. (

In his petition, Walker, who's been with Starbucks for seven years, said the huge coffee company "has demonstrated its inclusivity to the LGBTQ community in so many ways," including coverage for gender reassignment surgery.

"Because of their public commitment to non-traditional families, I was surprised to learn that the paid leave offered to partners does not extend to fathers or adoptive parents," said Walker.

He said that this year, Starbucks announced a new parental leave policy for corporate office workers granting 18 weeks of paid leave to birth mothers, and 12 weeks paid leave to fathers, partners, and adoptive parents.

But birth mothers who work in the retail shops only get six weeks paid leave, while fathers, partners, and adoptive parents get nothing, according to Walker. The new policy is set to take effect October 1.

"This leaves a large community of Starbucks partners, including the LGBTQ partners who are starting families, in tough situations because they have to take unpaid leave in order to care for their families," he said. "... I am asking Starbucks to continue to show leadership in these areas and offer equal access to paid parental leave to all parents, not just those that work in the corporate office."

In response to the Bay Area Reporter's emailed questions, Walker said, "I plan to start a family in the next few years, which is why these benefits are so important to me. I will be a new father and possibly adopting so the current policy will leave me without pay if I took time off to be with my family."

A Starbucks spokeswoman provided a link to a company post that appears to confirm Walker's summary of the benefits it offers, but she said in an email, "You will not find another company that has pioneered more innovative benefits for full- and part-time employees." (The Starbucks post is at

Lesbian named CEO of Democratic National Committee

The Democratic National Committee announced that it's named Jess O'Connell, a lesbian, as its chief executive officer. O'Connell had served as executive director of Emily's List, which focuses on getting women elected to office.

"Every single day we are witnessing unprecedented activism and excitement across our nation," O'Connell, who lives in Maryland, with her wife, Holly, said in a news release. "I am thrilled to join the fight at the national party to make sure we translate this moment into a movement, and a movement into votes. ... I'm ready to jump in and help make this organization more inclusive, effective, and influential. We are poised to build a foundation for a new Democratic Party in every state to jump-start a wave of Democratic wins from school board to Senate nationwide."

DNC Chair Tom Perez stated, "Jess has an impressive progressive track record and I am honored that she will lend her talents to rebuilding our party and electing Democrats. She knows that we as a party need to get back to basics. We need to organize in every ZIP code and better communicate our message of inclusion and opportunity. We know what happens when Democrats don't win, because we are bearing witnesses to the chaos and harm to working families that results with Republicans at the helm. Jess' experience as a grassroots organizer and as a leader who has helped hundreds of Democratic candidates win up and down the ballot will be particularly valuable as we gear up for critical elections in 2017, 2018, and beyond."

Among other previous posts, O'Connell once worked in Colorado as the first woman director of AIDS Walk. In 2007, she joined the senior team for Hillary Clinton for President as the national director of operations.

Gays Across America is a column addressing LGBTQ issues nationwide. It runs most Tuesdays. Please submit comments or column ideas to Seth Hemmelgarn at (415) 875-9986 or



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