Minister advises Costa Coffee to ‘avoid politics’ after trans mural backlash

Costa Coffee and cabinet minister John Glen

A cabinet minister has said UK businesses should “avoid politics”, after Costa Coffee faced backlash for including a cartoon of a trans man in its branding. 

Chief secretary to the Treasury John Glen told centre-right think tank Bright Blue on Monday (7 August) that he believes big businesses should avoid making political points unless they wish to run in an election. 

The Tory MP’s comments come a week after Costa Coffee became the latest brand at the centre of transphobic backlash, when a mural on the side of a Costa van showing a person with top surgery scars was posted online.

Anti-trans bigots were quick to threaten a boycott – making the hashtag #BoycottCostaCoffee trend – and accused the company of promoting ‘self-harm’, despite the fact gender affirming surgery has been shown to improve young trans people’s quality of life.

As quoted by the Evening Standard, Glen – who is the Conservative MP for Salisbury and voted against same-sex marriage in 2013 – said: “I think where we’ve got to now is that we’ve almost got a checklist of things that a business has to say and do in order to be deemed to be socially and ethically on the right side of the line. And I’m not sure about this.” 

Costa Coffee trans man cartoon
A cartoon of a trans man was seen on a Costa Coffee van. (Costa Coffee)

Making reference to the backlash to Bud Light collaborating with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney in April, Glen continued: “We’ve seen what can happen in recent months. 

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“Think of that US beer brand, where consumers reacted rather differently than was anticipated.

“I’m uncomfortable, instinctively, to see big businesses appropriating the views of their customers to make a political point.” 

He added: “If they want to get into politics, then stand for election.”

In response to the backlash, Costa Coffee has stood by its mural saying it “celebrate the diversity of our customers, team members and partners”.

“The mural, in its entirety, showcases and celebrates inclusivity,” the coffee brand said in a statement.

Speaking out against the backlash, Fox Fisher – an artist, author and film-maker who is non-binary and has had top surgery – described having gender-affirming surgery as an act of “self-love”, saying they are grateful they are able to “give myself more euphoria on a daily basis”.

Fox told PinkNews: “Costa showing support for underrepresented and misrepresented people within our wide-ranging LGBTQIA+, and specifically trans, community is a breath of fresh air, when so many other outlets and organisations are restricting trans lives.” 

PinkNews has contacted John Glen for comment.