Orlando Publix bakery refused to put the word ‘trans’ on a cake, says support group

The manager ‘said it was taking a stance, and that they weren’t allowed to take a stance’

Yasmin Flasterstein and Dandelion Hill had just one stop left on their way to a "transgender joy" event hosted by the Orlando group they co-founded, Peer Support Space. They walked into Publix at Colonialtown with the intention of picking out a cake and grabbing some flowers.

But when the two asked the bakery associate to write, "Trans people deserve joy," on their flowery sheet cake, they were met with a face of confusion. Then the bakery manager told them they couldn't do that.

The manager said "it was taking a stance, and that they weren't allowed to take a stance on stuff like that," Flasterstein told Orlando Weekly.

The incident happened April 26, as Flasterstein and Hill prepared for Peer Support Space's "Spread Trans Joy" event at the Mexican Consulate just outside downtown Orlando. Amid the anti-trans legislation and discriminatory environment raging through Florida, the volunteer-based event was intended to uplift the community, with time spent putting together care packages and writing handwritten letters to send to trans folks in Florida.

"The whole event was about trans joy, just celebrating the trans community and specifically to not talk about legislation," Flasterstein told Orlando Weekly. "To just come together and spread love."

After Flasterstein dropped off the cake with the bakery associate, she noticed he seemed confused. She even spelled the word "trans" out for him. She wondered if he thought she said "trains."

Flasterstein walked away from the counter, thinking it was going to get done. When she returned, Hill, who is trans, was crying by the bakery counter.

The bakery manager apologized to the pair, but said that writing, "Trans people deserve joy," was against corporate policy at Publix.

Instead, the bakery offered to write, "People deserve joy," on the cake,  leaving extra room at the top. They said they would give Hill and Flasterstein icing to use themselves.

As consolation, the manager told them they weren't allowed to write "Black Lives Matter" on cakes, either.

As they were leaving, Flasterstein noticed the bakery manager, who appeared upset and teary-eyed, speaking with others in the store manager's office. She asked if there were someone else she could speak to, or if they could connect her with a corporate contact. They told Flasterstein to find contact information online.

The two left, and Flasterstein piped the word "TRANS" on top of the cake herself, in the Publix parking lot.

The trans joy event ended up being a success, despite the cake incident. Flasterstein and Hill decided not to bring their negative experience into a supportive space, and just got on with the event. The group even sang "We love trans people every day," in the tune to "Happy Birthday to You" before sharing the cake.

Six days later, though, Flasterstein took to social media.

"It was a slap in the face of the reality of the state of the world on a day where a joyful event ALMOST let me have a break from all that. We very politely pleaded, literal tears in our eyes, to please write the message. They refused," she wrote in a Facebook post.

After Orlando community members filled the post with comments and shares, Publix's social media team saw it and reached out to Flasterstein. When she got a response, the representative blamed the situation on the associate.

The Publix representative told Flasterstein they were allowed to write "Trans people deserve joy" on the cake, she says, and added that the store should have agreed to write the message.

"I do feel like there is some sort of policy that they're not being transparent about, or they're not taking accountability for it," she said.

In an email sent by Publix's public affairs office, the chain offered “sincere apologies."

“We are often asked to create specialty cakes with free-hand designs. Our policy indicates that our associates may write statements that are not copyrighted or trademarked, support a charitable cause, are factual and considered to have a positive connotation. As we indicated in our Facebook conversation, our associates should have fulfilled your request," the response from Publix representatives read.

In response, Flasterstein sent a letter to Publix on behalf of Peer Support Space. In the letter, she asks Publix to address questions the Colonialtown location's employees could not:

— "What 'issue' are you referring to? It seems to us that trans people, like all human beings, are worthy of joy. What, in your views, makes them not worthy of the very human need of experiencing joy?"

— "What is the policy for cake writing? What is deemed appropriate or inappropriate?"

— "As a corporate citizen, Publix says in its website to be committed to diversity. Where does the LGBTQ+ community fit within your diversity culture?"

— "Is Publix in agreement with the actions of this associate? If not, what will you do to keep this from happening again?"

“I’d like to highlight that this associate seemed to be genuinely convinced that she would lose her job if she accommodated our request,” the letter ends. “We do NOT wish to get her in trouble, but we demand that you do better.”

Flasterstein has yet to receive another response from Publix. The general manager of the Colonialtown store offered her a cake or a platter. He also said he would be personally retraining everyone. On what, he didn't specify.

While she awaits the corporate office's response, Flasterstein remains hopeful for the community.

"There is a lot of love for the trans community in Orlando. And I don't think this incident is representative of Orlando as a whole."

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Chloe Greenberg

Chloe Greenberg is the Digital Content Editor for Orlando Weekly.
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