In case you haven’t heard, a Burger King store in San Francisco recently began selling something called “The Proud Whopper,” in support of the LGBTQ movement. The burger is just a regular Whopper, wrapped in rainbow-patterned paper bearing the message “We Are All The Same Inside.”
I suppose there could be some positives to this. It’s already pissing off religious conservatives and that’s always fun, right? And if some LGBTQ people find this affirming and encouraging, I definitely won’t hold it against them.
I’m a newly “out” bisexual, queer person. I’m new at this whole “pride” thing. But honestly? I’m not too excited about the Proud Whopper, perhaps because of my experiences working for Burger King and other fast food corporations.
In her book Sexuality and Socialism, Sherry Wolf discusses the trend of companies marketing their products toward LGBTQ communities and allies, and how corporations such as Burger King take advantage of Pride events to “shroud their exploitative enterprises in feel-good rainbow colors.” (pg. 151)
In the absence of any organized means to to achieve genuine social and political power, LGBT folks are offered capitalist society’s substitute. niche consumer “power.” …This rainbow-festooned market…papers over real class divisions among LGBT people… (pg. 158-159)
Yes. Let’s talk about these real class divisions.
Because, we’re not “all the same inside,” are we, Burger King?
I mean, this phrase is ridiculous for so many reasons:
“We’re all the same inside” minimizes the oppression LGBTQ people have faced and continue to face because of cisheterosexist society insisting that everyone ought to be “the same.” Many LGBTQ people have faced abusive reparative therapy at the hands of people who want everyone to be “the same.” It also others those LGBTQ folks who are aren’t content with assimilation—who want more than just the right to marry and be seen as “normal.”
I want my differences as a queer person to be liberated and affirmed, not erased. Not dismissed with “We are all the same inside.”
The main thing I want to talk about in this post, though, is my experience as former employee of Burger King, and how it shapes my reactions to hearing about the Proud Whopper. Burger King may be using the Proud Whopper to exploit the LGBTQ movement in order to make a buck or two, but this is nothing new for them. In fact, Burger King has been exploiting LGBTQ bodies for years.
You see, one place where we are definitely not “all the same” is inside of our wallets. LGBTQ people (especially if they are trans women and/or people of color) are disproportionately affected by poverty because of the various, overlapping oppressions they face.
How much do you think Burger King pays the queer people who work for them?
I’ll tell you how much I got paid when I worked there: $7.25 per hour. Minimum wage laws vary from state to state, but I can tell you that most Burger Kings are paying their workers as little as legally possible.
I’ll also tell you this—unless a Burger King is in a state where the law states otherwise, they can legally pay employees under the age of 20 what is called a “federal youth training wage.” This can be as low as $4.25. Though I personally do not know anyone who was getting paid that little, I did have an 18 year old coworker, working to care for her family, who was making only $7.00.
That’s even less than the federal minimum wage. Minimum wage is abysmal enough, and some Burger Kings won’t even pay their employees that.
Do you know how many teenage LGBTQ people are homeless because of rejection or abuse from their families? And here Burger King is paying some of these kids less than minimum wage, and still trying to convince us they care about LGBTQ communities.
What will the Proud Whopper do for Burger King’s LGBTQ employees? Will it help the gay couple who met while working in the kitchen together afford their wedding? What will it do for the queer college student who can’t come out of the closet because hir parents—who help hir with the school bill that ze can’t afford on only her BK salary—would cut hir off? How about the trans woman who works front counter? Will she be able to afford hormones now, even though Burger King won’t give her enough hours to qualify for health insurance?
If Burger King really cared about LGBTQ communities, if they really wanted to make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ people, they would pay their employees a livable wage.
They would pay the people who wrap their sandwiches in rainbows, sweep rainbows off the floor, unclog the rainbows that some jokester tried to flush down the toilet.
The people who stand for 8 hours straight or more, sometimes with no break, because rainbow Whoppers need to be made.
The people who have to run to the back of the store and strain their back to retrieve a new box of rainbows when they run out up front.
The people who get yelled and cursed at and called “faggot” or other slurs when rainbows don’t get to customers in time.
Until those employees are making a livable wage, I don’t think I can see The Proud Whopper as anything more than an attempt for Burger King to exploit LGBTQ people even more than they already do.
Keep your rainbows, Burger King. I don’t trust you with my liberation.