We Are Not “All The Same Inside” Our Wallets: A Response to Burger King’s Proud Whopper, From A Former BK Employee

We Are Not “All The Same Inside” Our Wallets: A Response to Burger King’s Proud Whopper, From A Former BK Employee July 4, 2014
Image: Burger King Logo, and two hamburgers, one wrapped in rainbow-colored paper reading, “Proud Whopper,” the other unwrapped, sitting on rainbow-colored paper reading “We are all the same inside.”

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.

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  • AndyT

    Yes, I think many companies actually see LGBT people and their allies just as a new target for their marketing campaigns; which somehow enables conservative propaganda to imply that LGBT issues are just an evil craze of sorts, always trying to distort the “natural law” and to brain-wash people for profit.

  • bmk

    Sarah, you wrote: “I want my differences as a queer person to be liberated and affirmed, not erased. Not dismissed with “We are all the same inside.” ”

    That got me thinking — what is the best way to talk about and celebrate our commonalities while not eliding or erasing different experiences and oppressions? As you point out, the exploitative nature of Burger King’s practices certainly affects how their message will be perceived. And the clumsiness of the blanket statement “We are all the same inside” certainly doesn’t help.

    This is something I’ve been wondering about, especially since so many “public” discussions recently have seemed to revolve around this dynamic (PCUSA’s General Assembly, Indiana’s marriage laws, etc). Moving between the particular and the general, and celebrating both commonalities and diversities — I know that I too easily fall into a one-or-the-other mentality on these things. Clearly, “relationship” is part of the answer, but it seems incomplete.

  • Well, if you insist on liberating yourself by rubbing your allegedly private life in other people’s faces, don’t turn around and decry their hateful lack of affirmation of it.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      Pretty sure you didn’t read this and just jumped to the comments to be a jerk. so bye now!

  • Donnadama

    Of course, since businesses don’t have a “soul” (or didn’t until recently) their purpose isn’t noble uplifting kindness, it is making money, and promoting any social cause ( like the Cheerios ad with the cute biracial little girl) is more to help their business than whatever cause. That said, whatever helps a cause even if its only bringing attention by criticism, is still a contributing factor to change. Does Burger King pay LGBTS any less than their other employees? Or than the myriad of other companies that pay poorly? Then if not, you’re mixing up your issues here. Working to improve the minimum wage is separate from LGBTs rights and acceptance. People say entertainment personalities have no business opining about, and no expertise in, politics. Yet I think sports stars coming out, shows like Modern Family and Ellen and movies like Dallas Buyers Club and The Normal Heart have made a greater contribution to bringing around people to the belief that LGBTs are indeed just “people like all the rest of us” than all the laws that are being changed. Of course we are all different, but the only way to make a chink in bigots’ armor of hate and disgust is to promote our likenesses not our differences. So if Burger King is bringing attention to the cause accept the positive aspects of a well known popular business sticking its neck out (and surely alienating a whole lot of its customers who will cross them aff their list of places they will patronize) to remove another block in the wall of prejudice against LGBTs.