Earlier this year, Michelle Berber decided to name her newly established, idiosyncratically-themed fair trade coffee company Queer Coffee.
Their slogan: “the coffee that makes you feel more like yourself.”
Simple and alliterative, and definitively queer-centric, it is the kind of name that says what it has to say, quite plainly and from the start.
While Berber, who lives in Vermont, characterized her product as “a novelty item with a message,” she was careful to explain over the phone that such queer-minded novelty is not to be conflated with the empty gesture of a gimmick.
“LGBTQ people want good coffee--and most of us buy a lot of it--so [the coffee] might as well give back to our community,” she said. “This is a purchase that will make you feel good about giving back, plus it's a fun treat for yourself or as a gift.”
The coffee can be found at a price of $15 per bag on the company’s website, from which $2 will be donated to charities such as the Campaign for Southern Equality. The coffee, a dark roast, comes in twelve ounce bags of organic fair trade beans from a cooperative in Peru named La Florida. The coffee's bouquet, Berber said, contains “hints of chocolate and macadamia with a creamy, smooth finish.”
Berber, who graduated from Kentucky’s Murray University in 2003, majored in business administration while minoring in queer- and gender-theory, so she is fluent in the language of identity politics.
As the rhetoric of queer theory--a once subversive and esoteric parlance confined to the academy--infiltrates the millennial mainstream, more and more people are raising their voices to describe the intersectional experience.
For those inclined to moral indignation at the mention “Queer” in the company’s name, their website explains a new iteration of its usage that has taken hold:
“It used to be [offensive], yes. And it still can be too. But many LGBTQ people are using the term to describe all of us, without derision,” it said. “Queer Coffee embraces all of us in the LGBTQQIAAP community: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, and pansexual.”
Although Berber grew up in Detroit, and has for the last 14 years lived in Vermont, her loyalties lay with the South—where the gay, lesbian, and transgender people who live there are mainly fringe citizens, underrepresented in public life, far from the enemy heart of things.
“I chose to support the Campaign for Southern Equality with Queer Coffee because 1/3 of all LGBTQ Americans live in the south and yet lack basic lived and legal protections which many of us in the north take for granted,” Berber said.
“I believe that if you have a little bit of power or privilege, you should reach out and keep the door open or help others into the boat. You know, ‘lift as you climb.’”
Comparing queer life in Kentucky versus that in Vermont, Berber said, “It's clear that, politically, VT has politicians that represent liberal and LGBTQ causes fairly well, whereas KY has conservative and anti-LGBTQ representation in Congress. The personal is political and vice versa, so this makes a difference.”
“But both states are rural, both are community-minded in their own ways, and both have been home to me," she said.
Queer Coffee supports the Campaign for Southern Equality (https://southernequality.org), an organization that provides grant money to programs that aid disenfranchised individuals.
Although Berber currently donates $2 from every bag to such organizations, she plans to raise money separately to different organizations on occasion throughout the year.
But “since Queer Coffee is just starting, we want to raise a significant amount of money for the CSE and then see what other causes have a need or are of interest to our LGBTQ customers,” she said.
Visit QueerCoffee.org for more information.