Trans Starbucks Worker Fired Over Viral Argument With Customer Speaks Out

Exclusive: Luna Spain lost her manager's job after an interaction with a customer was covered by right-wing media. She told VICE News she is being treated as a criminal despite being the victim of transphobia.
Luna Spain Starbucks trans fired
Photo: Luna Spain / Facebook

A trans woman who lost her job as a Starbucks manager – after an altercation with a customer that went viral – has spoken exclusively to VICE News about the incident “to set the record straight.”

In her first interview since footage of the incident blew up online and was covered extensively by right-wing outlets, Luna Spain said the customer called her and another trans colleague “trannies” and shouted negatively about gender in the packed Starbucks store. 


After two years as a manager, Spain said she was fired without even having a meeting with her bosses at work. 

Police have told us they are investigating the incident, which took place in April, as a potential transphobic hate crime, and Spain said she was considering legal action against the customers as well as her former employer. 

Spain, 28, said that her name, address and contact details were published online after the video went viral, and that “transphobes have started knocking” at her home and her family’s homes. 

Do you have a story to share? We'd love to hear from you. You can contact Ben Hunte at, or via Twitter or Instagram.

Footage taken at the Starbucks in Southampton, in southern England, showed Spain arguing with a woman, identified as Vanessa Thomas, while a man, understood to be the woman’s partner Mark Andrews, filmed the incident. 

The video also features Spain asking the customer to leave the store while clapping in her face, and calling her "Karen." The video ends with Spain walking up to the man filming the incident and apparently knocking the phone out of his hand. 

The footage has been viewed across multiple social media platforms millions of times, and received coverage in right-leaning publications such as the Daily Mail and GB News. The coverage mainly focused on the confrontation between Spain and the female customer.


But in an interview, Spain told VICE News that the video only showed the end of the incident, and was not reflective of what really happened.

“The viral video doesn’t show the customer calling us trannies and going on a rant about gender. It doesn’t show how it started with her screaming about why we don’t accept cash, and demanding that we do. The internet’s been filled with lies,” she said.

After the video went viral, Spain says she's faced transphobic abuse online and in-person. While initial reports said that she could face a police investigation, VICE News has spoken to current staff and customers who were all there when the incident occurred, and the details are very different to what has been reported and shared so far. Spain said that she had not been contacted for comment by the right-wing outlets who had reported on the video.

The Starbucks outlet featured in the video and where Spain worked until recently is actually a franchise owned by UK company 23.5 Degrees. Staff there told us they'd been warned not to speak to journalists. 

“I’m the victim of a transphobic hate crime, but I’m being treated like a criminal,” Spain said – visibly shaken.

“The woman in the video was rude and abusive all the way through us trying to serve her,” she said. “She was furious about not being able to pay cash, but it’s quite a common reaction from some older customers in our store, so I was ready with a response. But she just wouldn’t accept it.”


Spain said the customer started “losing her mind after she deliberately misgendered my colleague standing next to me and I corrected her pronouns,” adding that “it was deliberate and spiteful, not a mistake like she seems to be claiming online.”

“She said, ‘what is it with you trannies and all this gender stuff’ and ‘with you trannies it’s always all about gender’ – I cut her off and told her she’s not getting served. I asked her to come to the till and get a refund. But instead, she started getting louder and louder. She was calling me ‘a man’ as much as she could, and calling my colleague who is a trans man ‘a woman’ in front of a full store of customers and colleagues.”

Spain said that it was at this point that she lost her temper and wanted to remove the customer from the store. 

“This is of course conveniently the point that the viral video starts at,” Spain told me, adding: “People need to remember that we deal with all sorts of customers all the time, including transphobic ones, but nothing like this has ever happened before. The customer was a massive problem.” 

Asked why she grabbed the customer’s partner’s phone, Spain said: “I wanted the video to be deleted. I didn’t want to be online and shamed like so many other trans people have been. When I didn’t get it, I grabbed the other customer by the bag and escorted her out of the store, then immediately closed the door – which unfortunately cracked the glass.”


Staff members and other customers who were there at the time have corroborated these events to VICE News, and they all continue to believe that Spain was not in the wrong.

One customer – who did not want to be named because they’re scared of a backlash – told me: “So much of what I’m reading about the incident online is absolute bollocks. The Starbucks girl tried to de-escalate the situation, and when the customer didn’t stop, she got her out of the door like any security guard would have. I don’t see the issue. The customer should’ve just left rather than caused a scene.” 

Staff at the store reported the incident to senior management as soon as the customer was out of the store. Management initially sided with Spain, she said.

“I definitely expected disciplinary action, that’s what they said would happen, but I didn’t expect to lose my job. It’s like they were trying to do damage control. HR suddenly called me and pushed me to hand in my notice, and when I didn’t, I received an email terminating my employment one hour later,” Spain said. “There was no investigation, no meeting, just a cold email.” 

VICE News has seen the termination email, and challenged Starbucks on Spain’s firing without a full investigation or meeting. We also asked Starbucks what trans employees should do when faced with abuse from customers. 


In response, a spokesperson for Starbucks said: “We pride ourselves on offering a welcoming and inclusive environment, and expect everyone, including our green apron partners (employees) and customers, to treat one another with dignity and respect. Following an investigation, it was determined by the licensee that this partner be separated from the company.”

When Starbucks confirmed that Spain was no longer employed at the store, so-called “gender critics” celebrated across social media. They also piled onto the Starbucks outlet, leaving negative reviews on business rating platforms, and they used the incident as an excuse to further their transphobic narratives.

VICE News has seen Thomas’s and Andrews’s social media profiles, where they and their friends repeatedly use transphobic slurs. In the comments of the original post where Andrews uploaded the video of the incident, they refer to Spain as “he”, “it” and “that”. They also claim they were never scared of Spain, using laughing emojis throughout, with Thomas writing: “I would have knocked it out if there weren’t cameras,” adding another cry-laughing emoji. VICE News reached out to Thomas and Andrews on Facebook to ask whether they had used transphobic slurs against Spain and her colleague and whether their feelings had changed about the incident, but we did not receive a response.

Spain added: “I'm angry, I'm upset, and I'm experiencing the worst mental health of my life, all while the customer laughs about it on Facebook. What do they want me to do? De-transition? I feel so unsafe every time I leave the house now – especially because reporters have spoken to all of my neighbours about me. Every single person that walks by me is a threat. People on social media are trying to get me kicked out of university. I haven't done anything wrong.” 

Asked what is happening next with the incident, Spain told VICE News she has reported the female customer to the police. Spain said, “she very clearly committed a hate crime against me – and my colleague – just for being trans.”

“I also want a letter of apology from my former employers for not investigating properly. I’m seeking legal advice about the customer lying about me, and the Daily Mail publishing my name, address and private photos without even asking me for a comment.”