New York Holds Town Hall to Discuss SCA Deferred Candidacy Policy

New York baristas come together to discuss the SCA Deferred Candidacy Policy and decision to move forward with WCE competitions in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as part of a series of town hall meetings taking place across the world.


Coffee professionals in the New York area crammed into the Joe Coffee on Waverly Place Wednesday night to discuss the Specialty Coffee Association’s (SCA) Deferred Candidacy policy, as well as the continued decision to hold a number of World Coffee Events (WCE) competitions for 2018 in Dubai.

Liz Dean, who sits on the Barista Guild of America’s Executive Council, organized the event, although not in her capacity as a representative of the BGA.

The recent policy from the SCA comes after controversy over the awarding of WCE events to Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE has been cited by human rights organizations for violations including curtailing freedom of speech, abuses of migrant workers, slave labor, and criminalization of same-sex relations.

While there is no law in the UAE explicitly barring same-sex relationships and sex, article 356 of the penal code outlaws “indecency.” This can be used to cover a variety of offenses viewed as illegal sexual intercourse, known as zina in Sharia law, including same-sex relationships. Article 177 of the penal code in Dubai punishes consensual sodomy by up to 10 years in prison.

Liz Dean, Executive Council member of the Barista Guild of America, led the discussion regarding Dubai and the Deferred Candidacy Policy.

There have been several cases of LGBT people being detained in Dubai, including YouTube personality Gigi Gorgeous, a transgender woman, being detained at the Dubai International Airport in 2016.

As a bi male, the coffee community was the first community where I felt comfortable with myself,” Will Hewes, a barista at Irving Farm, said. “It is because of being in this industry that I was able to share who I am with my family—despite the fact my father doesn’t even believe bi people exist still. It is here where I feel safe, supported, and connected. Which is why the actions of the SCA are so appalling. At its best, their decisions as of late show a lack of awareness of what this community is to many of the people in it, or at its worst they show total disregard to marginalizing already marginalized groups.”

Around 30 coffee professionals gathered at the Joe Coffee café in the West Village of Manhattan on Wednesday evening for a town hall.

The numerous attendees expressed frustration with the wording of the policy as well as the lack of transparency from the SCA. Eric Grimm stated he was confused by the SCA’s bylaws and suggested a member of the board explain the organization’s rules to members.

Questions were also raised regarding the funding of the event and how it was awarded to Dubai. “As far as I know, there is no criteria for choosing a city,” Liz said. Others pointed out that in addition to the numerous human rights abuse claims leveled at Dubai, the emirate is known for its decadence, which might not be accessible for all competitors and exhibitors. “I’ve never been to Dubai, but I’ve heard it’s freaking expensive,” Won Jung said.

While the crowd in attendance was there to express frustration over the location of the competitions, the attendees overwhelmingly took issue with the attempt from the SCA to better the situation. “We’re mad about Dubai, but we’re more mad about how it was handled,” Liz said. She pointed out in the meeting there was little-to-no chance of the events being pulled out of Dubai due to contracts. She also added the Deferred Candidacy Policy requires people to out themselves.

Attendees raising their hands to show they took issue with the language used in the SCA’s Deferred Candidacy Policy.

The policy allows those who place, but are unable to compete due to “nationality, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual identity/orientation, health, bereavement, or force majeure,” to defer their placement to the following year’s competition.

The attendees explored how to address the decision, including through boycott or pulling out of roles in competitions. Carlos Morales said he was pulling from judging at competitions. Jenna Gotthelf said she will be competing.

Some of the attendees suggested focusing on competitors who are straight, white, cisgender men to show some sign of solidarity with those who would be unable to compete due to Dubai’s laws. Others pointed to how it put focus on those competitors while attendees who never intend to compete wanted to enact change.

“I want to do something,” Danielle Francis said, “not have some guy doing it.”

Sam Lewontin of Everyman Espresso shares their perspective during the meeting.

The town hall, which lasted nearly two hours, ended after the group came up with action items. In addition to seeking an explanation of SCA bylaws, the group questioned who is sponsoring the Dubai event and reaching out to those companies and suppliers. Those in attendance would also like to see the language in the deferment policy adjusted.

Others said they were going to become more involved in the coffee industry to prevent situations like this from occurring again. Grimm said he was “inspired” to join the BGA in order to vote.

There are more town halls planned throughout the world to discuss the SCA’s recent actions. We covered the town hall in Seattle, and will continue to provide coverage of other town halls across the globe. 

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