Re-Centering Queerness With Colleen Anunu

We chat with Colleen Anunu, the SCA’s second vice president and Fair Trade USA’s director of coffee supply chain, about fighting for equity in coffee.


Cover photo courtesy of Tamper Tantrum

For Colleen Anunu, re-centering queer, transgender, and nonbinary identities isn’t just a nice thing to do; it’s part of a larger movement to restructure the coffee industry. As the director of coffee supply chain at Fair Trade USA, as well as the second vice president on the board of directors for the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), Colleen knows firsthand what the bigger issues are.

“We are not listening to farmers. We are not listening to queer and trans people. We are not listening to people of color. We are not listening to non-native English speakers,” Colleen says. “… It’s hard to sit and watch and be part of, but there’s also an aspect of, ‘If you can’t be part of it, how’re you gonna change it?’ This is the question I try and tackle all the time.”

Colleen delivered a presentation as part of the session “Gender: Workplace, Origin, Competition” at the Re:co Symposium in 2016. Photo by SCA.

In Colleen’s position with Fair Trade USA, she drives post-compliance market support for producer services, working with investment partnerships and grant-funded programs to help producers sell more coffee at a higher value. With the SCA, Colleen is working on the Coffee Price Crisis Response Initiative, and she co-chairs the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Task Force (ED&I).

ED&I started after the announcement of SCA’s Deferred Candidacy Policy following strong resistance from the industry to the SCA announcing it would hold the 2018 World Brewers Cup (WBrC) Championship in Dubai, UAE, a country where homosexuality and gender nonconformity are criminalized. When the SCA re-homed the WBrC and supported the city having its own event, it was clear that the SCA needed new systems to prioritize the values of the association and the safety of individuals. Colleen reached out to amplify marginalized voices in board discussions, weighing in with the help of Snowdrift Coffee’s Ant Walach, Máquina Coffee Roasters’ Gabe Boscana, and many other members. She continues to rely on the invaluable perspectives of strong figures in the industry, such as 2013 U.S. Brewers Cup Champion James McCarthy, The Chocolate Barista’s Michelle Johnson, and many other Task Force members.

Colleen has focused on amplifying marginalized voices, via the SCA board and beyond.

Reflecting on her past work in the coffee industry, Colleen says, “There were definitely times where I would think, ‘Oh, my queerness has really no impact on the work that I’m doing or my value,’ but now I totally recognize there are many times I couldn’t really see or understand beyond this reality that was protected by these other aspects of my privilege. As I was moving up the ladder within a company or networking within the industry, I definitely used aspects of my queerness and whiteness and everything to my advantage because I was able to enter into what would be predominantly heteronormative male spaces.”

After the formation of ED&I, Colleen says, “It’s a little bit different. And I think that’s because of the visibility of others who are more brave than I am in the industry, who have really put a lot on the line to give voice and visibility to marginalized people. I feel much more confident now challenging structures that are reinforcing a lot of that same behavior I experienced for the past 15 to 20 years, which is amazing. It’s invaluable. I’ve definitely received a lot of support from the broader community … so I either try and use as much as I can to activate change in my sphere of control or I amplify wherever I can, voices or perspectives of those who are facing continued challenges.”

Colleen Anunu celebrates Pride, and cats, everyday. Photo courtesy of Colleen Anunu.

It’s an approach she advocates for anyone who wants to support queer, transgender, and nonbinary people in coffee. “Because there is no shortage of people who still don’t get it, I think the things I want to repeat are: You have to listen to what queer and trans people have to say, and definitely other marginalized people as well. Listen and center the conversation on their experiences, not your own experience, to what they’re saying. Really try and understand and empathize. And when you’re taking action, prioritize their perspectives, and the one thing that I totally agree with is that the best response is changed behavior. Even if you were totally unaware that it was so coated in your privilege of owning and taking up space, the best thing you can do is change your behavior, and I think listening and centering their experiences more than anything is the best way to do that.”

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Mark Van Streefkerk
is Barista Magazine’s social media content developer and a frequent contributor. He is also a freelance writer, social media manager, and novelist based out of Seattle. If Mark isn’t writing, he’s probably biking to his favorite vegan restaurant. Find out more on his website.