My Take On The SCA Dubai Kerfuffle

dubai skyline


The short version of the story is the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) announced that next year, multiple international coffee competitions will be hosted in Dubai, where homosexuality is illegal (Sharia law). This prompted a discussion on various social media platforms and the SCA attempted to correct the issue, but in a way that the community saw as making matters worse.

At the end of the day, I see this as an opportunity to include more people in the competition and to show a small part of the world that LGBT people are just like them—they have goals and dreams and fears and they have to work through it all just like everyone else.

The backstory

Recently the SCA announced it will be hosting several coffee competitions in Dubai in 2018. This decision offended a large part of the specialty coffee community, given the human rights issues in the country and the official stance against LGBT rights.  Immediately after the announcement to host the 2018 competitions in Dubai, many people took to social media to air their grievances and shortly after, the SCA made an announcement to keep the competitions in Dubai but offered competitors the ability to defer their opportunity until the following year, based on a number of listed reasons. However, the individual would need to explicitly state their reason for deferring and for an LGBT individual, this would mean ‘outing’ themselves to the SCA board.

In response to that, many became even more frustrated, and a few called for a boycott of SCA and others said they would not be renewing their membership. Sprudge announced it was resigning immediately as a media-partner to SCA. Additionally, the Canadian chapter of the SCA unilaterally pulled out of the Dubai competition, meaning even competitors who were willing to go to Dubai with the Canadian chapter now can’t. Recently, townhall events started popping up to discuss the SCA’s original decision and their decision to implement the deferment program. In some cases, the SCA was invited to attend, listen, and comment but not in all cases and in some cases, attendees were put-off by the SCA attending, thinking the SCA was trying to ‘co-opt’ the events.

And finally, there was a journalist attending the World Barista Championships in Seoul, who took the opportunity to talk to attendees at that event and hear what they thought of the whole situation. She found that the strongest reaction seemed to be coming from the Americans. This could be caused by a number of reasons, such as a lack of understanding of just how exclusive large parts of the world can still be when it comes to accepting the LGBT community. Part of it could also be that the US is enjoying a time when the community has a strong voice and a lot of support and acceptance and this seems like a step in the wrong direction. And I think part of it is also the state of politics in the US right now—it’s very contentious and adversarial and that sentiment spills over, into a lot of other discourse.

It’s an opportunity to lead

The specialty coffee industry is a relatively inclusive, diverse, and progressive community and this is an opportunity for us to show what a success all of that magic can be. Imagine if a member of the LGBT community won the competition in Dubai. Not to over-dramatize it, but think of the inspiration created by the iconic raised fists of the 1968 Olympics.

It’s an opportunity for Dubai residents

There may very well be members of the LGBT community in Dubai who are excited to meet other LGBT coffee people from more open societies. It’s an opportunity for the community to grow its connections, share experiences, etc.

It’s an opportunity for competitors of any sexual orientation in the region who wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel internationally to compete. Visas into the west, and the US specifically, can be hard to obtain for folks in the Middle East right now.

In a way, boycotting the competitions in Dubai is boycotting inclusiveness.

Advancing an agenda involves risk

I know I don’t share the risk of traveling to Dubai as an LGBT coffee individual. I can’t possibly know the fear and anxiety that some may feel in that situation. But I also know that the best answer to a bad ideology is a better ideology and I see this as an opportunity to show and share a better ideology—one of openness and inclusivity. It’s an opportunity to show that through inclusiveness the competition will be that much greater. Through diverse ideas, cultures can progress. And yes, all this can happen over a cup of coffee.

Did the SCA make a bad decision? We don’t know the contract details so we don’t really know. Is that fact in itself a problem? I think so. Could the SCA do a better job of communicating with members and the greater community once the issue was raised? Without a doubt. But I still think this is an opportunity that outweighs the risk.

A few days ago I had a great conversation with an SCA member & employee and one thing this person said was ‘it’s not the ‘me-show.’ It’s something bigger.’

Michael C. Wright

Michael is an American expat living in Singapore where he writes about many things coffee-related. A roaster by trade, Michael is also exploring coffee production and how to improve the lives of those who produce the noble bean.