I’ve been planning this piece since January, but didn’t get to writing it due to the pandemic and protests. I’m posting it now, though, because there have been several very interesting Pride-related updates this summer and because the cisheteropatriarchy and religious bigotry do not rest.
Conservative Christianity, which is the kind I’m talking about in this post, is also obsessed with the gender binary and using religious text to excuse everything from colonization to homophobia. I try my best to say exactly what I mean, so when I use the phrase “white Christian cisheteropatriarchy,” it’s not because I’m trying to sound smart or “woker than thou,” but because it gets quickly to point and names the particular confluence of problems at work here. Furthermore, Christianity and queerness are not two ends of one political spectrum — you can be a queer person of faith and/or a queer Christian, and different churches and sects (and the individuals within them) vary quite a lot with including, hiring, and showing up for the LGBTQIA+ community.
So! If you are a cisgender, heterosexual person who is Christian or culturally Christian, and you are offended by the following discussion of bigotry disguised as faith, I am real, real sorry that the devil has made a home in your heart and I hope God graces you with empathy.
When is a Rainbow Cake Gay?
Anyway, rainbow cakes. Who are they for?
In January 2020, so roughly a hundred years ago by COVID-19 standards, a girl was expelled from a private Christian school in Louisville, Kentucky, over a photo that showed her wearing a rainbow sweater and celebrating her 15th birthday with a rainbow cake.
BuzzFeed News quotes the student’s mother, Kimberly Alford:
“This is not about sexuality. This is not about being gay. This is about me celebrating my daughter’s birthday with her.” Alford told the Courier-Journal, which first reported on the expulsion, that her daughter does not identify as a member of the LGBTQ community.”
Alford said school authorities told her she “represented gay pride” when she bought the cake and that she should have refused it when she saw the colors. She added that she is not sure who may have shared the picture with the school, but that she’s friends with other parents, staff members, and teachers on Facebook.“This Mom Is Claiming A Christian School Expelled Her Teen Daughter Over A Picture With A Rainbow Cake”
Soon after the expulsion, Kenney’s family sued the Whitefield Academy for defamation and invasion of privacy, as Kenney was not out at the time.
The school’s statement that “[rainbow cakes] represent gay pride” struck me as strange for two reasons. First, there is some conservative Christian rhetoric that denies the rainbow as a symbol of Pride because in the Bible it’s a symbol of God’s pact with Noah (Genesis 9). For example, the Creation Museum of Petersburg, KY, lit up their “replica” of Noah’s Ark with rainbow lights in 2016 to snub gay folks (images of the rainbow ark here). More on that later.
Second, what is perceived as “gay” by heteronormative society is a moving goalpost set on entrapment. I feel as if I’m playing devil’s advocate here by saying that, when straight people and companies market rainbow cakes as birthday cakes, including during literal Pride month, I can perfectly understand why a teenager and her parent would want one as a birthday cake. If bakeries, bakeware companies, and social media accounts are drilling it into our heads that rainbow cakes are fun and brightly colored birthday cakes because they refuse to acknowledge the queer community, why would a straight parent and her not-out kid have any reason to believe otherwise? And by this logic, can rainbow cake make you gay?
Like my post about vetting food blogs, I’m just going to pick on large corporations/brands and their highlighted bloggers, but if you’re a small food company or a baker, please take notes.
In particular, I’m going to discuss Wilton, maker of baking accoutrement, and their Instagram account @wiltoncakes, which at the time of this post has 2.5 million followers. Up until recently, I followed Wilton on Instagram because I use their products. I stopped following Wilton when they posted a gender-reveal cake idea in the year of our Lorde 2019, although a Google search shows they’ve actually been promoting gender reveals on their website since at least 2016.
When I started following @wiltoncakes in 2018 or so, I started noticing something strange. Wilton’s cake-related Instagram account, which typically posts once or twice a day, had never once labelled a rainbow cake as a Pride cake on their Instagram between January 2019 and May 2020. Now, not all rainbow cakes are made for Pride. I don’t know, I guess some people like bright colors, nature, and pots of gold and rainbows. But this insistence from Wilton on claiming they were posting rainbow “birthday cakes” every June with zero acknowledgement of Pride shows that 1. some rainbow cakes are actually marketed for (straight people’s) birthdays and 2. Wilton appears to have been afraid of alienating their more conservative customers, as we’ll see later.
Here are some examples. Note: These are not the only rainbow desserts posted in this 17-month period, and I actually went and looked at cakes from 2018 as well and saw the same trend. While embedding is easier in WordPress, I have also screen-shot receipts taken in early August 2020.
Not labelled as birthday cakes include rainbow desserts for the following occasions:
Rainbows … just because.
To summarize this visual section: according to Wilton, rainbow cakes are for birthdays, summer, St. Patrick’s Day, and when you’re just vibing. Nothin’ gay to see here!
But to return to our friends in Kentucky, here’s the kicker: here is a cake design with rainbow swirls featured on Wilton’s Instagram that is nearly identical to the cake that Kayla Kenney and her mom got. Marketed as a birthday cake. Posted on June 4, 2019, approximately 6 months before the incident.
I’ve Robbed the Rainbow to Make You Gay
(Section title is a reference to one of the greatest ads of all time, Jester Wool.)
I’m heartened to see that Wilton has offered the eensiest scrap of buttercream visibility to Pride Month, including one staff post for Pride and one cake post featuring a gay baker who wrote a nice statement about what baking means to him as a queer person. Two whole posts!
And immediately the bigots descended, claiming that Christians are the ones being oppressed (unclear if whether by the gays or Wilton, but probably both):
I’m just wondering when Christianity will be given a voice.. LGBTQ community have rights…but when Christians take a stand we are silenced. Well, I’m glad I know who Jesus is. My rainbow doesn’t represent gay pride…my rainbow represents a levitical promise…a covenant God made with Noah after the flood…that He would not destroy the entire world by flood again. To those who choose to display the rainbow for gay pride don’t do it in Jesus’ name!! We may have to tolerate but we don’t need to accept. I’ll continue to love as God has commanded me to love but I refuse to let anyone tell me what I must believe. I also have rights and my cinvictions are based on God’s Word & Truths…doesn’t matter if you don’t believe it…God said it…that settles it! You can’t rewrite HIStory and never put a question mark where God puts a period.🙌 Now @wiltoncakes How ’bout you post some beautiful cakes with the true story of the rainbow on them as recorded in Gen. 9:8-17…that’s Good News🙌 Glory Hallelujah🙌A comment by gigigodsprincess on the rainbow cupcakes for Pride post by Wilton, June 28, 2020.
Now this comment is odd, and not just because of the scriptural misunderstandings.3 Wilton is very much a company that makes bakeware and decorating equipment specifically for major Christian holidays and also posts tutorials and ideas for desserts for said Christian holidays on their social media. Looking at their Instagram from Spring 2020, they posted the following with hashtags for Easter (like #EasterBaking) for a total of 19 desserts across 27 posts: bunny-butt cupcakes, bunny-ear silhouettes on cupcakes, an Easter cake by another baker using their bunny and chick decorations, a retro Easter lamb cake, a buttercream Easter bunny design (2 posts), an Easter bunny cake, Easter egg cake pop molds, a tutorial for royal icing Easter egg cookies, “twisted bunny cookies” (posted 3 times), a giant Easter egg cake made with their pastel bunny decorations, retro Easter cookies, an Easter-themed takeover over by a baker who did a five-post series on a how to make Easter bunny decorations on the cake, a carrot cake, candy bunny decorations, a pinata cake for Easter, Easter egg cupcakes, an Easter chicks cake from another baker, and an Easter bunny cake.
So does Wilton need to start making the crosses from Calvary as chocolate molds or a mold for a giant marzipan St. Catherine’s wheel4 or what? Is this hyperbolic humor, or do I just want a St. Sebastian mold?
After all these years of rainbow cakes as birthday cakes, some conservative Christians get one whiff of socially acceptable gay pride and lose their shit.5
“be educated”?!?!?! 🤔🤔🤔hmmm. The cupcakes are lovely but If u want to “be educated” then I would start with the book of Genesis. It’s a good one!! “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” Genesis 9:13. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27Comment by @slc__3 on the rainbow cupcakes post by Wilton, June 28, 2020.
So let me get this straight: Christians who are homophobic want to “take the rainbow back” from “the gays.” Rainbows, according to them, shouldn’t be for “gay pride” but to celebrate God’s covenant. However, if the rainbow is the symbol of a covenant, then why was this student expelled instead of being celebrated for taking the rainbow back from the gays? You can’t claim that the gays stole the rainbow and demand it back while also claiming any association with the rainbow is gay. So why–?
Because if you can’t homophobically traumatize a child to make her an example, you’re doing this flavor of Christianity wrong. That’s why.
So what did we learn today?
- Eating a rainbow cake is for birthdays; Pride doesn’t exist
- Eating a rainbow cake also is secretly gay
- Gays stole rainbows from Christians (apparently not from the Jewish folks who wrote Genesis though)
- Eating a rainbow birthday cake for your birthday means you’re promoting gayness
- Acknowledging Pride month as well as Christian holidays at a rate of 1:10 means you are biased against Christians
- Eating rainbow cake is picking a fight with God(?)
Like a lot of QT people and other marginalized folks, I deal with the horror of living within Christian cishet hegemony with humor. But joking aside, it’s disturbing that this double standard about rainbow cakes led to a school expelling a teen. It ultimately doesn’t matter whether she identified as somewhere in the LGBTQIA+ community at the time or if she just liked rainbows. As Kenney’s lawyer said,
“This lawsuit is about whether or not (the school) followed their own rules when they expelled Kayla, and they didn’t,” she said. “They skipped a whole bunch of (disciplinary) steps and went straight to plan Z, in my book, which is expelling a 15-year-old based on a photo.”“Louisville private school hit with lawsuit after expelling teen pictured with rainbow cake” (link has a link to the case filing)
If any of you out there reading this are in a similar situation to Kayla: I grew up not that far from where you are, and I know this particular flavor of Midwestern-Southern religious bigotry well. It’s terrible, demoralizing, and hypocritical. But there is a whole community of LGBTQIA+ folks in and from Southern Ohio and Kentucky who are rooting for you and who can help you. You’re not alone.
- PFLAG Louisville
- Louisville Youth Group (a group for LGBTQ+ youth)
- Queersplaining Podcast with Callie Wright of Cincinnati
- Lambda Legal Kentucky
A Few Bonus Posts from my “Accidentally Queer on Wilton” Bookmarks:
Unicorns are bisexual, and so are narwhals. Sorry heteros. I don’t make the rules of bisexuality.6
Does Wilton literally not see the pansexual pride flag (pink, yellow, blue) here?
Or the bi flag (pink, purple, blue) here?:
This is like a combo trans-bi pride flag, or as Wilton likes to call it, “Summer”:
For more on understanding the world of cis straight people, check out Gender According to the Cis, my new favorite absurdist video about what gender reveal cakes reveal about what cisgender people think about gender. Also, I hope you all get some Ovaltine so you can wake up gay!
If you enjoyed this article, consider donating to one of the resources I linked above. You can also support work like this by joining my Patreon, leaving me a tip on Ko-Fi, or purchasing some zines, including my new one on Big Butter Jesus. And if anyone knows of a legal fund for Kayla Kenney, please drop me a line.
Many, many thanks to the Rev. JFG for her invaluable assistant and support for this article, as well as for sending me this very useful article on translations and “homosexuality” in the Bible.
- Words have meaning. I mean this in the prescriptivist (prescribing how a word should be used) way but the descriptivist way: describing the way the word is used. For example, a prescriptivist way of looking at the word bisexual would be to claim that because “bi means two” in Greek, that prescribes (incorrectly) that there are “only two genders” and bisexuals are “only attracted to men and women” in the English word bisexual. Whereas the descriptivist (and correct) definition of bisexuality has been the attraction to two or more genders, not always at the same time or to the same degree. White Christian cisheteropatriarchy can be hard to explain succinctly, ironically, because it’s all tied together, and it’s also tied to capitalism and colonization. I think the LGBTQA+ Center at Michigan State defined many of the intersections of white supremacy, Christian cultural hegemony, and the role of transphobia and queerphobia in the patriarchy faster than I could in their definition of the gender binary:
Gender Binary: A socially constructed gender system in which gender is classified into two distinct and opposite categories. These gender categories are both narrowly defined and disconnected from one another. They are strictly enforced through rigid gender roles and expectations. Further, there is a hierarchy inherent to the classification, in which one gender, men/boys/masculinity, has access to power and privilege and the other, women/girls/femininity, is marginalized and oppressed. These classifications are seen as immutable; those assigned male at birth should identify as men and embody masculinity and those assigned female at birth should identify as women and embody femininity. This binary system excludes nonbinary, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming individuals. All people are harmed by the gender binary system, but your place within the system determines the degree and quality of harm. The gender binary is weaponized through conquest, colonization, and continued occupation of indigenous peoples lands. The gender binary system is inherently violent and foregrounds all gender-based oppression.
2. The original post by @britishgirlbakes did not acknowledge Pride and is similar to the Wilton post, but the second time the baker posted the rainbow heart cake, they did write about Pride.
3. “The Good News, as demonstrated by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has absolutely nothing to do with this comment.” – Rev. JFG.
4. I swear Birdy had one for her name day in Catherine, Called Birdy, and also the original cover was better.
5. This reminds me a lot of when my reply guys used to try to tell me that women shouldn’t complain about the male gaze and hypersexualization of women in film because — I kid you not– “you have Magic Mike now!” OKAY, DUDE.
6. Unicorn doesn’t just refer to a bisexual person doing solo polyamory with a couple; unicorns have been adopted as a symbol by the bi+ community because no one thinks we’re real! Narwhals are also a symbol bi and pan folks use (and one of my partner’s most popular sticker designs) because narwhals look like mythical creatures but are actually real.