Fellas, is it gay to eat rainbow cake?

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.

On the left side of the image is a slice of cake with five layers: red, orange, yellow, green, and blue, with white frosted and a pink and white striped candle. On the right is black script text on a pink background: "Fellas, is it gay to eat rainbow cake?"
Design made possible by Canva and Rainbow Cake photo by April Pethybridge on Unsplash

Before we move on, a quick note: Sometimes when I use terms like “cisheteropatriarchy,” commenters tell me that I’m using “SJW word salad” and accuse me of making up words. First of all, I’m a social justice bard, not a social justice warrior. Second, this isn’t a blog for Feminism 101, and I’m a queer trans person who writes for a queer audience. You’re welcome to read my work if you’re straight and/or cis or questioning, but I’m done justifying my existence and making myself and my writing palatable for straight society. But I also recognize that a lot of the language of sociology of gender and sexuality can be inaccessible due to academic jargon, so if you do want a primer on the interactions of hegemony in white Christian cisheteropatriarchy, head to the notes.

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?

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?

Wilton

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.

Image description: a square white cake decorated with rainbow frosting outside and layers of rainbow frosting inside. Text reads: “A beautiful pair of rainbows and rosettes! 🌈💕 This colorful cake with a rainbow surprise inside would make a memorable addition to your birthday celebration! Link in profile 👆
#wiltoncakes #cakes #cake #cakedecorating #cakeideas #instacake #cakesofinstagram #birthday #happybirthday #birthdayfun #birthdayparty #birthdaycake #rainbows #rosettes #rainbow #color #colorful
A two-tiered white cake decorated with rainbow-colored frosting swirls and stars cascading down one side and rainbow stripes on the bottom layer. Text reads: “Celebrate your birthday in color! 🌈 This buttercream rainbow cake by @cakebymanu will put a smile on anyone’s face! 😀 Link in profile for more birthday cake ideas 👆
#wiltoncakes #cakedecorating #cakeideas #birthdaycake #happybirthday #homemade #baking #tieredcake
A round layer cake frosted in white frosting with a rainbow swirl pattern on the top and a “cut out” in the frosting in rainbow frosting. On top of the rainbow on the side is lettering in white that reads “Happy Birthday.” Text reads “Happy Birthday January Babies! 🎉💙 Celebrate your month with this fun and colorful fault line birthday cake! 🌈✨ Find the written instructions on wilton.com
#wiltoncakes #happybirthday #birthdaycake #rainbow #rainbowcake #buttercreamcake #baking #homemade #cakedecorating #cakeideas #cake

Not labelled as birthday cakes include rainbow desserts for the following occasions:

“Summer”:

Rainbow-colored rice-cereal treats shaped like popsicles. Text reads: “The great thing about these rainbow pops is that they won’t melt in the summer heat! ☀️🌈Made using a simple rice cereal treat recipe, these Rainbow Rice Cereal Treat Pops make a great addition to your dessert table this summer! Link in profile 👆
#wiltoncakes #riceceraltreat #popsicle #nobake #summer #baking #desserts #desserttable #homemade

“Sunshine”

A yellow rising sun pattern piped onto a layer cake with buttercream. The sun beams are rainbow colors. Text reads, “This cheery cake by @thedessertpantry put a smile on our face! ☀️🌈😍 Link in profile for more cake ideas 👆
#wiltoncakes #cakes #cakedecorating #cakeideas #homemade #baking #sunshine #buttercream #buttercreamcake #frosting #rainbow #sun

For friends and family? Or “friends” and “family”?2

Rainbows … just because.

Image: white macrons with rainbow sprinkles in the filling and painted-on rainbow designs. Text: “If macarons have been on your baking bucket list for a long time, now’s the time to learn! 😍 Though these cookies do require some patience and practice, they’re not at all impossible to make at home. Check out our blog post for helpful tips when it comes to baking these tasty little cookies! 🎉 https://blog.wilton.com/how-to-make-macarons/
#wiltoncakes #cookies #frenchmacarons #homemade #baking #macarons #cookieideas #cookiedecorating #blog #macaron #buttercreamfrosting #royalicing

Rainbows can also be for #GoodVibesOnly or St. Patrick’s Day.

Image of a rainbow and message piped in icing on a white plate. The rainbow is blue, purple, pink, and gold, and the text in frosting reads “Sending You Good Vibes.” Post text reads,
“Our goal is to fill our social feeds with encouraging messages and positivity! 🌈💙✨Join our Cakegram Project by creating sweet messages using icing, sprinkles and lots of colors, then tag #sweeterincolor and @wiltoncakes.for a chance to be featured!
#wiltoncakes #sweeterincolor #cakegram #instacake #cakesofinstagram #baking #cakedecorating #buttercreamcake #sprinkles #buttercreamfrosting #homemade #baking #rainbow
36 mini-cupcakes frosted with rose-bud-style frosting in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple, arranged in a rainbow spectrum. Text reads, “Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with these colorful 🌈 cupcakes by @siftedcakecopdx using tip 2D! What is your go-to cupcake design? 🤔Link in profile for more decorating ideas 👆
#wiltoncakes #cupcakes #cupcakedecorating #cupcakeideas #homemade #baking #rainbow #tip2D #baking #homemade #stpaddys #st.patricksday”

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 Wait!

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.

A round layer cake decorated with rows of pastel rainbow-colored rosettes in an ombre from red to purple with red as the top layer of frosting. Text: “Rosettes can be a simple yet impressive design especially when done in multiple colors like this rainbow cake by @sarahs_sweets_ ! 🌈 A perfect cake to celebrate any birthday! 🎉 Link in profile for more birthday cake ideas👆
#wiltoncakes #cakes #buttercream #buttercreamfrosting #frosting #cakeideas #cakedecorating #instacake #cakesofinstagram #birthday #happybirthday #birthdaycake #birthdayparty #birthdayfun #rosette #rainbowcake
A round layer cake decorated with rows of saturated rainbow-colored rosettes in an ombre from red to purple with green, blue, and purple on the top of the cake. There are two candles: a one and a five for "15 years old." There are a salt and a pepper shaker in the foreground.
Detail of an image by Kimberly Alford via Buzzfeed News. A round layer cake decorated with rows of saturated rainbow-colored rosettes in an ombre from red to purple with green, blue, and purple on the top of the cake. There are two candles: a one and a five for “15 years old.” There are a salt and a pepper shaker in the foreground.

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!

Overhead photo of cupcakes decorated with marble-sized spheres of frosting in a rainbow palette. Text reads, “Adding some color to your feed to celebrate #PrideMonth! We celebrate and support all creatives, including LGBTQ bakers. Our community brings together people who share a passion for baking and decorating and our mission is to inspire the joy of creativity in everyone, everywhere, every day. Even though Pride Parades are canceled this weekend, we encourage everyone to show support, observe, listen, and be educated. 🌈🏳️‍🌈”
View this post on Instagram

Today, we are featuring baker Weston Bonczek of @suspendersguy! Learn more about how he uses baking to connect with his community… . “My favorite part of baking is sharing, whether it is at a gathering, online, dropping treats on the porches of friends to enjoy during the pandemic, at work, online, anywhere I can share my joy of baking with others creates a marvelous memory in my heart. In high school, my friends and I would make the most simple no bake cookies when we would spend time together. The past few years I have made a pie or a cake for the weekly Survivor watch party I would host at my home; and currently I am running a small Pride bake sale fundraiser in my community. My best baking memories are those that connect bakes to community because those are two things that really fuel my fire. . I never aim for a style that one would describe as overly polished or professional. I believe strongly in the love of home baking and home cooking and I think that rallying around one another as home bakers and home cooks can be such a powerful part of any of our lives. Succinctly, I would say my decorating style is effortful without a drive toward professionalism. . Baking is something that I am good at but I encourage people all the time to just give it a try and that being good isn't the inherent goal. Find fulfillment in creation whether or not it is beautiful or even delicious. Baking is an applied learning where you become better with practice and that's one of the things I love about it. . Support public education. Black Lives Matter.” Follow @suspendersguy for more sweet inspiration. Know a baker with a great story to tell? Tag them below!

A post shared by Wilton Cake Decorating (@wiltoncakes) on

Wilton’s second Pride post of 2020, which features Weston Bonczek’s 6-layer rainbow cake with each layer as a different color of the rainbow; frosted in white. Text reads, Verified
Today, we are featuring baker Weston Bonczek of @suspendersguy! Learn more about how he uses baking to connect with his community…
.
“My favorite part of baking is sharing, whether it is at a gathering, online, dropping treats on the porches of friends to enjoy during the pandemic, at work, online, anywhere I can share my joy of baking with others creates a marvelous memory in my heart. In high school, my friends and I would make the most simple no bake cookies when we would spend time together. The past few years I have made a pie or a cake for the weekly Survivor watch party I would host at my home; and currently I am running a small Pride bake sale fundraiser in my community. My best baking memories are those that connect bakes to community because those are two things that really fuel my fire.
.
I never aim for a style that one would describe as overly polished or professional. I believe strongly in the love of home baking and home cooking and I think that rallying around one another as home bakers and home cooks can be such a powerful part of any of our lives. Succinctly, I would say my decorating style is effortful without a drive toward professionalism.
.
Baking is something that I am good at but I encourage people all the time to just give it a try and that being good isn’t the inherent goal. Find fulfillment in creation whether or not it is beautiful or even delicious. Baking is an applied learning where you become better with practice and that’s one of the things I love about it.
.
Support public education. Black Lives Matter.”
Follow @suspendersguy for more sweet inspiration. Know a baker with a great story to tell? Tag them below!”

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.

“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 1:27

Comment 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?

  1. Eating a rainbow cake is for birthdays; Pride doesn’t exist
  2. Eating a rainbow cake also is secretly gay
  3. Gays stole rainbows from Christians (apparently not from the Jewish folks who wrote Genesis though)
  4. Eating a rainbow birthday cake for your birthday means you’re promoting gayness
  5. Acknowledging Pride month as well as Christian holidays at a rate of 1:10 means you are biased against Christians
  6. 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.

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.

Notes

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.

  1. 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.

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