Understanding Shan Parker & Just Cookies

All Shan Parker Wanted was a CupcakeWhen I first heard about this story, I didn’t know what to think. A good friend of mine came to me asking if I knew anything about Just Cookies located downtown Indianapolis. I actually had never heard of the place, but later learned it is located inside City Market. Long story short, Just Cookies refused to make a batch of cupcakes for one of their customers. There are several stories floating around on the Internet as to what actually happened, but I wanted to cut straight to the chase and get it directly from the source. I reached out to Shan Parker for his side of the story. You might think he would freak out, demand all of his friends stop shopping there, and try to boycott their business. He is not doing that. He is taking his time, letting it be known what has happened, and trying to raise awareness. His actions are appreciated and respected by most in the community. So don’t take my word for, let Shan tell you all about it. You be the judge on whether you shop at Just Cookies again.

Tell me a little bit more about the man Shan Parker.

I grew up in a very small town in southern Illinois with a population of 100 people, equally I went to a small school. About 15 people in my elementary class and about 80 in my graduating high school class, making it the smallest in the history of our high school. I’d have to say that I’ve known I was gay all my life.  I tried dating a few girls off and on through school (even the drama teacher’s daughter) and always knew that it wasn’t for me. I came out to a few friends my senior year of high school and to my parents around graduation when I was 18. That was a rough patch and still remains an area of my life we mostly avoid talking about. Went to Vincennes University for two years and moved to Indianapolis a week after graduation. In my heart I’ve never felt that I was meant for small town life. I’ve lived in Indianapolis since 2003.

On the top of your website is a place for readers to sign a petition at change.org. How many people have you managed to get signed up?

Normally my website is my portfolio for some of my web and visual design work but with the craziness that has resulted from this Just Cookies incident I wanted to put my story somewhere that if people were searching for me they could easily find it. So at the moment it’s been converted. It feels a bit narcissistic but there was a lot of misinformation out there and I felt that if I could put the whole story down in my own words I could live with all the other negative and misinformed comments that were flying around that I simply could not reign in myself.

Also, I did not start the petition. I found it and thought it was a great talking point. However the petition is really unneeded now as it’s asking City Market to essentially take a position on the matter. I think the fact they are sponsoring the rally makes that quite clear.

You are heavily involved with the Rally For Equality. I know this is a big deal for you and those around you. Tell me a little bit more about your affiliation with this rally and where this all started.

Well first off, huge props to Topher Miller and Nichole Thomas for pulling all of it together; they truly are the heart of this campaign. Topher kept up with my story through Facebook as the whole thing progressed and wanted to take what had happened and use it as a platform to move into the issues and this rally is a great way to make that happen. I wouldn’t say I’m heavily involved, they really have been doing a lot of the work. I put my talents to use and quickly put together a website, and helped with designing the logo, flyers and t-shirts. I’ve been helping in other areas that I can with calling sponsors and getting out to pass out flyers and such.

I have heard the story before. But please, explain exactly what happened at Just Cookies.

A staff member at IUPUI called Just Cookies to place an order for rainbow cookies for a National Coming Out Day Celebration. This has been misconstrued over and over but the fact is they were calling for cookies. They explained (as any organization would, since it was for a large order) that they were associated with this group/event. The person on the phone at Just Cookies said, “We do not support gay initiatives,” and hung up the phone.

The situation that has brought us together started at Just Cookies. I have not shopped there. However, you seem to have taken a different path in how you are handling what has happened. It is admirable and I support that fully. Why didn’t you freak out and begin bashing the company?

By not going there you are doing what we asked the public to do, vote with your dollars. I’m certainly not standing on my soap box screaming at people to not go there at all costs. It’s the exact same if a business were turning away women or Latinos for instance. I certainly would not feel comfortable spending my money with them. I simply wanted to give the public the information that I had. We just want to take this instance to highlight something that is probably happening at other businesses across the country, whether it is a law or not to turn someone away doesn’t matter… we have to ask ourselves what is socially acceptable. The community’s money spends exactly the same as everyone else’s.

How long have you and your partner been together?

We have been together just over a year.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a web and visual designer. I do a bit of freelance but mostly stick to my day job at a marketing company. There I’m a bit of a jack of all trades. Keep the websites up to date, design logos and marketing pieces. It’s a small, family-owned business, so it’s important to be able to fill multiple positions to keep things running smooth.

How has social media helped your cause?

It’s really the engine behind the entire story. My partner came home and told me about what had happened at his office with the bakery and the first thing I did was jump onto Facebook to tell all my friends and encourage them to spend their money elsewhere. I posted the link to the bakery’s Google review page as well asking my friends to voice their opinions there. Within hours many of my friends had reposted the story and several dozen reviews on the matter were already posted on their page. The story was also passed onto FOX 59’s Facebook page by my friend Tony, which is how they got involved.

Were you a little star struck when FOX reached out to you guys?

Totally. In the back of my mind I knew there was a possibility that they could, but I definitely look at myself as the little guy, and in this community as the odd man out. I didn’t expect that anyone would want to waste a few minutes of air time on the story. I honestly never even wanted to be on camera but because employees of IUPUI can’t just speak out without proper clearance, I realized that if FOX couldn’t get someone on the camera that the story would most likely be dropped, and I just couldn’t let that happen.

What you are going through is nothing new. There are even several celebrities that have opened up about this. Do you get motivation from those individuals?

I do, it feels good to see people on the same page. A lot of the celebrity hype lately has been on the suicide side of the news stories. All of these teenage suicides over being gay has really been tragic. I had my fair share of bullying in high school because people thought I was gay and I had no one there to tell me that it gets better, but I pushed through. And you know what, it does get better.  There is certainly no reason to take your own life over it. In the grand scheme of things, high school is such a tiny, tiny part of your life but when you’re in the thick of it, it’s very hard to see the forest for the trees.

Your story has been shared all over the place ranging from CNN, The Huffington Post, and NBC. You have sort of reached local celebrity status. How are you handling all the attention?

Honestly, I have gotten zero attention. I have yet to have anyone pass me on the street recognize me and, in fact, at the 100.9 cupcake party, no one said a word to me. I have had several Facebook messages and emails though from locals and some across the country that saw the story. They were all very supportive and kept my head on the cause.

What sort of music do you listen to? Who is your favorite artist?

I like a lot of pop and dance music. Both genres have been scoffed at over recent years but are making a comeback thanks to people like Lady Gaga and loads of groups over in the UK. I certainly could not name just one, but a few of my favorites are Ellie Goulding, Darren Hayes, Alphabeat, Scissor Sisters, Kylie Minogue and Robyn.

I see you have quite a few tattoos. How many do you have?

I’ve literally lost count. It’s in the upper twenties I believe. I’m very fortunate to work in an industry and at a company that is very diverse and am able to express myself. A lot of people get tattoos because they mean something, and that is great. If you have one or two then they should, but as an artist I look at my body as a canvas and am always excited to add something new. I already have my sights set on my next one.

City Market is really behind this rally. How did you get them excited about it? Or did they just see the issue and decide it was best to be involved?

Initially, I was contacted by their Director of Business to have a sit down. I jumped at this chance because, although I had never intended to cast City Market in a negative light, some people were associating the incident with their venue. Becca and I met with her, and I have to say she is one of the nicest people I have ever met. She kept the conversation light and just wanted to know more, as she of course had been following the story closely as well. She mentioned that they wanted to get involved and although I had not yet talked to Topher formally about getting involved in the rally, I did make her aware of it. After I spoke with Topher and got on board I quickly brought City Market into the loop and they jumped right in as well and have been completely accommodating.

I see you recently ate at Bub’s Burgers and Ice Cream. Did you order the Big Ugly?

(Laughs) I did not. I can put it away for a little guy but I think that’s a bit much! They do have awesome burgers and I highly recommend the waffle fries!

What do you do for fun? Any hobbies you want to share?

I bought a house eighteen months ago, so that has been probably my biggest hobby. I’m not a handy man, but my partner is pretty handy, so it’s always something new to learn. I also am big into pop and dance music, so I spend a lot of time hunting down new stuff. And of course there’s the tattoos…

Did you have fun at the Cupcake Party?

It was a lot of fun. I was excited to see lots of faces out (on a very chilly morning) to support equal rights. The cupcakes were awesome and we got to make a few contacts that will be at the rally in support. The Facebook event that Scotty had started had over 500 attendees confirmed and not even half showed up, which was a little disappointing. What was most important though was Scotty’s show standing behind the GLBT community, he probably lost a few listeners over it and it was very admirable that he stood firm.

What is your goal with all this? What are you trying to achieve?

Initially, when I was telling a few friends about the incident I wanted to affect their bottom line. If I got a few dozen friends to stop going to this bakery, I felt I had done my job, if you will. However, as it blew up into the mammoth proportions and became local, state and national news, it became a situation where a family owned company could be put out of business, which was never my intent. I want to shift the spotlight and bring the injustice that happened to light so that we can open dialogue around our cities and communities about what is acceptable and what isn’t. The GLBT community has never asked to be anything more than equal, and yet we keep getting smacked down, whether it be by the government, society, or the local bakery. The rally is the perfect segue into these dialogs and I’m so happy that Topher and Nichole saw this opportunity and jumped at it.

What does a Sunday service look like at the Church of Gaga? I love her by the way!

Actually I’m off the Gaga bandwagon at the moment. OVER-LOAD! She has completely saturated the market and I am very thankful that there is someone out there on such a massive scale that is supporting equal rights. I just can’t listen to Poker Face ever again. (Laughs) I don’t want to sound like one of “those” people but I really was listening to her music a year before the mainstream and so I am burnt out.

Your blog has some pretty intense stuff on it. It is obvious you are a creative. Did you study that in school?

In elementary school, art was my favorite subject and we had one art class every two weeks, which I pretty much lived for. In high school, I took some art classes but being told that I HAD to draw a bowl of apples for my grade didn’t thrill me. I am the type of person who likes to be given guidelines but also allowed to color outside the lines if I choose. Getting the shading of the apples perfect for an A was not for me so I only took art my freshman year. Later on, I started learning how to code websites and use Photoshop, and so I moved in that direction and went on to study at Vincennes University in their webmaster program for two years.

I interview a lot of bands and DJs from all over the world. I consider each one of them an artist in their own right. You as well I consider an artist. That being said, I always ask the artists the same last three questions. So, where do you see yourself in five years? (Think big here. The sky is the limit.)

I’ll be happy in five years sitting on my porch swing or working on my yard. I wouldn’t mind getting involved with some other groups and causes within the GLBT community. I have to admit that my past two weeks have been completely consumed with all the hype over all this and helping with this rally. I certainly could not run at this speed forever.

What do you want to be remembered for in the future? When this is all said and done how do you want people to remember Shan Parker?

Above everything… a good person. Some people strive for so much, whether it be the CEO of a company or celebrity status. I just want to be remembered for being friendly, kind and just. I wouldn’t mind if people remembered me for this Just Cookies thing, too. I’ve certainly never considered myself an activist.

I always let the artist get the last word. Go.

I certainly cannot express enough that from the beginning of this movement was not to put a family out of business. I’ve been told that some of the more “right wing” side have been rallying with Just Cookies, placing large orders to keep them in business and really “stick it to us”, because they are under the assumption that we are trying to ruin them. It’s misguided and they are completely missing the bigger picture of equality. There are some groups out there that, unfortunately, have taken all of this and started their own campaigns to ruin a family. They also are misguided and I encourage everyone to avoid groups like this. It’s about understanding each other as humans. How can we expect equal rights when we are seen as bullies? Elbowing, shoving and knocking each other down is not the way to get equal rights, it’s not a race. It’s about standing up and saying, “Look! We’re just like you!”