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New York City -- Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, cancelled a speech he was to give Friday at The Global Leadership Summit, an annual leadership summit organized by megachurch Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Ill., after an online petition condemned the congregation as anti-gay. The church denies the charges.
The annual event draws tens of thousands of viewers via satellite. Past speakers have included former GE's Jack Welch former president Bill Clinton.
A Starbucks spokeswoman would only confirm Schultz would not speak as scheduled, but the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, Bill Hybels, said Schultz had cancelled suddenly after a petition was posted on the Internet a week ago.
Earlier this summer, Starbucks announced it would investigate allegations that an openly gay New York barista was fired for discussing his personal life. At the time, Starbucks said had "zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind."
Activists have accused the megachurch of "anti-gay persecution" over its past relationship with Exodus International, a Christian ministry that offers to help gays and lesbians change their sexual orientation. However, Willow Creek quietly cut ties with Exodus in 2009.