Chick-fulla-hate at NYU
reports on the ongoing struggle of students at New York University to kick Chick-fil-A's homophobia off their campus.
STUDENTS AT New York University (NYU) are taking on the homophobic hate of the owners of Chick-fil-A restaurant chain--and declaring that the company's values are not welcome on a campus that is suppose to welcome LGBT students.
Thanks to the admission by owner Dan Cathy that the company operates on "Biblical principles," the controversy over Chick-fil-A has expanded into a symbol of the debate around LGBT equality. Chick-fil-A has gone from being a fast food joint to being a fierce political battleground.
To NYU students, however, the controversy over Chick-fil-A's homophobic stance and donations to hate groups is nothing new. A very similar back-and-forth has been going on at NYU for more than a year.
Chick-fil-A's bigotry came to the attention of NYU students last January, when student Hillary Dworkowski's petition on Change.org picked up speed and a group of NYU activists began challenging the administration's refusal to act to kick the restaurant off campus.
Chick-fil-A's large contributions to anti-gay hate groups (via its charity arm Winshape) have been well-known to the public for awhile, and the company has been criticized in the past for other acts of discrimination as well. As Josh Eidelson described at Salon.com:
[A] series of lawsuits allege that managers have wielded their authority over workers in ways that break the law: firing a Muslim for refusing to pray to Jesus; firing a manager so that she'd become a stay-at-home mom; and punishing workers for objecting to sexual harassment.
Cathy's blatant homophobia shocked many and forced those who had tried to ignore the company's policy to reconsider. Public figures from both political parties have taken strong stances: Republican Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and failed presidential candidate, declared "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" on August 1, while Democratic mayors in Chicago and Boston said the restaurant chain isn't welcome in their cities.
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UNFORTUNATELY, THE NYU administration has been unmoved by multiple student protests, more than 15,000 signatures on the Change.org petition and even the media uproar since the corporation's homophobic stance was spotlighted.
This was an unexpected reaction from the supposedly "most gay-friendly school in the country," according to the Princeton Review. At NYU, as in so many places around the country, corporate "freedom of speech" apparently trumps the struggle for equality and human rights.
When the NYU Student Senate voted during the last school year on the issue, it decided that anti-gay donations were a "political" issue and not a human rights one, and that Chick-fil-A was entitled to free speech on such issues, which shouldn't affect its operations on campus.
NYU's shaky definition of human rights can also be seen in other decisions, such as its ties to Chase Bank (the top holder of foreclosed homes in New York) and its celebration of union-busters like HealthBridge owner Daniel Straus, who is ironically the namesake of the Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice at NYU.
Like the NYU administration, the Religious Right is outspoken in its claim that those against Chick-fil-A are limiting freedom of speech. But Noah Michaelson answered this objection well in an article for the Huffington Post:
I have a hard time believing that there would be lines around the block at Burger King if its CEO gave an interview where he or she stated, "I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage...Black and white people should not be allowed to get married," and had also donated millions of dollars to white supremacist organizations.
Michaelson is right. If the controversy was about the restaurant chain donating to white supremacist organizations, there would be no politicians calling for "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day."
Whether at a supposedly "gay-friendly" school like NYU or anywhere else in the country, "freedom of speech" for Chick-fil-A is not actually the issue.
It's not as if the CEO of Chick-fil-A merely holds homophobic ideas personally. The company actively contributes to the oppression of the LGBT community through its donations to organizations like the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and Exodus International, to name just a few. Chick-fil-A's sandwiches fund psychologically damaging practices like "conversion therapy" at a time when 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, overwhelmingly as a result of family rejection--and between 30 and 40 percent of LGB youth have attempted or will attempt suicide.
In this context, allowing Chick-fil-A to operate in our communities without opposition means tacit support for an agenda to dehumanize LGBT people. This should be called what it is: hate. The only freedom that is being suppressed by taking a stand against Chick-fil-A is the freedom of a corporation to donate to groups that perpetuate institutionalized discrimination.
The freedom we should be fighting for is not freedom for homophobes to perpetuate oppression, but freedom for the LGBT community to live without hateful organizations working to make their lives a living hell.
The fight against Chick-fil-A is a small part of a larger struggle for equal rights. All over the country, people of conscience need to continue to stand up against bigotry. While the NYU Senate may have chosen corporate freedom of speech, it is up to students at NYU and beyond to build a struggle for freedom of speech for those whose rights are under attack.