Boycotting bigotry at Chick-Fil-A

August 8, 2012

Keegan O’Brien reports on the storm of protest against Chick-Fil-A's president.

LYING ABOUT your partner's gender or denying that you even have a partner. No mentioning of your personal life to co-workers. Disguising your gender identity from employers and customers. For most countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer working people, this describes the all-too-frequent reality of life in the workplace.

And according to Chick-Fil-A President Dan Cathy, this--along with a long list of other forms of discrimination experienced by LGBTQ people--shouldn't change any time soon.

In an interview several weeks ago, Cathy proudly declared that he was "guilty as charged" in his opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples, his commitment to "traditional family values" and his company's financial support for prominent anti-LGBTQ organizations. In the past several years, Chick-Fil-A has donated more than $5 million to Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, Exodus International and other groups opposed to LGBTQ rights.

Cathy's remarks have ignited a firestorm of controversy and protest. Activists called for a boycott of the fast-food chain. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino promised to oppose Chick-Fil-A's attempt to open a restaurant in the city.

Opponents of anti-LGBT bigotry protested at Chick-Fil-A restaurants
Opponents of anti-LGBT bigotry protested at Chick-Fil-A restaurants (GLADD)

"You called supporters of gay marriage 'prideful,'" Menino wrote in a letter to Cathy. "Here in Boston, to borrow your own words, we are 'guilty as charged.' We are indeed full of pride for our support of same-sex marriage and our work to expand freedom to all people...There is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it."

In Chicago, a city council alderman, backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, likewise began an effort to block a new franchise from opening.

Then came a backlash from the right wing. Former Arkansas Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee put out a call for a "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day," claiming he was defending free speech and family values, not promoting homophobia. With the likes of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh urging them on, bigots nationwide flocked to their local Chick-Fil-A to show their support.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation then called for a day of kiss-ins at Chick-Fil-A to protest homophobia. Thousands of people participated, drawing attention from the local and national media.

SOME PEOPLE might wonder whether boycotts and kiss-ins are worth the effort to oppose the anti-LGBTQ beliefs of one businessman--even if he does have the support of right-wing blowhards like Palin and Huckabee.

Cathy's personal beliefs are grotesque. But ultimately, the boycott of Chick-Fil-A isn't limited to his personal opinions. The campaign is challenging Chick-Fil-A's multimillion-dollar support for right-wing organizations working to ensure continued second-class citizenship for LGBTQ people.

Chick-Fil-A's actions have consequences in people's lives. For example, the federal Defense of Marriage Act--put forward in the mid-1990s by Republicans with the support of the very groups that Chick-Fil-A contributes to, but also backed by a majority of Democrats in Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton--narrowly defines marriage as an institution between a man and a women, thereby denying same-sex couples more than 1,000 benefits and rights.

Thirty-one states have constitutional amendments banning legal recognition of same-sex marriage. In 30 states, LGBTQ people can be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity, and they have no legal recourse whatsoever. Annually, thousands of LGBTQ youth are kicked out of their homes, LGBTQ teens are murdered by suicide and an epidemic of anti-LGBTQ bullying and violence grips U.S. schools.

All of these injustices are consequences of the political influence of organizations like Focus on the Family, with their corporate backers such as Chick-Fil-A. The campaign in response to Cathy's public bigotry has exposed Chick-Fil-A for what it is--a company that promotes hate and homophobia.

Plus there is a broader question than corporate sponsorship for institutionalized homophobia and transphobia. Why do we live under a political system where it's legal for a big corporation to wield such powerful influence over social, political and economic policies? Chick-Fil-A's unapologetic attitude toward corporate control over U.S. politics should disturb anyone concerned with a democracy "of, by and for the people."

Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin claim that those who protest Chick-Fil-A are violating Dan Cathy's freedom of speech. But I'm far more concerned with the same-sex couples unable to access the benefits of marriage, the lesbian or trans person who is unable to come out in their workplace, the queer teen who sleeps homeless in the streets, the gay high school student who struggles to survive the violence of bullying, and the many LGBT youth victimized by suicide. I care about the quality of life for LGBTQ people, not Cathy's right to make their lives more miserable.

Every inch of freedom and equality that LGBTQ people enjoy today is the direct result of past struggles for social justice. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King are as true today as they were over 40 years ago: "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent."

It's time for us to straighten our backs and fight. Protesting Chick-Fil-A is an important struggle of today that has the potential to bring us one step closer to a more just and equal society for everyone, across the gender and sexual spectrum.

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