Eat Less Chikin

I used to love Chick-fil-A.

It started when I was a kid.  Mom would take us to the mall, and every so often we’d get lunch there; I remember how much I loved the hearty warmth of their chicken noodle soup on a cold day.  The summer after fourth grade, we moved from North Carolina to Pittsburgh, where there was nary a Chick-fil-A to be found.  I missed it — and with a child’s naivete, I didn’t even know it was a chain restaurant, so I was delighted, years later, to discover my error.

Now, I’ve never eaten a lot of fast food.  My family treated drive-thru fries and chicken nuggets as a road-trip treat, or occasionally a desperate necessity.  As an adult, I grew almost too snobby even for that, wanting to join friends and foodies in eschewing the evil that McDonald’s (et al.) was wreaking on American bodies and souls.

And yet we’d all make an exception for Chick-fil-A.

We’d exult in the juiciness and perfectly spiced breading of the chicken nuggets. The robust potatoey goodness of their waffle fries – with the skins on, salt crystals mingling with tangy ketchup, you could still just about convince yourself that you were eating your vegetables.  The rich, creamy cole slaw dressing on crisp shredded cabbage. The happy little secret that you could order a kid’s meal (if you weren’t THAT hungry), and trade in the “toy” for an Ice Dream cone.  Their breakfast burritoes were a revelation; their milkshakes, a joy.  And I was so proud that the cracktacularly tasty Chick-fil-A sauce was created in my family’s adopted hometown of Fredericksburg, VA. Sure, we all bemoaned the irony there was no day you wanted Chick-fil-A more than Sunday, but we agreed that their willingness to sacrifice a day of moneymaking for their beliefs was eminently respectable.

So yes, as you can see, I really used to love Chick-fil-A.

But there are a lot of things I love in this world.

I love truth.  Which means: I love logic, with its structured proofs.  I love science and its continued illumination of the universe.  I love compassion, and the way that the Golden Rule seems to be as close to a universal guideline for good living as we can get.

I love art that is full of emotion and intelligence.  Which means: I love Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate.  I love Ani diFranco’s music.  I love Andy Warhol’s soup cans.  I love too many Oscar Wilde quotations to count.  I love the comedic Midas touch of Neil Patrick Harris.  I love the warm, gentle humor of Ellen deGeneres.

I love my family.  Which means: I love my aunts, who married almost a year ago in a beautiful ceremony followed by an epically kick-ass party.  They’ve been there for me at my best and my worst, shared their wisdom over wine and whiskey, and somehow always make me feel like I’m as cool as they are.

I love my friends.  Which means: I love the ones who have come out to me, and entrusted me with the deepest and most incontrovertible secret of their hearts – a secret that could get them killed if they were in the wrong part of the world (or the country), and could have gotten them kicked out of the military (before DADT was repealed, anyway… with no discernible effect except that brilliant, talented people aren’t compelled to lie or leave the service over who they love anymore).

I love somebody else terrific who I think might be gay, but until he tells me himself or broadcasts it on social media, I am respecting his quiet.  Because what I don’t love – what I truly hate – is the fact that he might have problems if people knew that he likes boys.  That he might be discriminated against, mocked, bullied, or beaten up because he’s not like the majority.  That he might be forced to hide, and lie, and play “the pronoun game.”

Above all, I love love.  I love love stories, seeing my friends fall in love, love songs.  And back in my dating years, I would fall in love the way some people fell into debt, or perhaps an uncovered well.  I was a junkie for the exhilaration of new crushes, of heady first kisses, of meets-cute that gave a fleeting glimpse of all the fun that might be yet to come.   And in among all this blithe pinballing, I kept falling in love again and again with this one wonderful guy, who never failed to bring a calm, warm sunshine to my life.  I am blessed to call him my husband now (we got married on a pirate ship; it was freaking awesome).  With him, I’ve learned that real, true love between two people – the kind that runs deeper than mere attraction or interest or spark, yet combines all those things with enduring friendship and respect and commitment – can only bring good things to the world.  We can do a lot more together than we ever could separately: for our community, for our friends, for our families, and for each other.

So, hey: marriage suits us, but it isn’t for everyone, and if you’re a sworn bachelor[ette] for life, that’s completely awesome ::high fives::  But if you have found someone you want to stick with, and you want a certain kind of life, marriage helps.  It makes things easier if you want to live together and share property, and way easier if you want to visit each other in the hospital, or share your benefits.  Marriage becomes a requirement if you happen to love someone who lives in another country (as I found out, I couldn’t legally live in Japan with my husband until we were married), or isn’t an American citizen yet (as a dear friend found out, when she fell in love with a handsome Irishman and entered the green-card jungle).  Most laws, policies, and rules — and particularly those surrounding worst-case scenarios — seem to revolve around the legal concept of marriage and family.  So whatever your feelings on marriage as a religious sacrament or cultural tradition, the simple truth is that a civil marriage, the kind that is a legal contract between two consenting unmarried adults, is often the easiest way (and sometimes the only way) to build a life with the person you love.  I believe we all deserve the opportunity to enter into that contract, if we choose to, and I know I’m lucky to be able to do so of my own free will.

Of course, I’ve been lucky in many ways.  No one has ever made rude comments about the gender of my partner when I was out on a date. No one judged me when we held hands.  Nobody protested my wedding, and no establishments will refuse to serve me dinner if I lean over and kiss my spouse.  But there are many people — people I respect, whose contributions to society I value, who I care about deeply — who are not so lucky.  And I refuse to demean them by knowingly supporting anyone with a message that tells them that they aren’t worthy of love and all the joyful things that go with it.

So, back to the chikin.  About a year ago, I started hearing murmurs that Chick-fil-A had made donations to organizations whose agendas were decidedly anti-equality.  But as Chick-fil-A had continually claimed that they were not “anti-anybody,” and since I live in Japan (no Chick-fil-As here) and I wasn’t really keeping up on domestic fast-food headlines at the time, I’m ashamed to say it didn’t really register.

Then, in July, Dan Cathy made his infamous “guilty as charged” comments about his support for the “biblical definition of the family unit,” to include substantial donations towards groups that are actively fighting to prevent marriage equality from becoming a reality.  Many people have discussed and challenged his comments at lengths both incredibly thoughtful and satirical.  And I’ve been thinking about them continually over the last several months.

I have never had an issue with marriage equality.  As an ill-informed youngster, I admit I briefly bought into the “civil union” pitch, but that was because I didn’t understand the difference between civil unions and marriage.  And honestly, I didn’t really understand the difference between civil marriage and religious marriage until I was preparing for my own wedding.  It turns out that the American public-at-large’s conception of Christian marriage is more of a snapshot-mosaic of the current prescriptions and traditions of many flavors of Christianity.  Churches are [mostly-] voluntary groups of individuals who can choose to set their own in-group societal norms, in accordance with their First Amendment rights.  Marriages performed by and included in those churches may (and typically do) include obligations, responsibilities, or privileges (all within the church) beyond those of the civil marriage contract.  A church can choose not to perform or recognize a marriage that doesn’t comply.  Congregants, in turn, may choose to abide by the terms of the church, perhaps try to change them, or choose to leave.

I fully support the rights of these groups and members to set and follow their rules, and apply them to themselves and each other (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”). But, interestingly enough, there are religious traditions that are totally okay with marriage equality; should we democratically elect legislators who  introduce church beliefs into law, mightn’t such a law have to pass the Constitutionality test with respect to equality-friendly free exercise?

That line of argument notwithstanding, my litmus test for any religious organization that wants to take their in-group norm and introduce it into law is: show me that this law isn’t just an extension of your beliefs, but that it will be rationally related to a legitimate government interest (I’m no Constitutional scholar, but I think I get the gist of the rational basis test).   If they do not (and thus far, anti-equality groups have not done so to my satisfaction), I will view them and their supporters as suspect.  And if you add that suspicion to my fierce objections to any message that declares someone fundamentally sinful or wrong because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (oh, and after being told that their “sexual orientation is a choice,” trying to change, and inevitably failing, they are driven to self-loathing/self-harm/suicide)… well, I get a little fired up.

In our increasingly-connected world, private beliefs quickly become public. A microcosm of society can spread a message lightning-fast, to great effect.  And before you knew it, the July news cycle and the Twittosphere and Facebook were abuzz with discussion of the a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, and Chick-fil-A kiss-ins, and city officials threatening to block Chick-fil-A from establishing new locations in their areas.

Back then, a guy whom I usually regard as rather worldly and practical wrote (and I quote):

Who cares what the CEO of a restaurant believes? As long as it serves food that meets your diet needs and offers courteous service to all people regardless of their values/lifestyle, it shouldn’t matter. I’m sure that if the CEO of Dairy Queen announced that he was for same-sex marriage, we wouldn’t be seeing the tiny conservative towns in Texas and in the south militantly attacking their local DQ.

Another commenter on his thread chirped up:

Starbucks took a stand about something like that and Christians didn’t stop going to Starbucks or boycott it.

Now, I am as guilty as anyone of looking for the news that tells me what I’m interested in, so I was aware that the National Organization for Marriage tried to organize a boycott of Starbucks, and that it hadn’t gone well.

So who cares what a CEO does?  It seems both sides do.  The question is, how much?

I have a hypothesis that people who do not support LGBTQ rights generally aren’t experiencing personal hardship if ground is gained in the fight for, say, marriage equality. They might generally disapprove of events in the political arena, or a company’s stance on the issue, and they might feel icky if they accidentally tune in to Modern Family, but they can find ways to express those opinions (at home, in church, calling in to Rush Limbaugh) without experiencing any real discomfort or inconvenience. So in the end, it’s harder to get a non-supporter to make an inconvenient personal choice, say, to dump their tasty pumpkin spice latte and stick it to Starbucks… because it’s ultimately not that big of a deal.

But people who support LGBTQ rights tend to do so because they have experienced the personal hardship of discrimination themselves.  Or they have a close friend or family member who has experienced discrimination.  (Or maybe they’re just, y’know, committed to human rights, equality, and liberty.)  As a result, supporters tend to be a lot more vocal and passionate, and far more willing to make lifestyle changes that withdraw their support from any organization that actively undermines their rights or the rights of the people they care about.

Boycotts against homophobic organizations succeed because supporters of marriage equality know what’s at stake.  We are willing to fight for marriage equality because we know it IS that big of a deal.  Marriage equality is not actually about sex, or lust, or sin.  Not at its heart.  It’s about the one thing we all want and need more than any other in this world: love.

This week, Chick-fil-A is back in the news.  I was momentarily hopeful when it seemed they had reconsidered their position on marriage equality, but it appears nothing has changed – at least, not yet.  So as sad as I am to say I once loved Chick-fil-A, I will always love my family, my friends, and equality for everyone a lot more.  If a company chooses to express private beliefs in the public arena, that is their right.  Likewise, it is our right to engage in public discourse and peaceful legal protests, and in that other great American tradition: voting with your dollars.  I’ve learned to fry some pretty tasty chicken since July, so while Dan Cathy can do what he chooses with his money, he won’t be doing it with mine.

(And you know… I always thought the cows were kinda creepy.)

3 thoughts on “Eat Less Chikin

  1. 1) The link to the ABC News article is 404. Seems that it isn’t there anymore.

    2) It is still unclear to me whether the individual Chick-fil-A’s are franchised. If they are then boycotting them could be counter productive. Also, is Dan Cathy donating money as a private individual or officially as the corporation? Unless the previous two questions can be definitively answered with “No” and “Yes” respectively, there’s a serious gray area to deal with.

    • Joe –
      Thank you for your helpful and thoughtful comments!

      1) I have fixed the link (deleted it, added 2 new ones that work to the next sentence to give both parts of the story). Hopefully those will work for you.

      2) Great questions. I’ve done a little bit of research for you on both, and here’s my thinking.
      a) Chick-fil-As are operated as franchises. Their process for selecting franchise partners has some interesting implications. I see how a boycott could be counterproductive – punishing a relatively innocent franchise operator for the deeds of the CEO or the corporation. However, given the extensive vetting and the requirement for “espousing Christian values” (presumably as Chick-fil-A views it; I’m a Christian, and obviously my idea of Christian values differs from Chick-fil-A’s), I think that many franchise owners are likely in agreement with the corporation. If the franchise owners are not in agreement – if they support marriage equality – and they are valued as business partners, hopefully any pressure that is applied via a boycott could start a dialogue within the company. From a financial perspective, Chick-fil-A rents their franchise to the operator for 15% of restaurant sales, plus fifty percent of the pretax profits. So again, I think a boycott will have a direct impact on the corporation, not just on the small business owner.
      b) From what I can tell, the donations are being made through WinShape, which is described as Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm. So I think the truth may lie somewhere in-between “as a private individual” and “as a corporation.” I respect your view that this puts Chick-fil-A’s donations in a “serious gray area.” Ultimately, we often know very little about what anyone does financially as a private individual (unless they tell us, or unless they run for office), and many people are comfortable with the distinction between private and public life. My intention in boycotting is not one of spite or hatred, but to be one of the people who applies pressure to this company (and to its owners, whose wealth is derived from it) that encourages them to change.

      And my intention in writing this essay was, hopefully, to encourage people who care about marriage equality but still eat Chick-fil-A to consider joining me in voting with their dollars. I doubt anyone who believes that homosexuality is wrong would be persuaded otherwise by what I’ve written here, and I don’t expect Dan Cathy to change what he believes in his heart is right due to any financial pressure applied by a boycott. No one would be happier than me if Chick-fil-A had truly revised their donation plans and policies – there are a lot of worthy organizations out there (with no record of ANY activity on marriage equality, for or against) that they could donate to instead, and if they change to my satisfaction, there may even come a day when I eat there again. My heart (and my tummy) hope so :)

      • Thank you, Jenny, for doing such a fantastic job of digging this information up. This is exactly the kind of information that needs to be disseminated about this subject.

        For the record, I don’t eat at Chick-fil-A. However, thanks to this information, I will now be aggressively (yet politely) encouraging my friends and family to join in this boycott.

        Again, thank you so much for the incredible work you’ve done here on this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s