I originally posted this essay in early May after Chick-Fil-A received its first round of controversy (links below). At that time, Dan Cathy, the CEO and President of the restaurant chain, would not make an explicit statement about CFA’s stance on marriage equality. In July, however, Cathy admitted he was “guilty as charged” for being against same-sex marriages and maintained that Chick-Fil-A’s “values” speak to that. Since that admittance, more vehement and organized protests, on both sides, have taken place. I stand by my original post and will clarify that I am 100% in favor of marriage equality. However, I would still caution others also in favor of marriage equality to not only exercise their dissent by simply avoiding Chick-Fil-A, but perhaps open the conversation and the activism to greater depths.
I grew up in a town in Metro-Atlanta where Chick-Fil-A reigns supreme. In fact, as Atlanta is the birthplace of Chick-Fil-A, the restaurant chain kind of rules the state of Georgia, if not the entire southeast. Southerners’ relationship to Chick-Fil-A is unique; it’s as much responsible for helping us grow into strong adults as our mother’s milk. Those phonetic-spelling cows mean as much to us as the glowing In & Out Burger sign means to West Coasters. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert—Chick-Fil-A does not disappoint its loyal patrons. And by loyal patrons, I’m only talking about the heterosexual ones.
Though Chick-Fil-A has never hidden the fact that it is a devoutly Christian-based organization—it’s closed on Sundays—the chain has found itself in the hot seat for its affiliations with anti-anything logical (e.g. right to abortions, gay marriage) Christian groups. After one such association was made public, Chick-Fil-A’s President and COO, Dan Cathy, responded, “[W]e will not champion any political agendas on marriage and family. This decision has been made, and we understand the importance of it. At the same time, we will continue to offer resources to strengthen marriages and families.” Simply, Chick-Fil-A won’t directly take a stand against gay marriage or gay people, especially as the chain continues to grow well beyond the South, but it will assist organizations that do.
Popular Internet responses to the chicken enterprise walking that tightrope have ranged from “You Eat Chick-Fil-A Because You Are a Homophobe” to “Chicken or the Gays: Make a Choice about Eating Chick-Fil-A.” While I understand the motivation behind these grand proclamations, I find this approach terribly reductive and safe. It doesn’t account for the circumstantial malleability of human values—our own and others—meaning our social values (the ones we develop based on awareness and circumstances) are fluid and change based on what affects our identity and us directly. For example, if you’re gay (or support gay people and gay marriage) and boycott Chick-Fil-A, do you also protest drag queens with questionable racial politics? Do you stop eating Hershey’s, M&Ms, and Twix because children cultivated that chocolate? Does one oppression equal all oppression, and if so should it be handled as such?
The rigid dichotomy in which protesting Chick-Fil-A has been framed—the “you’re either all in or completely out” mentality held by many of today’s socially-conscious—is nothing short of drive-thru activism. Not simply because we’re talking about Chick-Fil-A, but also because the pervasiveness of the Internet makes it fairly easy to pick up the latest cause, often one that doesn’t require much of us as consumers or social activists, and drive off in smug self-satisfaction because we took a stand for one something…whether or not we let all the other somethings (racism, (hetero)sexism, classism, etc.) slide by. When our social activism is built upon the fluidity of human nature, we stand to trip ourselves up walking over that crackling foundation.
I am not suggesting people shouldn’t protest or boycott Chick-Fil-A because they/we should. I, too, am of the mindset that Chick-Fil-A and WinShape’s (the nonprofit arm of the business) donations to wretched organizations like Focus on the Family are completely harmful and destructive to the progressive and positive sustainability of this country. Focus on the Family and other groups like it, have such a strong lobbying hold that their efforts carry sincere danger. And to be real, though I’m not surprised, I am disappointed that Chick-Fil-A couldn’t just stick to making cookies ‘n’ cream milkshakes and six-pack kids’ meals because they’re so good at it and I miss having that much sugar and sodium in my life!* At the same time, I am not in the business of ignoring the mainstream gay rights movement’s issues with women, gay folks of color, queer identities, and class.
Being an activist, of any kind, calls for constant check-ins and recognition that while we’re fighting one oppression, we may be engaging in another. That doesn’t mean we give up and forget trying to make or advocate for any social change. Instead, we put greater energy and effort into investing and maintaining a community and solidarity with all people—oppressed, marginalized, and otherwise—in our hearts and spirits as much as through our avoidance of two pickles and a bun chicken sandwiches.
*Admittedly, I recently ate at Chick-Fil-A after my thesis defense, but if it’s any consolation, I felt guilty the whole time.