Arguably, the Chick-fil-A fiasco has subsided with the completion of last week’s public demonstrations, but in its wake lie the complicated questions of where the chips fell. Here’s a round-up of issues to consider in the aftermath:
The Political Made Personal
The high visibility of the company’s anti-gay positions and giving has clearly had an impact, but one much less measurable than most of the coverage can truly examine: on the personal level. As people proudly boasted their support for Chick-fil-A on Facebook and other social media outlets, their LGBT family and friends were faced with the choice of how to respond, if at all. Justin Michael, a gay Christian, wrote to The Advocate about addressing this very situation with his parents:
I am a gay Christian. This whole Chick-fil-A controversy meant nearly nothing to me until I saw a picture of my conservative parents (whom I love deeply) on Facebook yesterday proudly holding their Chick-fil-A sandwiches.
I broke down crying in front of my computer screen. And since I’m not good with speaking how I feel, I wrote my mother a Facebook message with my concerns about the photos.
She took them down and apologized for the insensitivity. She was just supporting a man’s right for “freedom of speech.”
Getting The Talking Points Right
Indeed, this “freedom of speech” argument unfortunately dominated the coverage, despite being largely irrelevant to the actual controversy. There is no legal way for a city to block Chick-fil-A so long as it doesn’t discriminate, nor has anyone tried to censor Dan Cathy’s vitriolic remarks. Despite how quickly lawmakers backed away from empty threats to interfere with Chick-fil-A’s business, the media continued to let this infringement-of-freedom talking point circumvent the LGBT community’s objections. As a result, many would-be LGBT allies were seemingly defending Chick-fil-A by catering to this strawman talking point. The editorial board at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette acknowledged how many have gotten this wrong:
This had the effect of putting the company into the hottest broiler of the culture wars — the issue of same-sex marriage — but in America people can freely state their principles and act on them. And other people can criticize them for it. That’s how the First Amendment works. Those diners who came out last Wednesday in part because they thought that Chick-fil-A was being denied its First Amendment rights were wrong about that.
The Boston Globe similarly argued today that Mayor Tom Menino (D) hurt marriage equality efforts by turning “bullies like Dan Cathy into martyrs.” Michaelangelo Signorile further offered insights into how the messaging got off the tracks, how LGBT leadership was unfortunately not at the forefront of the effort, and how the response was poorly organized at various levels. There is much to be learned from the past three weeks that can be applied in future efforts to dissuade people from supporting anti-gay companies and organizations.
Biblical Arguments In the Culture War
The Washington Post noted that the controversy had a polarizing effect, connecting “individuals to larger political forces that otherwise feel abstract and distant.” As conservatives flocked to defend the restaurant chain’s “biblical” practices, they inadvertently reminded the country that the argument against marriage equality is entirely ideological, not grounded in any benefits to society. The National Organization for Marriage already confirmed that once today. And though “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” may have attracted many conservatives across the country, it surely alienated many Christians who do not identify with that extreme brand of snidely-intolerant jingoistic Christianity. The fight over LGBT equality is not “Christian vs. LGBT” — it’s “Extreme Conservative Ideologues vs. A Growing Majority Of Americans” and that will be easier than ever to see moving forward.
Standing Up For LGBT Equality
The Chick-fil-A story has always been one about a company specifically supporting efforts that harm the LGBT community. Comedians are arguably the most candid observers of culture, and it’s no surprise that Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Conan O’Brien all addressed the controversy for what was really at stake: Chick-fil-A’s anti-gay intolerance.
Just as it did for opponents of marriage equality, the last three weeks have forced people who oppose such intolerance to consider to what extent they are willing to act on their support for the LGBT community. It’s no surprise that various campaigns are cropping up to help individuals do just that without even boycotting Chick-fil-A, such as Chicken Offsets and Riot Burgers. The harsh reminder of how toxic the United States can still be to LGBT people will surely fire up allies who may have been convinced that things were good enough. After all, if a chicken sandwich can be so polarizing, surely things are not good enough for the LGBT community, and if the public learned at least that much from everything that has transpired, then the outcry accomplished exactly what it was supposed to.