The dust-up over Chick-Fil-A seemed to be all over the news this week. The ABC News report above is decent enough, but like much of the coverage, including a report that aired on CNN Friday morning, it breezes very superficially over the nature of the complaints the LGBT community has with Chick-Fil-A in favor of adopting the Right's spin that it's just about the president expressing "disagreement" on gay marriage.
For the most part lost in the facile conversation is the fact that Chick-Fil-A has donated almost $5M to groups, many of whom are found on Southern Poverty Law Center's hate group list.
Like much of the mainstream discussion of LGBT rights, marriage has eclipsed all else.
In fact, Chick-Fil-A funds groups that fight LGBT-affirming initiatives in whatever form they take: non-discrimination protection in housing and employment; repealing "Don't ask, don't tell"; any form of equitable partner benefit compensation in public or private employment; forming gay/straight alliance student clubs in schools; the rights of gays and lesbians to adopt or even have custody of their own kids; many of these groups openly extoll the virtues of professionally repudiated, dangerous "gay reparative" therapy. It isn't as simple as Chick-Fil-A "just has a different opinion" on marriage. Zack Ford at Think Progress has a great overview of exactly how thoroughly anti-gay Chick-Fil-A is, and how poorly most of the mainstream media has communicated that to their audiences.
We can argue whether they "hate" gay people, but there's no argument the groups Chick-Fil-A supports don't wish to see LGBT people make any progress in any avenue of life at all. They not only approve of the oppressive status quo, they'll gladly walk it back (like reinstating and enforcing sodomy laws) and work tirelessly to do so.
(Continue reading below the fold.)
Now, a number of elected politicians have jumped into the fray, including Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston. The Boston Herald describes the mayor's involvement as thus:
Mayor Thomas M. Menino is vowing to block Chick-fil-A from bringing its Southern-fried fast-food empire to Boston — possibly to a popular tourist spot just steps from the Freedom Trail — after the family-owned firm’s president suggested gay marriage is “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.”Menino's quotes are rather more ambiguous than "blocking," which appears to be a word the Herald choose, not Menino. “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.” A copy of the letter sent to Cathy (pdf) only says, "I urge you to back out of your plans to locate to Boston." Menino later backed away from the position he'd "block" Chick-Fil-A, conceding he didn't have the power.
Meanwhile in Chicago, a city alderman Joe Moreno has gotten into the act and seems to be a little more aggressive and unrepentant about exercising the power he feels he wields. From the Huffington Post:
Chick-fil-A has obtained a zoning permit for the restaurant but needs approval from the City Council to divide the land, Moreno said. And in a city where the City Council rarely go against the wishes of the alderman, Chick-fil-A needs Moreno's help.Mayor Rahm Emanuel jumped in this his agreement, and later walked it back somewhat.
Moreno said holding up construction would be as simple as refusing to introduce an ordinance to subdivide the land where Chick-fil-A wants to build.
I totally appreciate and applaud politicians attempting to help through the power of the bully pulpit by expressing their personal views on Chick-Fil-A. But politicians should resist the urge to play to the cheap seats with promises to use government mechanisms to block Chick-Fil-A's expansion or livelihood.
Let's be clear on the nature of complaints about Chick-Fil-A. They are mostly surrounding the political speech of its president and the political donations of the corporation.
And although, I believe what Chick-Fil-A is involved in is egregious, offensive, divisive, hurtful and a root cause of rising LGBT hate crimes rates, extraordinarily high rates of homelessness among LGBT youth and the bullying and suicides of LGBT youth, I also believe what they are doing is legal. Speech and corporate political donations are constitutionally affirmed, even lamentably so, by the Supreme Court in Citizen's United. These are the rules of the game.
But, I am a big fan of the First Amendment. I think people should be free to speak their mind however they see fit. As the most devoted among us believe, especially when it offends people (even me). Free speech belongs to the gays and atheists, and Chick-Fil-A and the Klu Klux Klan and Fred and Margie Phelps, or it belongs to no one.
Let's not confuse a right to free speech with the right to be insulated from the consequences of offending people, as the Right likes to do. They love to complain about "being silenced" when they are protested. Although, we have yet to see any evidence any anti-gay people have ever been "silenced," alas. For a people so vulnerable to "silencing" they sure are relentlessly noisy in expressing their opinions. I present exhibit A:
in support of Chick-Fil-A on Friday. (Facebook)
Menino and Moreno's comments have unfortunately derailed the conversation to some extent and moved it into some uncomfortable and unflattering territory even prompting some unlikely people to give perhaps a reluctant defense to Chick-Fil-A. Agreeing with Kevin Drum, his colleague at Mother Jones, Adam Serwer said, "Menino and Moreno have it wrong."
Chick-fil-A should not be prevented from opening business because of the views of its leaders, or his donations to anti-gay causes. But gays and lesbians in Illinois and Massachusetts have the right to be free from discrimination in employment based on who they are. They also have a right to protest, boycott, and make Chick-fil-A's customers aware that their purchases fund anti-gay activism. If Chick-fil-A discriminates in hiring or refuses to serve customers on the basis of sexual orientation, the local authorities can and should hold him accountable.Digby adds her concurrence to Serwer succinctly: "We don't do that here."
Until then, the politicians should get out of the way.
It's tempting to leverage whatever state power we have to fight [bigotry]—and there may even be legitimate ways to do that. But that's all the more reason to be vigilant about the Bill of Rights. It's a bulwark against what could happen if [bigots] are successful [at seizing control].Indeed, there are legitimate ways. Unfortunately for Chick-Fil-A, their higher profile may invite heightened scrutiny of their questionable employment practices which have been said to include religious discrimination (including a 2002 lawsuit by a Muslim restaurant owner who refused to pray to Jesus) and gender discrimination. They are currently facing a gender discrimination suit from a woman who claims to have been fired and told she should be a stay-at-home mom. But these and possible LGBT employment discrimination in states where such laws apply, like IL, CA, NY, NJ and NM, are an entirely separate matter from their political views and donations.
So, I feel compelled to voice my agreement with Serwer and Digby, and a handful of others, like and Glenn Greenwald. and his Salon colleague Mary Elizabeth Williams, and James Peron at the Moorfield Storey Institute who writes at Huffington Post, "Shut Down Chick-fil-A Properly." Utilizing a regional upper-hand is a tactic that is at best, ill-advised, and at worst, a blatant violation of the First Amendment.
I confess, I have little optimism an organized boycott of Chick-Fil-A will deliver serious damage to their fiscal bottom line, or ever "shut down Chick-Fil-A." I suspect it might play out much like National Organization for Marriage's failed boycott efforts aimed at Starbucks and General Mills, as a laughable and embarrassing demonstration of impotence.
Which is in no way to say protesting Chick-Fil-A is pointless.
But Chick-Fil-A's critics would be well-served to recognize it's time to settle in for a long game. There is gain to be made by focusing a public education spotlight on the groups Chick-Fil-A supports, like Bryan Fischer's American Family Association and Tony Perkin's Family Research Council whose nefarious, hateful rhetoric and activities are masked by innocuous-sounding names and a veneer of "good Christianity."
Activists too might hope to make Chick-Fil-A a corporate pariah so other companies won't be inclined to sully their own brand by association. Leaning on sponsors to distance themselves from Rush Limbaugh has proven been a very effective tool.
Getting a big karate chop from Miss Piggy and the Muppets this week was doubtlessly a big embarrassment for Chick-Fil-A, particularly evident as they've since they've taken to lying about the reasons the relationship with the Jim Henson Company was severed.
Do the college football organizations affiliated with the Chick-Fil-A bowl really want to be associated with the company? Leveraging college football was a particularly effective tool at ending the Mormon Church's racially discriminatory practices back in the 1970s. College student councils might provide some serious pressure by taking up a cause of demanding their university boycott the event. Just a few big colleges saying no might create an existential threat to the entire venture. Imagine the public embarrassment of a southern company getting kicked out of football event.
in downtown Washington, D.C. Protestors pass out fact sheets to raise awareness about the millions of
dollars the company has donated to anti-LGBT organizations