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chick-fil-a, revisited

August 8, 2012

From discussions I’ve seen lately, it seems like the uproar over Chick-fil-A is still upsetting people who don’t get what it’s all about, and/or think that boycotting a single company over where it happens to donate to is pointless. But what people annoyed by this don’t seem to realize is that it’s not really about Chick-fil-A at all; it’s about equality. Chick-fil-A is simply a rallying point for people who support equal rights and treatment for the LGBTQ community to make a public show of solidarity, which COO Dan Cathy himself instigated by announcing his views regarding gay marriage and Chick-fil-A’s financial support via its charitable arm to ‘pro-family’ groups that not only help lobby for laws and amendments that discriminate against the LGBTQ community, but much, much worse.

I don’t think boycotts are a particularly effective or practical strategy, mind you; and there are arguably more pressing concerns at the moment than the spending habits of Chick-fil-A. But at the same time, I don’t think it should necessarily be discouraged, either. For one, it can at least help to shine a light onto the issue of equal rights, giving it more media attention than it might otherwise receive, and expanding public awareness in the process. And in this case, considering the wide-reaching implications of this kind of monetary support, which can ultimately take concrete form in the shape of laws and amendments targeting and negatively impacting members of the LGBTQ community (not to mention reinforcing negative stereotypes that make their lives living hells), I think it’s entirely appropriate for individuals who are against this kind of discrimination to boycott organizations that actively promote and support it and be vocal about it. Who knows, it may just help motivate people to take a wider look at what else they might be unknowingly supporting, turning uneducated consumers into more educated, socially-active citizens.

But it’s not about refusing to do business with every company that gives money to something you don’t like (which is most likely impossible for most of us to do); it’s about public awareness and solidarity. Again, Chick-fil-A is simply a rallying point for equal rights, and I don’t see why that’s so hard for people to understand. During the civil rights movement, for example, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was a rallying point against segregation and racial discrimination, not an end in itself (i.e., people didn’t want to ruin buses, as they depended on them; they simply were protesting racial segregation on the public transit systems and in general). And the same is true here, except the Chick-fil-A boycott is a rallying point against the denial of equal rights and discrimination based upon sexual orientation. It may not have as much of an impact, of course, but the same principle is at work. It’s just one of many tactics, not an end in itself.

Last but not least, I think it should be pointed out that most of the groups being given money by Chick-fil-A aren’t ‘charities,’ as some people mistakenly believe. The Family Research Council, for example, isn’t a charity; it’s a lobbying group that advocates against LGBT rights, abortion, divorce, embryonic stem-cell research, the theory that global warming is the result of human activity, and pornography. Moreover, many of the ideas expressed by the FRC and/or its top representatives are extremely anti-gay and even outright false (e.g., see their entry in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “18 Anti-Gay Groups and Their Propaganda“). They’re not just about supporting ‘traditional marriage’; they’re about attacking the LGBTQ community simply for being who they are.

The only real criticism of the whole thing I’ve found compelling so far is from Slate‘s J. Bryan Lowder, who recently wrote in regard to the shallowness of consumer activism itself: “As the culture wars heat up in the months preceding the Presidential election and various gay marriage ballot referenda, our assumptions about how we can effect change demand interrogation. Do we, to borrow a phrase from Chasin, really want our citizenship to be located squarely in the marketplace? Is affirming the moral and political influence of corporations really the precedent we want to set? Instead of—or at least in addition to—boycotting and kissing at Chick-fil-A, wouldn’t our energies be better spent working to dismantle the corrupt system that allows businesses to mess about in politics in the first place?” I don’t know about anyone else, but I can definitely say amen to that.

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