Chick-fil-A: the aftermath

I wrote in July and August about Chick-fil-A and gay marriage. I thought it was a passing trifle. Lo and behold, the story continues to evolve!


Let me tell it from the start, in stages:


1)  The provocation. Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A, talked about the chain’s contributions to various anti-gay-marriage causes, clucking and smirking about his Christian values (“We’re all still on our first marriages,” he said).

2)  The backlash. The Henson company pulled out of a marketing deal with them. Boycotts were called.

3)  The backlash to the backlash. Various conservatives, led by those two intellectual giants Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, declared their solidarity with Chick-fil-A, and invited their fellow True Believers to come eat a chicken sandwich on the first of August. Thousands responded. (It turns out that it’s easier to get people to get involved in politics if there’s food involved. I think we should start letting people vote at McDonalds and Burger King and KFC; participation would go through the roof.)

4)  The backlash to the backlash to the backlash. Gay activists had kiss-a-thons at Chick-fil-A. These were less well attended and not much covered by the media.

5)  The political reaction. A number of northern and western localities, including Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco, declared that they would look very carefully in future at any applications made by Chick-fil-A, questioning whether a business that had self-importantly declared itself intolerant should be allowed to open a franchise in those cities.

6)  Now it’s a freedom-of-speech issue! “They can say and believe anything they want,” one side said. “You can’t forbid them to do business just because you don’t like what they believe.” “Oh yes we can,” the other side said. “They have the right to freedom of belief and freedom of speech, but they have no right to open a store in this or that place. We’ll see about that.”

The whole thing simmered for a while, and was almost forgotten, except that a few people realized that eating a chicken sandwich isn’t quite the same thing as making a political statement.

Then suddenly:

7)  Chick-fil-A redefines its policies: “’The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender,’ Chick-fil-A spokeswoman Tracey Micit said in the statement. ‘Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.’” They also say they are reevaluating the contributions being given to anti-gay-marriage groups. (Why? Because they want to expand their business beyond their traditional Southern base, and they’ve suddenly discovered that it might not be good for business to be known as “the chicken place run by bigots and homophobes.”)

8)  Chick-fil-A’s conservative / Christian supporters suddenly don’t like them so much.

9)  Da capo. Dan Cathy (see #1) says nothing has changed since this summer.

And so forth.

Maybe sometime I’ll tell you all about the guy at Papa John’s Pizza griping about how he has to pay for his employees’ healthcare!

Chicken sandwiches, gay marriage, and freedom of speech


I wrote last week about Dan Cathy, CEO of fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, who made a big contribution to an anti-gay-marriage organization, and bragged about his morals as he did so. (He made a comment about “all of us here being on our first marriages,” which I think is pretty comical.) He and his company promptly got dumped upon, most publicly and most appropriately by the Henson Company, which broke ties with Chick-fil-A (Henson used to manufacture toys for their children’s meals).  The Hensons then contributed the money they’d received from Chick-fil-A to GLAAD, a prominent gay organization.



All of this I love.



The next part becomes more complex.



Leaders in four American cities – Denver, Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago – have talked about forbidding the expansion of the Chick-fil-A chain in their cities. Is this okay? I’m not sure. I dislike homophobes and prudes, of course, but I can’t forbid them to own businesses, and I’m not sure if I can justify zoning them out of whole cities.  If they were openly flouting the law – refusing service based on sexual preference, or something like that – I might think differently.



This is the lovely thing about America. You can be as ridiculous as you like, and no one can really tell you to shut up about it. You can be against gay marriage, or women’s suffrage, or the Emancipation Proclamation if you like, and you can even put up big banners in your place of business announcing your political beliefs.



You’d just better be prepared to lose quite a bit of business.



To be sure, the homophobes are rallying around the chicken place. Mike Huckabee, the Christian zealot, and Rick Santorum, the animated sweater-vest, have encouraged other zealots and bigots to join them at Chick-fil-A on August 1, to show their “support.” (It’s like the Civil Rights Movement in reverse: lunch counter sit-ins to deny people their rights!) I also saw a lovely photo of Sarah and Todd “Secede From America” Palin picking up their chicken sandwiches and smiling pretty for the camera. (CNN played Pink’s song “Stupid Girls” as background as they relayed the story. Excellent commentary.)



The natural response for the gay and gay-friendly communities is to boycott Chick-fil-A. Some organizers, more interestingly, are organizing “Gay Day at Chick-fil-A,” to be held on the same day as the Huckabee/Santorum hate rally. This will create, um, an interesting dynamic.



Myself, I’m with the boycotters. This will be easy for me, because there are no Chick-fil-A franchises in Rhode Island.



(I was never much for chicken sandwiches, anyway. I’m more of a burger queen.)



Sally Ride, gay marriage, the Muppets, and Chick-fil-A

I was saddened when I read that Sally Ride, first American woman in space, passed away a few days ago. She was a role model, certainly; back in 1983, science and engineering were still distinctly woman-unfriendly disciplines. (The Russians had Valentina Tereshkova all those decades ago, but never really closed the gender gap.)



Astronauts were never really my heroes. They were too bland. When I was a kid in the 1960s, I used to be irritated when all those Gemini missions kept preempting my favorite programs. And then – these guys went into space, and came back, and never had anything interesting to say!



Then, the other day, I learned that Sally was in a relationship with a woman, Tam O’Shaughnessy, for the last 27 years of her life.



Now I’m interested.



The astronaut business was intensely macho. The original astronauts – Mercury, Gemini, Apollo – were mostly test pilots and Air Force hotshots, and most of them were insufferable boors. (My favorite reference text on this subject is Michael Collins’s lovely book “Carrying the Fire,” about his own time as an astronaut. He was the guy who circled the moon back in 1969 while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were traipsing around in the Sea of Tranquility.  He describes the psychological tests, and the physical training, and the sometimes-not-very-friendly sparring between the astronauts.)




Now: imagine being Sally Ride, competing in that macho environment.



I would have wilted in five seconds under that pressure. In the words of Tony Kushner, daisies would have sprouted out of my ears.



But Sally made it. She even married (for a few years in the 1980s) one of the other astronauts, Steve Hawley, who seems nice enough.



But she ended up with Tam O’Shaughnessy, who lived with her for over two decades, and worked with her, and co-authored several books with her, and was with her through her final illness



Bravo to her.



And what does Tam get?



Why, nothing! No death benefits. The U. S. Gummint don’t recognize non-traditional relationships.



(Mitt Romney recently posted a fatuous/obvious comment on Twitter about Sally being a “pioneer.” Here’s how that went:)





Which brings me to Chick-fil-A.



We don’t have this particular chain in Rhode Island, thank goodness. I say “thank goodness” because Dan Cathy, the company’s CEO, recently made a large donation to an anti-gay-marriage cause, and made some nasty comments to accompany his contribution.



The Jim Henson Company, which made toys for Chick-fil-A’s kids’ meals, broke with them over this. They made a wonderful statement about it, and they gave the money they’d earned from Chick-fil-A to GLAAD, a gay organization.



Tee hee!



And here’s a pictorial version of the victory:






All of this means we still have a very long way to go.



But there’s light on the horizon.






(Rest in peace, Sally. Tam: best wishes, and stay strong. Lisa Henson: you go, girl. Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A: go to hell, rapidly, now.)


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