Lots of debates about Chick-fil-A today. I thought I’d collect and share some of my responses to friends posting about the controversy.  First, some things you may or may not know about Chick-fil-A: 1) They spent tens of thousands of dollars supporting the Family Research Council, which, in turn, used Chick-fil-A’s donations to support Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill. 2) At home, they’ve donated MILLIONS of dollars to groups that have an almost exclusively anti-gay agenda, including Exodus International. Many of these organizations have been deemed HATE GROUPS by non-partisan collectives. 

Marriage, despite its origins, is entwined in politics and an entire grid of economics. To be certain, its connotation is NOW much more political and financial than it is religious. I’m tired of people saying, “I love gay people. I just don’t want them to call their unions a MARRIAGE.” Civil Unions are a farce, a red herring. Straight people have access to both institutions, gays only have access to one, in states that even allow civil unions for gay people. Plus, they’re almost entirely removed from a grid of federal rights and finance laws.  It’s not about marriage for the guy who runs Chick-fil-A and his ilk. The push for “traditional marriage” is metonymic, a euphemism for saying, “I hate gay people.” The profits from that company are directly funneled into a political and economic machine that actively dehumanizes queer people. Some of my queer friends play ambivalent and say, “Well, I have a problem with the ENTIRE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE. My politics are more radical. Do away with marriage!” Regardless of whether you want to be in a pansexual relationship with 12 men and 3 women or a marriage with one guy, this debate is about YOU. I understand the urge to embrace idealist politics and dream of a day when marriage isn’t the standard par excellence of intimacy, but, in the meantime, there’s more at stake here than daydreams of overthrowing an institution that’s not going anywhere.

The Mormon church was a primary force in 8’s victory and Chick-fil-A is one of the few major companies that PROUDLY trumpets funding inequity. The business’ ties to the church make it even more of a lightning rod. Prop 8 was in part controversial because a tremendous chunk of its funding came from out of state and largely from the Mormon church. FTR, Chick-fil-A donated MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to organizations like the Marriage & Family Legacy Fund and Family Research Council that were exclusively established to deny and eliminate marriage equality rights. The back-and-forth between Mormon’s anti-gay hate and the gay community is long and storied. Hell, it was one of the primary tropes explored in Angels in America. The situation is even more complex when we factor in Romney’s anti-gay agenda and his ties to the church.

The castigation and boycott of Chick-fil-A is endemic to protest culture and reminiscent of direct forms of activism that took place in the 1950s and 1960s. The current controversy is consistent with most civil rights causes that have historically focused on catalytic events and specific organizations. Take, for example, the way Civil Rights activists zeroed in on the Montgomery busses. Symbolism and synecdoche matter. It’s easier for people to glom onto something that’s concrete (e.g., a specific company that supports the murder of gay people in Uganda and actively works against equity in the US) than it is for people to advocate on behalf of something abstract (e.g., “gays are humans”). The demonization of Chick-fil-A is no better or worse than the heroization of, say, Rosa Parks.This seemingly ridiculous debate about chicken incites dialogue, changes hearts and minds, etc. I find the sort of symbolic protest waged here infinitely more effective than those ridiculous NOH8 photos. I dislike activists PROFITEERING, but I’m all for boycotting hate groups.

And let’s not pretend this is a free speech issue. I haven’t read anyone advocating a state-sanctioned ban of Chick-fil-A and their god-awful sandwiches. I’ve seen where one mayor and one governor have encouraged Chick-fil-A to go elsewhere but have not witnessed banning. This controversy isn’t about permits and bans; those are red herrings Chick-fil-A-holes use to obscure the REAL issue. It’s a straw figure argument that they’re employing to deflect attention away from anti-gay prejudice. Remember, magicians can only work their magic via distraction. This is not really an issue of constitutionality unless a leader advocates an actual state-wide ban of that shit farm and the Chick-fil-A-holes who run it. There’s a big difference between discouraging growth in your region and taking legal steps to ban it. Ironically, today’s Chick-fil-A drama centers around the same sort of argument and exposes the hypocrisy of pro-fil-a-holes. In other words, I don’t care if some Mormon doesn’t like that I’m gay, but I do care and think it’s a big deal when they take legal steps to eliminate my rights, as they did in California. You don’t get to cry foul—pardon the pun—and persecution when people boycott in response to your bigotry. If you don’t support gay marriage, don’t marry a gay person. I don’t support the Mormon church, but I’m not trying to eliminate their right to congregate and practice their religion. I don’t like Mormonism, so I don’t practice it. Mormons only get the right to claim injustice when I use my disdain to LEGISLATE THEIR LIVES. Period. End of story. I’m no longer open to the counterpoint that I am, in fact, a HUMAN BEING, DESERVE TO LIVE, and SHOULD HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS. 

History is already proving that people proudly posting pictures of themselves eating at Chick-fil-A are assholes and the villains in future history books. THAT will be your legacy. You’ll be in the same cluster of people who spit on interracial couples and screamed profanities at black kids entering integrated schools. Way to go! Even members of the KKK were and are smart enough to wear hoods. And let’s be crystal clear about this: You can’t claim to like or love gay people when YOU FINANCIALLY SUPPORT A COMPANY THAT ADVOCATES STATE-SANCTIONED MURDER OF GAY PEOPLE ABROAD. You may have the luxury of considering this a “dignified debate,” but it’s a matter of LIFE AND DEATH for others. 

Not a lot separates THIS:

From THIS:

And, FTR, the white people in this photo didn’t consider themselves bigots either, nor did that red-headed chick in The Help. History trumps the mental gymnastics bigots use to frame their hate as anything other than venom.

Post-script: This blog entry seems to be making the rounds, which I think is fantastic. A few people have expressed concern over my use of the above photos. Some have claimed I’m unfairly comparing oppressions, others don’t think buying chicken sandwiches compares to spitting on and yelling racial epithets at children. Here’s how I have responded to both claims. First, I don’t assume oppression enacts itself the same way each time. I’m pretty explicit in my use of the analogy. I understand the inclination to assume all comparisons between the Civil Rights movement and Gay Liberation are reductive and lack self-reflexivity, but, ironically, the invoked criticism is guilty of the very thing it claim to critique. Including the images underscores the politics of historicizing. In other words, history, for better or worse, constructs heroes and villains; hence, my reference to the heroization of Parks. We focus in on specific events and people and use them to metonymically represent bigger issues. This is perhaps why so many people, including myself, reference the Civil Rights movement in analyses of protest strategies. I’m not advocating the accuracy of history. As they say, it is what it is, which is doubly true when people discuss intent (e.g., “I’m not a bigot. i don’t hate gays.”) In other words, it doesn’t matter if a person eating at Chick-fil-A doesn’t INTEND to be homophobic.   I’m not comparing OPPRESSIONS, I”m comparing forms of activism and historicizing.

Second, spitting and racial slurs are not a fair comparison because the money used in that smiling consumerism photo finances fund STATE-SANCTIONED GENOCIDE of gay people. Homophobia isn’t just personal or intention, it’s SYSTEMIC. That company’s profits are DIRECTLY being used to finance anti-gay causes, including the genocide of gay people in other countries and inequality of gay people on our soil. Here’s my fundamental problem with gingerly agreeing to disagree. When I do that with somebody on this particular issue, they walk away unchanged and I walk away LESS THAN HUMAN, less worthy of life (see Uganda), less worthy of rights.