Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Why We Should Not Boycott Chick-Fil-A (or anything, for that matter)

Dangerous Idea #2: We should not have to boycott Chick-Fil-A or give up eating there even if we disagree with the company's anti-gay stance against same-sex marriage and its funding toward organizations supporting such legislation.

I consider myself pro-LGBT, though I sometimes do not seem it. This incident is one such instance in which my pro-LGBT friends, who are more activist anyway, and me differ. The gist is that Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, son of founder Truett Cathy, recently confirmed the company's support in favor of  "the traditional family," which entails marriage strictly between a man and a woman. Cathy writes:

"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that...we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."

On top of this clear anti-gay stance on the part of the CEO, the Chick-Fil-A franchise has been donating large sums of money toward organizations such as Marriage & Family Foundation ($1,188,380), Exodus International ($1,000) and the Family Research Council $1,000), all of which support legislation such as the Defense of Marriage Act that will deny the much deserved rights of gay and lesbian (perhaps even bisexual) couples to get married the same way that heterosexual couples can with all the same benefits. I was and still am in agreement with my pro-LGBT peers that this is awful of Chick-Fil-A.

Many others seem to agree. In particular, some prominent figures such as Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and the Jim Henson Company have gone so far as to publicly come forward against Chick-Fil-A, the former to prevent its opening in Boston and the latter to break ties in a partnership that would have involved kids' toys at Chick-Fil-A. While I believe their efforts are valiant and their beliefs to be the most morally sound, I do not think we as consumers should boycott Chick-Fil-A or give up making (very delicious) purchases there.

Why should we not boycott Chick-Fil-A so that we prevent them from doing well and being able to donate revenue to anti-gay organizations? I will not make the typical conservative response that is usually laced with homophobia and a clear attempt at excusing one's unethical beliefs. Such a response reprimands the critics who have a problem with an anti-gay stance by saying they are being hypocritical and that everyone has a right to their own beliefs. In essence, we pro-LGBT people who embrace diversity and the right of everyone to be the way they are are in fact hypocrites in condemning, and in this case, boycotting those with different beliefs (those who do not believe in same-sex marriage or gay rights). The problem with this argument is that their beliefs are inherently immoral and posit denying equal and necessary legal and social rights to the LGBT population. They cannot claim the same with regard to our beliefs that their beliefs are wrong and should be suppressed because indeed, they are harmful, especially when they spread through families, religious doctrine, public figures, media, etc. Theirs is a straw man argument, and it is not the one I am taking to say that we do not need to boycott Chick-Fil-A and that not doing so will not make us any less pro-LGBT.

My argument to why we should continue to eat at Chick-Fil-A, assuming we were and assuming we are pro-LGBT, is that we need not change our lifestyle to fit our core beliefs, especially when the aspect of the lifestyle to be changed is engrained and the actual opposition to our beliefs, no matter how dear they are to us, is more than a few degrees of separation away to the point where we are not even truly involved. Let's take this piecemeal:

Say Chick-Fil-A is a big deal to you. It sort of is to me, and it has a special (and unhealthy) place in my (soon-to-be failing) heart. It has to be one of my favorite fast food joints. I grew up in the South, believe it or not, where there were plenty of Chick-Fil-As around. I looked forward to eating there and still do when I visit my hometown. I just really love their chicken, especially the Chicken Sandwich. So when we decide we are craving Chick-Fil-A or simply want to dine there if we see it, should we turn the other cheek because the company officially is anti-gay? No. It is a change in lifestyle, granted a minute one, but still a change we must make on our part to eat elsewhere and eat another kind of food (because nowhere else makes this kind of chicken, let's face it) when we would have just eaten at Chick-Fil-A. Is an individual's having to make a small change in lifestyle enough justification to not actively boycott a corporate giant that is against gay rights? Perhaps not, but it is definitely a reason, and it factors in along with the others that I will give.

Degrees of separation. How is my giving Chick-Fil-A money because they provide good service and good food unethical or make me suddenly against gay rights and not pro-LGBT? As far as I'm concerned, I'm paying for the food and the friendly employees, not for the support of anti-gay organizations. While I can't control what the company does with the money, I would hope that what I paid the store would be used to continue providing the same quality of food and service that I receive. I am baffled by the fact that buying a Chick-Fil-A sandwich because I want to eat the tasty sandwich is somehow equivalent to denying gay people their rights, which is what people are up in arms about. Since when does what we purchase represent our belief systems? I am paying for the chicken sandwich, and nothing more. The cogs that decide to use any sum of that money to fund anti-gay organizations are beyond my control, my knowledge, my time, etc. To say I am helping Chick-Fil-A in their agenda against same-sex marriage is as ludicrous as saying the cash I spend at 7-Eleven for a Slurpee gets turned around to someone else as change, and because that person then decided to use that money to fund Marriage & Family Foundation, I am somehow complicit in their agenda and their beliefs. Of course, because the CEO came out (ironic use of the phrase) as donating to such causes, it is far more likely that my money at Chick-Fil-A will end up at Marriage & Family than the money at 7-Eleven, but my point is that we pay for what we get, and anything else is decided by higher-ups and is beyond our purview and our control. I will humor you more with the next reason we should not boycott Chick-Fil-A.

If you say that by continuing to dine at Chick-Fil-A and giving them our money, we are helping them fund the anti-gay organizations, I counter with this: You are hitting the CEO and the higher-ups who do make decisions about funding and who do assuredly have anti-gay stances much less than you are the employees who work in the stores, giving you friendly and fast service and cooking you delicious food. Some of those employees may not agree with Chick-Fil-A's official position on same-sex marriage or the way it uses its money. Some of those employees may very well be gay themselves. But they are working there because like most workers in fast food places, they need to make a living somehow. You are hurting those employees by choosing not to dine there as you normally would. If you turn around and say our not dining there and not giving them money makes no difference in the grand scheme of things, then I turn back around and say if we make no difference, why not continue to buy their food then? The vicious cycle of that argument continues.

To summarize, these are three reasons, the second being the most important in my argument, as to why we should not boycott Chick-Fil-A and perhaps anything else, as I believe they can be applied liberally to all sorts of companies in all sorts of causes:

1. It can be anything from a minor to a major lifestyle change when you actively boycott.
2. The reasons you would boycott are so far removed from the actual purchases you make or services you receive, which do not speak to your beliefs or theirs (a chicken sandwich does not represent anti-gay, and buying and eating one does not make you anti-gay).
3. Boycotting to hurt the cause of a company may actually hurt the employees more, who are more than likely not involved in whatever cause you are opposing.

I am not looking to change anyone's minds about their decision to boycott or not to boycott Chick-Fil-A. I just hope that this is some reasonable justification on my part for why I am choosing not to boycott this fast food restaurant and that people will come to understand and respect it. If there are any serious loopholes in my argument, feel free to point them out. I'm open to change.

This all being said, I certainly do not want people to start eating at Chick-Fil-A more often. That is actually very bad, whereas boycotting seems to really just be a neutral, personal preference thing that, as I have voiced in this post, is not necessary even if you are pro-LGBT. Apparently, the more "traditional" families to which Cathy refers (codeword for diehard Christians) are planning to go there even more to support the company's stance on marriage that is unfairly being "vitriolically attacked." Well, maybe if they weren't vitriolically attacking the rights of gay and lesbian people to get married...

Signing off.

UPDATE: Looks like good old Chicago is pulling its own boycott as well. I guess they sort of have to if this is what the people want...

UPDATE 2: Antoine Dodson (aka the Bed Intruder) has got the right idea. Also, he follows up.

UPDATE 3: Chick-Fil-A manager on Reddit says we're hurting the employees over the one company head's opinion and decisions, as I was saying.

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