Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: We’ll never know because he got ran over by a bandwagon.
Let’s get one thing straight (because that’s the way Chick-Fil-A likes it): I have never successfully swallowed a piece of their chicken in my life. I’ve tried. Desperately hungry between classes, I’ve staggered over to my college’s Chick-Fil-A and made a donation to an anti-gay group in exchange for a shard of fried bird. But as soon as the meat slides between my lips, I start to choke. Not on the bitter taste of regret for turning my back on my ideals as you might expect, but simply because their chicken tastes like fucking shit.
Seriously. It is unbelievably gross. The way I feel about that chicken is the way that chicken feels about butt sex. I wish I could make it illegal. If I was valued at 4.5 billion dollars (as Chick-Fil-A is) I would donate 99% of of those funds to organizations devoted to lobbying Congress for an amendment to the Constitution declaring that no one is allowed to desecrate the sacred art of frying chicken like that ever again.
So you can see, Chick-Fil-A’s stance on gay marriage is essentially meaningless to me because I don’t eat there anyway. Also, I’m not gay and I can get married whenever I want. Then I can get unmarried whenever I want. I can totally get married and then twenty-four-hours later get unmarried because I discovered a freckle on my wife’s ass that I don’t like. (An irreconcilable difference) As soon as that marriage is annulled or the divorce is final, I can get married for less than twenty-four-hours again. In fact, if I weren’t genuinely engaged, I think it would be fun to see just how many times a straight man is allowed to get married in a single year.
And yet, despite not having a horse in this race, I find myself deeply troubled by this debate.
I think that part of being truly “free-spirited” is keeping your distance from popular bandwagons – conservative, liberal, or anything in between. I speak from experience; I’ve jumped on the running boards of my fair share. And what I discovered, invariably, is that bandwagons are the cheetahs of the political world. They take off like rockets, but they never make it very far. When they try to push the limits of their naturally pathetic stamina, their hearts explode. Many a young activist has been destroyed by an ideologically bloody bandwagon crash.
I worry this is what we’re about to see. We’ve got two bandwagons hurtling toward each other at breakneck speed. They started off reasonably enough, but now group-think (no, conservatives, not Jesus) has taken the wheels. One side is screaming, “Free speech!” The other, “Hate speech!” And frankly, I’m not sure either side has the slightest clue what they’re actually talking about. So before we do anything else here today, let’s get that straight. (The way Chick-Fil-A … oh, you know.)
Free Speech is the right to speak your opinions and beliefs without interference from the government. Free Speech is the guarantee that you will not be arrested, executed, or otherwise harassed by any arm of the government, Federal or State, for speaking your mind.
Hate Speech is speech which slanders a person or a group of people based on race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or nationality. Believing that two men or two women shouldn’t marry may be unfair, but until you start calling them fags and dykes, you haven’t crossed the line. The most disingenuous thing I’ve seen this week was a meme depicting the famous Chick-Fil-A cows holding “God Hates Fags” signs. Those signs are linked to one very specific hate group, the Westboro Baptist Church, and as far as my research shows, Chick-Fil-A hasn’t given them a dime.
An important thing for everyone to remember, be you left, right, or upside down, is that Free Speech has nothing to do with the reaction of other civilians to your belief. If I put my fingers in my ears when you speak, I am not infringing on your rights. You can still speak. But I have a right not to listen if I’m offended or disagree. Likewise, if your business depends on my purchase of your products, and I find out you’re using the money I gave you to donate to a cause I dislike, I am free to stop making purchases from you. If I refuse to give you my business based on your beliefs, I am not impinging on your right to Free Speech. I am simply invoking my right to shop somewhere else.
That right is commonly called the Free Market, and we all know this is the only thing conservatives love more than getting secret gay massages. There are a LOT of serious fucking problems with the free market in America, but the one seriously good thing about it is that consumers do have some choice in where they spend their money. And if consumers choose not to spend money at your store because your store donated two million dollars to the opposition of a basic human right… you should be consistent enough in your political beliefs to shut up and take it on the chin.
And to their credit, Chick-Fil-A has. I haven’t read one single instance of a Cathy family member publicly whining about the boycott. Of course, there are the allegations that Chick-Fil-A lied about the recalled Muppet toys, culminating in the bizarre debacle over the existence of non-existence of a girl named Abby Farle. But to my knowledge, nobody from the Chick-Fil-A family has come out and said, “OMG. U R BEING SO UNFARE.” Dan Cathy is a sharp businessman. He may or may not be a homophobic bigot, but he knows that this is how the free market works. He rolled the dice with his beliefs, and now he is simultaneously paying the price and reaping the reward. At the end of the day, because of all this, he’s probably going to do better than break even. Boycott be damned.
But to their discredit, a number of conservative politicians decided to crank up the old bandwagon of “Religious Intolerance” and ride it for it’s all worth. It was Mike Huckabee who made the ridiculous call for a Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. It was Sarah Palin who shared a photo of herself and her husband, holding up bags of Chick-Fil-A with the same proud grin they use when shooting wolves out of airplanes. Rick Santorum sent out an e-mail this morning urging his supporters to participate in Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, painting it explicitly as an issue of religious free speech.
Of course, several politicians on the left wrested control of the opposing bandwagon’s wheel. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel played right into the conservative fear-mongerer’s hands by telling Chick-Fil-A they weren’t welcome in Chicago anymore. Please note, that the call for Chick-Fil-A Appreciate Day happened before any of these overzealous-for-gay-votes Mayors got involved. At the time of Huckabee’s call, nobody’s free speech was actually at stake. But now it might be.
Chick-Fil-A’s founders are inarguably on the wrong side of history with their two million dollar donations to defend the Biblical definition of marriage. Which was originally, you know, one man and however many wives and concubines he could afford. Or a young woman and the man who raped her. But as a privately-owned family business they have the right to donate their money as they see fit, and to explain such donations in any way that they see fit. The liberal idiots who tried to keep them out of town might appear at first glance to be human rights heroes, but refusing to allow a Chick-Fil-A to open because of the owner’s religious beliefs would set a precedent that the GLBT community really doesn’t need. What happens when a politician in Alabama refuses to let a business open because they donate to organizations that support gay marriage? It would happen. In a flash.
See how dangerous a bandwagon can be? Especially once career politicians are involved. The Right has made themselves look like hypocrites for whining about how the Free Market works. The Left has made themselves look like hypocrites for threatening to punish a business for the owner’s beliefs. Ultimately, I think we’re going to see the whole thing swept under the rug to hide the embarrassment of both sides. Today, conservatives celebrate Chick-Fil-A Appreciate Day. On Friday, the GLBT community will stage completely pointless kiss-ins at Chick-Fil-As nationwide. Next week, we’ll all go back to eating or not eating their nasty-ass chicken and scanning the horizon for the next, cool bandwagon we can join.
Here’s the truth: It doesn’t matter how much money Chick-Fil-A gives to anti-gay marriage groups. It’s their loss, not yours. They’re throwing their money away over the definition of a word that has historically had more definitions than Solomon had wives. Seriously. Eat their chicken and laugh because they think they can use your money to put limits on how you express your love for another consenting adult. They have no power over you. Fifty-four percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage. The tide has turned and no one is going to stop it. The thing we ought to be most angry about now is the exorbitant amounts of money these people are betting on a horse that’s already glue.
Here’s another truth: Directing a temper tantrum at the 42% of Americans who don’t support same-sex marriage isn’t going to change their minds. It’s going to piss them off. And while that’s fun to do, oh, is it fun to do, it’s only shooting ourselves in the foot. When gaggles of gays show up at Chick-Fil-As around the country on Friday while all the soccer moms are just there trying to make their kids fat, they’re not going to see your displays of PDA as symbols of your undying love. They’re going to be mad and they’re going to teach their kids to be mad at you too. They’re going to go home and tell their husbands and their husbands are going to be mad. The only people who are going to benefit from a kiss-in are the people who are already on your side. It’s not going to change any minds, and if it’s not going to change any minds, it’s not an act of activism, but an act of self-indulgence and petty revenge. It’s not going to do any gay person any favors when gay marriage makes it to the ballot.
Here’s one more truth: The best form of direct action that any GLBT person can take is being themselves. Being someone’s son. Being someone’s niece. Being someone’s uncle. Being someone’s mom. Being someone’s relentlessly faithful friend. Being the teacher who never gave up on a kid. Being the doctor who saved the bigot’s wife’s life. Being the good Samaritan who helped someone who didn’t deserve it at all. Love the unlovable. Respect the disrespectful. Proximity and persistence – not logic and loud mouths – is what changes people’s hearts.*
*People and politicians are not the same thing. Yell at them all you want.
If you’re a GLBT person at odds with Christianity, or a Christian at odds with the GLBT community, and especially if you are, in fact, a GLBT Christian, I highly recommend you check out Brian Gerald Murphy’s excellent website. I’m an atheist and while I don’t agree with Brian’s religious beliefs, he is someone with a lot of truth to speak into these matters. I recommend his work to anyone who wants to cultivate an open mind.
If you’re reading this and you happen to be a young person struggling with your sexuality and religion, and hearing about all this hoop-la in the news has got you upset, don’t be afraid to reach out. If you’re feeling really down about things, check out The Trevor Project. Don’t ever be embarrassed to call and ask for help. I know it doesn’t always seem like ‘it’s getting better,” but you’re getting stronger every day. Hang in there. We’re going to fix this shit.