Many of us who grew up in the South (Yes, I am a Southern dyke! Hence my grace and sophistication!) grew up eating Chick-fil-A. And if you grew up with it, you probably already knew at least one of the following facts: it’s a family-owned business founded by devout Southern Baptist S. Truett Cathy; it’s closed on Sundays; and its statement of corporate purpose begins, “To glorify God…” Knowing this, you may not have been shocked to hear Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s fundamentalist Christian views on marriage equality.
The really important thing about the controversy, of course, is how much it has irritated me. The Chick-fil-A discussions have thus far included five of my least favorite elements of national conversations. They are, in no particular order:
1. Wealthy white dudes saying smug things.
Here’s the thing, Mr. Cathy: When a Baptist Press reporter asks if you support the “traditional family,” don’t give a cute answer like “guilty as charged.” Sure, you’re among friends. But that glib, unoriginal phrase will be published online, and it will be quoted, blogged about, tweeted, and mocked all across the internet because you’re president of an iconic, multi-million dollar corporation in 2012.
Similarly, unless you have unmediated access to the mind of God, please don’t say this:
“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him [sic] and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about.”
Seriously, Dan. To anyone outside your very specific social circle, this sounds whackadoo.
2. [Group of People] seizing opportunity to turn this conversation into conversation about [Thing Group of People Doesn’t Like].
In college, there was usually one person per course who sought to turn every class discussion to his or her own area of interest or expertise. The conservation biology student who always brought New Testament discussions back to climate change. The Amnesty International president who always brought Social Psychology classes back to the U.S. government’s human rights abuses in Latin America. It got reallll specific, dykes! And old. It’s a pet peeve of mine: I like people to stay on topic.
The topic, in this case: Chick-fil-A, a major fast food restaurant chain, has made donations to anti-gay organizations, including an actual hate group and the major ex-gay operation, and its president has made anti-marriage equality statements couched in doomsday biblical terms. This has struck a nerve because marriage equality is a huge deal right now. And marriage equality is a huge deal right now largely because it resonates with a lot of different kinds of people with a wide range of positions on other issues.
For example, it is possible to ascribe to a worldview according to which opposition to marriage equality is intrinsically linked with all forms of domination and exploitation, including the farming, frying, sandwiching, and eating of chickens. From this standpoint, it makes sense to say gay activists in particular shouldn’t home in on a handful of offensive remarks or donations, but should condemn the vast array of sins endemic to the fast food industry. It is indeed possible to make a smart and thoughtful argument for this position. But it’s a mistake to assume all gays or allies will see the web of connections so obvious from your perspective.
More than that, though, it’s a mistake to insult those who don’t share your perspective. This, unfortunately, seems to be happening even in otherwise thoughtful and interesting arguments. You may object to cruel factory farm conditions. You may object to eating meat, period. You may object to fast food, greasy food, fried food, not-local food, or unhealthy food. You may object to styrofoam cups and plastic utensils. You may object to religious business models, conservative evangelical Christianity, or capitalism. These are legitimate concerns shared by lots of people. And if they’re your concerns, probably you weren’t eating at Chick-fil-A, anyway.
But some gays are Republicans, moderates, evangelicals, businesspeople, fast food restaurant employees, Southerners, and chicken-eaters. It is a nice thing, I think, that different kinds of people agree Cathy’s comments were homophobic and Chick-fil-A’s donations troubling. And it’s classier not to insult people who are taking a stand to support you.
3. False equivalences from the Mushy Middle.
Familiar with the term, “false equivalence?” It’s sort of like “two sides to every story” taken to an extreme: not only are there “two sides” to consider, but those sides are assumed to be about equally right or wrong. False equivalence is everywhere, dykes. Goes like this:
“Political Party A says the sky is red. Political Party B says the sky is blue. Therefore, since they must both be equally wrong, and the truth must be somewhere in the middle, the sky must be purple.”
And it seems to be all over Facebook these days. Over at State of Formation, Mary Ann Kaiser addresses one false equivalence common to pro-Chick-fil-A Facebook comments–the idea that LGBT folks are “bullying” Chick-fil-A in response to being bullied. She writes:
“A lot of the support comes from the notion that Chick-fil-A is being bullied by the LGBT community. There is a feeling that they are being attacked for holding ‘Christian values’ and that the queer response to Chick-fil-A’s ‘opinion’ is limiting free speech.”
As Kaiser points out, though, it’s not just about Cathy’s opinion. Chick-fil-A is “actively supporting groups which are working against the civil rights and emotional well-being of queer people.” And the multi-million dollar corporation isn’t being bullied, either, as that would be “like David trying to bully Goliath.” Finally, Kaiser notes, the LGBT backlash does not infringe on Dan Cathy’s freedom of speech. “Chick-fil-A can keep their values. They can say whatever they like and no one can legally do a thing about it. But as citizens, we can also choose to boycott, to protest, and to criticize their financial support of organizations which are dangerous to us.”
Personally, I haven’t read much strong support for Chick-fil-A on Facebook. But nearly every wall conversation I’ve seen on the subject has included some expression of soft support, like, “Well, I don’t like what he said, but all these anti-Chick-fil-A people are just as bad.” Or, “Okay, but judging Cathy for his religious beliefs is just as bad as judging gay people for being gay.”
This is bad logic masquerading as fair-mindedness. Being fair-minded requires us to listen in good faith to people who disagree with us, and to address thoughtful criticisms and concerns; it does not require us to treat all arguments as equivalent.
4. Liberals grandstanding about “values.”
Sometimes liberals–eager to challenge that flag-burning libertine stereotype–get too excited about using “values” language. And when they do, there’s often a not-so-subtle undercurrent of, “See, Republicans! We’re using your stuff for our liberal purposes! ZING.”
For example, Rahm Emanuel’s statement that, “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.” Alderman Joe Moreno’s unconstitutional attempt to keep Chick-fil-A out of his Northwest Side ward. Mayor Menino’s now softened/retracted assertion that he “will do everything [he] can” to keep Chick-fil-A out of Boston.
Makes me cringe, yall.
First, it’s grandstanding for political points, plain and simple, and there’s no substance to it. An elected official can’t deny someone a business license just because that person expresses an offensive opinion or donates to odious organizations.
Second, the “values” language is too self-conscious and triumphal. As Sarah Posner put it: “Can I say that I hate…when Democrats try to throw that ‘values’ language back in face of conservatives? Conservatives don’t own the ‘values’ conversation–we know, we know!”
Finally, it feeds into the victim narrative of groups like the National Organization for Marriage. The idea that, if gay people get equal rights and social acceptance, the conservative Christians who don’t like gay people and don’t accept same-sex marriage will be silenced and oppressed. It’s a ridiculous claim based on the idea that anyone who questions your privilege is oppressing you. I think it’s better not to indulge Maggie Gallagher’s martyrdom fantasies, don’t you?
This brings us to:
5. Conservatives whining about “tolerance.”
This, actually, is worse than liberals grandstanding about “values,” because (a) it happens more often, and (b) I have a liberal gay bias! Yep! But it’s similar in that it throws “tolerance” language back at liberals. Here’s the argument:
“Liberals are always talking about tolerance, but they’re intolerant of people who oppose same-sex marriage.”
There are some problems with this claim. First, there’s an element of false equivalence, no? The suggestion seems to be that if you demand tolerance of same-sex relationships, you should also demand tolerance of the intolerance of same-sex relationships. That if you are a tolerant person, you ought to tolerate members of an oppressed minority group as well as that group’s most active oppressors. Because…being gay is about as right or wrong as being anti-gay? It’s a false equivalence. And it conflates tolerance with total moral relativism.
Second, it suggests that tolerance is the defining feature of liberalism. That liberals advocate for LGBT equality because we believe in tolerating absolutely anything. Wow, I bet we could unpack that assumption all the day long, don’t you think? But I shan’t.
Because the point, really, is that the LGBT rights movement is not only, or even primarily, about tolerance. Maybe it used to be. I mean, when homosexuality was considered a mental illness; when people commonly claimed AIDS was divine punishment for being gay; even when state level anti-sodomy laws were in effect; then, sure, tolerance probably sounded good. But tolerance really is the bare minimum. And in 2012, thanks to previous generations who fought for tolerance and basic dignity, we can work for something more. A major piece of that “something more” is marriage equality.
Marriage equality is not about tolerating something icky because tolerance is the supreme liberal virtue. It’s about social justice, compassion, and equality. Liberal “intolerance”–that is, criticism–of anti-gay comments and contributions is not the damning evidence of left-wing hypocrisy the Christian right would have you think it is.
Over to you, dykes! Thoughts?