It’s time to take a page from the Christian playbook and forgive Chick-fil-A.
I’m an agnostic queer woman who, of course, takes issue with Chick-fil-A’s anti-gay past but the company has moved on and we should, too.
There are bigger fish—nay, chickens—to fry.
Even though Chick-fil-A’s most egregious missteps now have years of dust covering them, the Denver City Council hemmed and hawed this past week about a proposed Chick-fil-A location in Denver International Airport.
As The Denver Post reported, Councilman Paul López called the deal “really, truly a moral issue on the city” and Councilwoman Robin Kniech raised concerns about “corporate profits [being] used to fund and fuel discrimination.”
The Business Development Committee voted Tuesday to delay the deal—already seven years in the making—for two more weeks.
Four of its six members of also raised concerns about the company’s policy of closing franchises on Sunday, which, given Chick-fil-A’s recent financial performance, seems like a moot point.
Chick-fil-A’s sales are soaring and it is currently the most popular fast-food chain in the country. This should be a no-brainer for any airport, especially one full of travelers who are a mile high in every sense of the term.
Is Chick-fil-A still a matter of public morality? Does it fund discrimination? If the Denver City Council’s clock stopped three years ago, the answer is yes.
Yes, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy publicly voiced support for “the biblical definition of the family unit” in 2012.
Yes, the Cathy family’s WinShape Foundation donated millions of dollars to anti-LGBT organizations like the Family Research Council.
And it is hard to forget the images of anti-marriage protestors swarming Chick-fil-A restaurants three years ago at Mike Huckabee’s behest—a stunt, by the way, that the Chick-fil-A brass did not endorse.
But it’s not 2012 anymore. It’s 2015. The LGBT movement as a whole is far from over but same-sex marriage is now legal nationwide, so it doesn’t exactly matter what Dan Cathy thinks about that particular issue.
The company’s new foundation also ended nearly all of its donations to anti-LGBT organizations in 2012, with $25,390 to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as the only potential sore point.
So why are we—fellow LGBT folks and political allies—still living in the past?
There’s no point in further punishing a company that has already felt and reacted to the public’s wrath, especially when the far right is eager to depict LGBT people as censorious, religious-freedom denying, anti-Christian bigots.
Conservative media outlets love stories like Denver City Council’s recent vote and for good reason: At a time when LGBT leaders are still looking to advance discrimination law and transgender equality, an attack on Chick-fil-A paints the movement as being drunk on its own victory.
There’s also this dirty little secret to consider: Most of the LGBT people I know love Chick-fil-A. (If you’ll recall, one of the most enthusiastic endorsements of the company in 2012 came from drag queens who urged us to “chow down at Chick-fil-A even if you’re gay.”)
It’s anecdotal data, true, but my experiences were corroborated by our own Justin Jones’ reporting on Chick-fil-A’s foray into Manhattan. It used to be the case that queer chicken-o-philes like myself would have to trek all the way to the Paramus Park Mall for a fix but soon, no longer.
My own history with Chick-fil-A is embarrassing to admit, but I’ll share it in the interest of full disclosure. As a child, I wrote a letter to the company praising their chicken nuggets and received a free T-shirt in return—an inexpensive gift that I accepted (and used as pajamas) well in advance of my time at The Daily Beast but if it compromises my integrity, so be it.
A decade or so later, when I was accepted to a doctoral program in Atlanta, I was as excited about moving to the Chick-fil-A capital of the universe as I was about the offer itself. And for five glorious years, I lived in the city where chicken sandwiches are an acceptable fuel source and waffle fries rain from the sky.
I was the one eating Chick-fil-A in a dark corner somewhere before going to volunteer at the LGBT office—a tactic that many of my friends, most of them queer, also used to avoid shaming looks on campus.
School administration initially supported Chick-fil-A, acknowledging that its presence on campus “has become a symbol of exclusion for some community members” but upholding Dan Cathy’s right to “open expression.” But in spring 2013, Chick-fil-A was removed as part of a larger overhaul to campus dining options. Emory administration maintained that the decision was not political. I started leaving campus for lunch.
Even back then, the logic of “gaycotting” seemed a little lost. Chick-fil-A was a target for a real and, yes, justifiable anger but part of the boycott’s appeal was that its impact could be measured in binary terms: The restaurant was either on a college campus or it wasn’t. The company either maintained a sponsorship or they didn’t.
At a time when the LGBT movement was making piecemeal gains in a culture war more nebulous than it is today, a chicken sandwich made for an easy rallying cry.
These days, however, voicing opposition to Chick-fil-A just seems like vengeance.
Denver City Council’s finger-wagging isn’t the only time this has happened, although it is the most recent.
In April, Johns Hopkins students voted to oppose a purely hypothetical Chick-fil-A on campus that had not even been announced.
The next month, students at Valparaiso University in Indiana campaigned against a potential location on their own campus.
As Chicago Tribune reported, students at Valparaiso felt that Chick-fil-A’s actions were “still recent history.”
But recent history is still history. No one has to like Chick-fil-A as much as I do—such a thing might not even be possible—but trying to thwart its expansion when the Great Gaycott of 2012 already achieved its goals might not be the soundest political strategy.
Remember the old saying: Revenge is a dish best served between two buttered buns.