Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer.
The amount of attention being given the Chick-fil-A story is not really surprising, but is instructive. It’s an example of one of humankind’s favorite ways of framing complex issues: Us vs. Them.
Quick recap: Chick-fil-A’s Don Cathy told the Baptist Press that the fast food chain is supportive of the “biblical definition of the family.” This was by no means a new revelation of Chick-fil-A “openly” identifying as a Christian run business, nor the first time anti-LGBT equality messages have been sent. That’s been going on for a long time. But for whatever reasons, this time it grabbed the attention not only of the LGBT press and communities, but made waves in the mainstream media. No doubt social media played it’s “spread the word” role. Among others with name recognition, Mike Huckabee jumped in, declaring this past Wednesday “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.”
And lots and lots of people declared their appreciation by Chick-fil-A-ing that day. The MSM now had the visuals of long lines of cars and people, along with sound bites of some of those people talking about their beliefs as Christians, while others stressed their support of “freedom of speech.”
LGBTs and allies expressed the usual and understandable range of perspectives, from disappointment, hurt, sadness and anger to “so what else is new?” They also did what was learned a long time ago: take advantage of a “teaching,” not to mention a fundraising, opportunity. State and local LGBT organizations around the nation encouraged people to donate what they would have spent for a Chick-fil-A meal, and while specific numbers aren’t known, thousands of dollars will have been raised.
At least some will make a more visual statement and join a “kiss-in” at Chick-fil-A’s around the nation today.
Why is this, if briefly, such a big story in the MSM? In part because marriage is the “gay” issue for MSM and Elected purposes, pro and con; in part because Palin, Huckabee and other widely recognized people got involved; in part because it’s an election year. My guess for the biggest reason: it provides the elements needed to make for good news/entertainment, including good visuals, and that simplistic Us vs. Them story line, this time with the always-a-winner Freedom of Religion (which usually means, “my version of what Christianity means”) vs. The Homosexuals.
More basic yet, from a “get involved” perspective: this is a very quick and easy opportunity for participating related to an “issue.” On the Chick-fil-A-ing side, you show up. Stand in line with people who think like you. Buy some chicken. Maybe video yourself or others and post it. Maybe even talk to a reporter. Go home feeling good about yourself.
From the other side, it’s more complicated, because this is you as a person who happens to be LGBT (or is an advocate of such) who is being condemned. You support each other – and that support is needed, over and over – in yet another “the homosexuals are bad people” incident; and you use the moment to raise awareness, support and raise some money related to that “issue.”
Some, maybe many, on both sides probably will see only what they expected to see – bad homosexuals or bad Christians. What will the majority of non-participating people “see”? For at least some, I hope, it will be that all the talk about the need for LGBT equality is based on the fact that millions of people still see “the homosexuals” as, at best, “less than.”
One of the things I’ve seen most often the last several days from LGBT and supportive individuals: conversations about how it feels to see not just those long lines of Chick-fil-A-ing “appreciators,” but among them, people they think of as friends. For younger LGBTs, this can be particularly disturbing.
It’s important, also, to notice that the long lines didn’t just happen in Red states. That’s significant, in part because so often there’s the “lumping together” step: all people who identify as “Christian” are seen as one big red-neck/red state group. But it’s not that easy. Discrimination is much, much bigger and wider and complex than a simple Us vs. Them can ever provide.
Along with the simplistic framing, there were the usual politically right comments about the badness of politically correct positions. Use of the absolutely indispensable “I don’t care what they do as long as they don’t try to shove it down my throat” line is another favorite. Plus, someone always has to throw in the “they’re just a tiny minority” thing, and so don’t deserve equal rights.
Mr. Cathy, does, of course, have the right to express his personal beliefs and opinions. Chick-fil-A has the right to operate in the way they believe a Christian business should, as long as they don’t break any non-discrimination laws in the process, and since sexual orientation and gender identity are not federally protected categories related to employment, that makes it easier for Chick-fil-A. Their discrimination based on gender is another question.
Contrary to the claims of some of the “appreciators,” Mr. Cathy has not been stripped of his free speech rights. His exercising of them can, and does, have hurtful consequences, and calling attention to that fact does not limit the rights of Mr. Cathy, Ms. Palin, Mr. Huckabee, Ms. Malkin or any of the Chick-fil-A-ing appreciators. Us vs. Them stories are easy to tell, easy to market, and not without some foundations in fact. But Us vs. Them stories much too often reduce issues, and more significantly people, to one dimensional caricatures. Chick-fil-A-ing is just the latest example of attempts to deny equality to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.