Critical Thinking Appreciation Day

So what happened was this: Chick-fil-a COO Dan Cathy finally ended years of gossip and speculation on LGBT blogs by publicly coming out as being opposed to marriage equality. In response, arrogant, attention-whoring douchebag and amateur Fred Flintstone impersonator Mike Huckabee saw a perfect opportunity to pretend to be relevant to the GOP, and he announced a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day on August 1st. It’d be the perfect opportunity for folks to visit a local restaurant and show their support for peanut oil and government imposition on the personal lives of strangers.

And then everybody else in the country responded by becoming a total idiot and missing the point entirely.

It’s bad enough that Huckabee and his pals have managed to turn up the volume on the usual background noise of dumb-assed bigotry. “Wait I thought it was okay for us to say faggot out loud again as long as we did it at the Chick-fil-a!” It’s bad enough that they’ve handed out new masks to people so they can try and disguise their bigotry as defense of free speech or religious freedom or free-market capitalism.

But stupid people are always going to be stupid. What’s the worst is seeing people who should know better taking a reasonable argument and then carrying it out to some ridiculous extreme. I keep seeing reactions from people — bloggers, Facebook commenters, stand-up routines, The Daily Show — that start out showing a real insight into what’s going on, then suddenly take a wild left turn into a boneheaded conclusion. For instance, This impassioned piece by the editor of The Advocate does a great job of explaining how it’s not just a difference of opinion and it’s not just the silly politicization of fast food. But then concludes by saying that’s why it’s okay for Rahm Emmanuel and Thomas Menino to pledge to block the opening of Chick-fil-a franchises in their cities. What?! No!

This isn’t about freedom of speech.
Most of the coverage plays Cathy’s “guilty as charged” quote and then cuts directly to people lining up in front of a restaurant. His statement isn’t the whole story, though. It’s his statement combined with documented proof that Chick-fil-a has donated millions of dollars to anti-gay rights groups, through the WinShape Foundation, its charitable arm.

I’ve never given a second thought to what the Cathy family thinks whenever I’ve eaten at one of their restaurants. And when one of them makes a statement against marriage equality, the way to handle that is to respond in kind: say he’s wrong, and if you feel like it, explain how and why he’s wrong. That’s how the freedom of speech thing works; he can say what he wants, and we can say he’s a dumb-ass.

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean that I’m obligated to give a guy money that he’s going to turn around and use against me. It really doesn’t get simpler than that.

This isn’t about religious intolerance.
Allegations have been leveled against Chick-fil-a for years, but I’ve held out for as long as possible, trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. Yeah, part of that is because I like the food. But most of it’s because I absolutely despise the kind of simple-minded guilt-by-association that was behind most of these complaints.

I’d see a liberal-baiting headline that promised they’d finally found the smoking gun proving the company was anti-gay rights. I’d dutifully follow each one, read the article, and it was always, always the same. There’d be a long preamble about how the Cathy family’s outspokenly religious, the family demands the restaurant’s closed on Sundays, and the company has a charitable division. That would be followed by tenuous links to anti-gay groups, or allegations of discrimination that were actually perfectly justifiable, above-board behavior. It was never a smoking gun; it always came across as nothing more than religious intolerance. “If they’re evangelical Christian, then of course they must be anti-gay.”

It’s lazy, bullshit thinking, and it’s ended up doing more harm than good. Now people are just shouting “religious persecution,” trying to reduce it to nothing more than liberals vs. conservatives, Christians vs. marriage equality. Ignoring the fact that plenty of Christians are gay, plenty of the supporters of marriage quality are Christian, and the people who are trying to disguise their bigotry as religious beliefs are corrupting my religion.

What Cathy’s “guilty as charged” statement did was finally make it clear exactly what their motivation was. It wasn’t some clerical oversight or a case giving to an organization without appreciating the full context of what it does. They willfully and intentionally give millions of dollars to anti-gay groups, for the purpose of campaigning against the rights of gay people.

This isn’t a silly case of politicizing a fast food chain.
Obviously, when opportunistic jack-asses like Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin come up with these stunts and tweet pictures of themselves at a Chick-fil-a, that’s exactly what it is. But real people — those of us not desperately clinging to relevance — don’t have to be making a political statement whenever we buy or don’t buy a sandwich.

Whichever Daily Show writer came up with the bit with Jessica Williams and Wyatt Cenac as a liberal and a conservative flummoxed over what products they could buy: I’m sure you were convinced that this was biting satire, but it was actually just a case of colossally missing the point.

It’s not some complex issue that requires us to research the political stance of companies, or get reports on business practices, or investigate the personal beliefs of the owners. Paul F. Tompkins did a good job of debunking that idea. Dan Cathy’s made it easy for us: now we know all where he stands, where his company’s money is going, and why it’s going there. And I wasted years of my life believing I could “fix” myself and not be gay anymore, and I don’t want anybody else to have to go through that bullshit, so I’m not giving any of my money to Exodus International. Pretty simple.

What disappoints me is that until recently, I thought this was a perfect example of how things should work. I’d thought that here was a company whose owners had views that were likely diametrically opposed to mine, but that didn’t matter when we were doing business. Peaceful coexistence. Proof of the donations plus an admission of motivation behind the donations ruined that.

Boycotting Chick-fil-a isn’t suppressing anyone’s rights.
But supporting them is, however indirectly.

A similar case came up a few years ago, when a company released a popular video game made in collaboration with virulent homophobe Orson Scott Card. And just as now, people said it was silly to protest. People like comic book author Peter David insisted that boycotting the game was creating some kind of “chilling effect” where artists would be afraid to speak their mind about their own personal beliefs for fear of its affecting their financial livelihood.

It raises a question: are we obligated to separate the products we buy from the beliefs of the people who make them? Is it appropriate for us to be boycotting a company based on the company’s mission statement?

Luckily, we don’t have to mull over that question for very long, because the answer is fucking obvious: Yes, it is appropriate. Just because we’re American doesn’t mean we’re obligated to buy everything. I’ve refused to buy stuff from a store just because I don’t like the typography on its sign. I sure as hell don’t have any problem refusing to buy stuff from a store that campaigns against my rights. I wouldn’t have any problem boycotting Card based solely on what an asshole he is; the fact that he also contributes to anti-gay rights organizations just makes it a no-brainer.

If a product is good enough, the creators will do just fine. That’s what we’re seeing with Chick-fil-a, where people tie themselves into knots trying to come up with a justification for going to the restaurant even while they claim they’re in support of marriage equality. The food is indeed really good.

Going to Chick-fil-a isn’t making a statement.
While the media insists on framing this as a “difference of opinion” or a controversial political issue, the fact is that the issue of marriage equality has always been nothing but the case of a majority suppressing the rights of a minority. We can’t agree to disagree if they walk away from the “disagreement” completely unaffected and I walk away with my state constitution modified to make me a second-class citizen.

But apparently that was still too much of an effort for dumb fucks like Huckabee. How can I campaign for the suppression of a minority and not just be completely unaffected, but actually come out ahead? I know! I can say that I’m defending traditional marriage and the freedom of speech and get some chicken nuggets out of the deal!

The people continuing to eat there are doing so because the food’s good. If you’re not bigoted against homosexuals and you still want to eat there, at least acknowledge that it’s because you like the food. Don’t say that it’s because of the good the company does, like paying for employee’s education or contributing to non-bigoted charities. Don’t say that it’s to show support for the freedom of speech. And for the love of Pete, don’t try any of that “bigotry offset” nonsense like making an equal donation to GLAAD or some other pro-LGBT group every time you buy something from CFA. You’re still funding groups that campaign against marriage equality. And in case you haven’t noticed from state after state writing anti-gay discrimination into its constitution over the past few years, they’re winning against groups like GLAAD.

(Note that that’s not the same as donating to GLAAD et al instead of going to the restaurant. That’s all good).

Elected officials vowing to block Chick-fil-a from opening in their cities is just bullshit political grandstanding.
It fails the most basic logic test: if you cheer when Rahm Emmanuel pledges to block Chick-fil-a in Chicago, or Thomas Menino vows to block it in Boston, then you’re saying you’d have no problem if Chris Christie pledged to keep JC Penney, Nabisco, Apple, or any other company that’s spoken out in support of marriage equality, out of New Jersey. Congratulations!

It also fails the pragmatic test: if you block Chick-fil-a, you would be eliminating whatever good the company does. If you wanted to actually accomplish something, you’d work to keep the directly anti-gay groups out of your city: Exodus International, Family Research Council, and so on. And then you’re back at the first problem: anybody else would be able to pledge to keep GLAAD and the like out of the city.

What they’re doing is wrong, but it’s not illegal. They don’t discriminate in employment or in service. The organizations they give money to are working within the law. It’s not the place of elected officials to be blocking companies just because they don’t like them; that’s the job of consumers.

Finally, Learn what the words “intolerance” and “bigotry” mean.
I haven’t seen anyone but idiots dragging out the “you liberals are intolerant of anyone who disagrees with you” crap, but holy shit we have got to do something to put a stop to it.

We’ve got to find whoever it was that started that whole talking point, and unleash a torrent of abuse upon his or her house for the evils they unleashed onto the world. We had as a society just gotten the people saying “you’re suppressing my freedom of speech!” under control, and we seemed to have educated most of the internet on what at least that part of the 1st Amendment actually means. Now, though, everywhere you turn there’s another ignorant blowhard trotting out the same nonsense.

Shut up shut up shut up! You don’t get to attack people and then complain that you’re being attacked! No one is required to be tolerant of intolerance; it’s not being open-minded or accepting of difference of opinion to stay neutral when one group is oppressing the rights of another. It’s wrong, and it’s ethically wrong for the media to present it as a debate with rational arguments on each side.

And homophobes are not a protected class. It’s not bigotry to tell them that their beliefs are toxic and they should shut the hell up. If someone’s making assumptions about you because you’re from the South, or you’re straight, or even if you’re Mormon or evangelical Christian; that’s prejudice. If someone’s telling you that you’re acting like a homophobe or spreading bullshit about homosexuals, and you should just shut the fuck up; that’s just common sense.

2 Comments

  1. I’m going to miss those chicken sandwiches, but honestly, I should have given them up a while ago. I’m not 100% behind you on the “going to Chick-Fil-A isn’t making a statement” part, or I’m not clear on what you’re saying there. Certainly the people who went at Huckabee’s bidding were making a statement, even if it wasn’t exactly what they thought it was.

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