Shit’s gotten weird around Chick-fil-A, the way things do in America whenever a story weaves together money, God, politics, gay, and in this case, fried chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.
What started out as a religion reporter’s unsurprising revelation—Chick-fil-A COO Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press that his company was “guilty as charged” for taking a “traditionalist” view of marriage—has turned into a culture war story with legs, no doubt the defining one of the 2012 election. Protests, counterprotests, a likely diss from the Muppets. Did somebody at Chick-fil-A corporate really pretend to be a teenage Christian girl to defend the chain? Did the conservative, pro-faith blogger who wrote the Atlantic’s Chick-fil-A apologia really give some dude a blow job on the down-low? And just this morning, Chick-fil-A’s VP of Corporate Public Relations suffered a fatal heart attack. Like I said, shit’s gotten strange.
Yesterday in Orange County, California, the kind of kids you see packing the lines at suburban Chipotles showed up at a newly opened Chick-fil-A to rally for same-sex marriage; next week, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have called for a national day of “appreciation” for Chick-fil-A’s particular reading of marriage.
And though every gay fiber of my big gay being wants to rail against Cathy and the smugness of a fast-food chain citing the Bible to wage a public crusade against—well, anything—every cell in my medium-size gay brain wants to tell everybody to just chill the hell out.
To my gay brothers and sisters and their straight allies: Stop protesting Chick-fil-A and start organizing where your efforts can do more to move marriage equality forward. And—oh—if you happen to like the taste of Chick-fil-A, which I’m pretty sure I don’t but to each her own, go ahead and keep eating it without feeling like a traitor to 40 years of the LGBT civil rights movement.
As somebody who cooked in restaurants for the better part of two decades before writing about them for a third, I know that if I had to agree with the politics or the faith of anyone whose food I ever liked, I would have stopped going out to eat long ago.
The guys I cooked with in restaurants, the ones I came to love in that way that you do when you work the line with them—Balthazar from the Yucatán, or Miguel from Michoacán—my convictions about equality for gay people and those guys’ Christian beliefs were both outside the currency of our relationship. I had a deep respect for them as cooks and men, and I know they had the same for me. If you’re looking for a purity test before engaging with people in the world, you’ll end up as bitter, angry, and isolated as the bigots who make you righteously seethe.
Take Yolanda, the woman from Oaxaca who serves delicious gorditas from her taco truck in my hometown of Oakland, California. If I had the bad manners to ask her what she thought about faith, about two guys getting married, or if she ever donated to a Catholic church roasting with zeal to see me turn away from the “sin” of regular carnal relations with the guy I’ve been with for 20 years—well, I might not like her answer.
If Yolanda posted a sign on her truck, something denouncing same-sex marriage, would I still buy her gorditas? It’s something all gay people struggle with. When I moved back home to the Bay Area in 2000 and showed up at my conservative Christian brother’s house for a barbecue, what greeted me on his lawn? Multiple signs in support of Proposition 22, the protect-marriage initiative that predated Proposition 8, and like Prop. 8, passed.
I thought about ripping up those signs and throwing them over his fence. I could have kept driving and never looked back. Instead I went inside, hugged my brother, and ate his burgers. I figured the bigger cause of civil rights wasn’t going to be served by my rage-fueled theatrics. Since then my brother and I have engaged in that cliché of Sunday morning political chat shows: We’ve agreed to disagree. And if we rarely find the time to see each other, maybe that’s just a necessary condition of our coexistence.
If I liked Chick-fil-A’s sandwiches, I imagine I’d still choose to eat them, when I had a craving. I could also take the energy I might otherwise expend finding a chicken suit, fishing my rainbow flag out of the garage, and making a sign that says EAT MOR EQUALITY, and instead give some time to It Gets Better or the Human Rights Campaign. Doing one unambiguously positive thing is so much easier than teasing out the moral convictions of the guy making your lunch.