Chick Fil-A debate missing the point

The debate over equal rights for LGBT Americans has recently focused, bizarrely, on an American fast food staple: the chicken sandwich. Specifically, Chick Fil-A, the Atlanta-based fast food giant that purports to follow “Christian values.” Chick Fil-A’s President and COO, Dan Cathy, recently proclaimed his support for “Biblical” marriage. A war of words arose, with those of the left boycotting Chick Fil-A, and those on the right tweeting pictures of themselves eating waffle fries. However, the real point of this debate has been lost in the rush to score political points.

It is not Cathy’s statements, however ignorant, that are the fundamental issue; it is Chick Fil-A’s financial support of blatantly, and often vehemently, anti-gay organizations.

First, let’s look at Cathy’s comments. In an interview on The Ken Coleman Show, Cathy stated, “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him 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.”

Liberal and LGBT-rights groups immediately decried these comments and encouraged their supporters to avoid the chicken sandwich chain. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “For the record, I prefer Kentucky Fried Chicken.” The Democratic mayors of Boston, Washington D.C., Newark, Philadelphia, and Chicago all spoke out against the company in favor of LGBT rights. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Democrat, launched a petition, joining a New York University student-led petition with over 15,000 signatures, asking the university to remove the restaurant from the campus. The Jim Henson company pulled its toys from Chick Fil-A’s kid’s meals. “Kiss-ins” in front of Chick Fil-A restaurants were called for.

Not surprisingly, the response from the conservative spectrum was the opposite. Former governor, Fox News host and failed presidential nominee Mike Huckabee praised Chick Fil-A, called for a “Chick Fil-A Appreciation Day,” and called the reaction by LGBT groups and allies “economic bullying.” Sarah Palin tweeted a picture of herself buying Chick Fil-A.

However, the real reason that those who support equality should avoid the chicken sandwich chain is who Chick Fil-A donates money to. Chick Fil-A donated at least $5 million to anti-gay groups between 2003 and 2010. In 2010 alone, Chick Fil-A, through its charitable arm, donated $1.9 million to anti-gay causes. These include organizations such as Exodus International and the Family Research Council that actively work to spread disinformation and prejudice about gays and lesbians.

Exodus International is a religious organization that, under the guise of therapy, promotes the idea that non-heterosexual orientations are disordered, perverse, diseased, and immoral. This organization operates by reinforcing societal prejudices in vulnerable individuals and claims that, through “reparative therapy” including therapy, prayer, and medical treatments, gays and lesbians can become heterosexual. However, this notion that sexual orientation can be altered has been thoroughly condemned by multiple medical and psychological organizations including the American Psychological Association, which condemns the practice as unethical, ineffective, and harmful. Exodus International also participated in a 2009 conference in Uganda discussing how to “wipe out” homosexuality in that country. That conference including appalling discussions of psychological and physical torture of gays and lesbians, and not long after, Uganda’s Kill The Gays bill was introduced by a participant of that conference.

The Family Research Council has an anti-gay track record that is cringe-worthy. In fact, it has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its repeated heinous and inaccurate statements about LGBT Americans. Prominent members of the FRC often publicly make wildly prejudicial statements against LGBT Americans including, among other things, that being gay makes one more likely to be a pedophile, that repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would lead to an increase of same-sex rape, and that homosexuality ought to be criminalized. Tony Perkins, president of FRC, wrote an ugle article in the Washington Post following public suicides of gay teens after intense bullying. In his article, he blames their suicide on their “sexual conduct,” calling the teens mentally disordered for being gay. This group lobbies against any rights for LGBT Americans including non-discrimination laws, and any legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

Again, the point is not Cathy’s words. He, like every American, has the constitutional right to make any such statements, regardless of how insulting they may be. And no, there shouldn’t be a boycott over his statements, for if we boycotted a company every time their leaders said something insensitive or bigoted, there would hardly be a company for Americans to spend their money at.

The point is, as many media organizations seem to have conveniently forgotten, the donations to anti-gay groups that come from Chick Fil-A’s profits.

So if you decide to eat at Chick Fil-A, do so with the knowledge that some portion of your profit goes to fund efforts to spread prejudice against gays and lesbians and deny them equal rights.  Some of that money may go to a group that shames gay youths into thinking that they are disordered or perverts and in need of therapy. Or it may go to a hate group that goes on television and falsely claims that “pedophilia is a homosexual problem.”

Personally, I find that their chicken sandwich just isn’t worth it.

Photo via Human Rights Campaign.


Ryan C. Ebersole
Ryan C. Ebersole

Ryan Ebersole is a mental health counselor on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Having finished his Masters degree at the University of Southern Mississippi, his undergraduate degree at the University of Evansville in Indiana, high school in the Fort Worth area of Texas and pre-K in Puerto Rico, and having been born in Florida, he has experienced several areas of the county.

While in Indiana, he worked at a social work agency for HIV+ clients, as well as a low-income community drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility - both of which caused him to take a great interest in the stigmatized and the disadvantaged in our society. Now as a mental health professional, he hopes to serve these groups, as well as continue political activism, especially for LGBT and health care rights, on the side.