Is the Game of Chicken Over?
According to the stats that the Daily Banter numbers crunchers keep track of, one of the most popular columns I’ve written for this site had to do with my decision not to eat at Chick-fil-A anymore. I’m sure you’ve only recently been discharged from Walter Reed and are still nursing serious physical and psychological wounds from the Great Chick-fil-A War of 2012. I myself haven’t been able to sleep since returning from the front, haunted by memories of old people and drag queens beating each other to death in the street while chicken sandwich mortar fire rained down like death from above all around them. And pickles — so many pickles.
For the few who were lucky enough to be living under a rock or in a neutral, sane country at the time, in July of last year Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy made a lot of enemies within the progressive and gay community by stating in no uncertain terms that he and his company were against same-sex marriage and would continue to support Christian, anti-gay initiatives. The resulting dust-up turned into exactly what every politically charged, pop culture-fed controversy does these days: a media circus, with a freaking chicken sandwich suddenly becoming a cudgel in the never-ending left-right culture war.
Well, six months later the dust has finally settled and, in an admittedly surprising move toward peace that the Jews and Palestinians could learn a thing or two from, one of the marriage equality activists who initially decried the unabashedly anti-gay stance of Chick-fil-A is now “coming out” and admitting that in the resulting months since the whole controversy blew sky-high, he’s struck up a friendship with Dan Cathy. Shane Windmeyer is the executive director of Campus Pride, which he bills as the nation’s leading organization dedicated to the rights and concerns of LGBT college students — and he’s here to tell you that at least as far as he’s concerned, it’s time to mend fences and find common ground rather than allowing the hatred between the two sides to continue to fester.
Windmeyer says that Cathy has given him access to Chick-fil-A’s 2011 IRS Form 990 and he’s seen for himself that the company is no longer giving money to anti-gay initiatives. Meanwhile, on the personal side, Windmeyer and Cathy seem to be like two peas in a pod, with Cathy inviting his new gay friend to football games and talking on the phone with him regularly. (Admittedly, I have yet to drive by and spot Dan Cathy outside of Rage in West Hollywood wearing construction boots and cut-off jean shorts, but, you know, baby steps.) The problem, though, is that not everyone is buying this sudden show of magnanimity from Cathy and are questioning whether Windmeyer is being snowed in the name of corporate profits.
There’s a piece running over at the Huffington Post right now titled, in condescendingly scolding fashion, “No, You Can’t Go Back To Chick-fil-A.” Its author is a guy named Jamie McGonnigal who’s the founder of the gay rights website Talk About Equity, a writer about LGBT issues and, well, the voice of Empoleon on the Pokemon cartoon. McGonnigal is, to put it lightly, skeptical about both Windmeyer’s realtionship with Cathy and Cathy’s intentions in cultivating the relationship. He wonders aloud why Cathy didn’t bother taking his IRS forms directly to the mainstream media rather than handing them off to a gay activist, and one who works with college campuses and might be able to grease the wheels in staving off any potential protests whenever Chick-fil-A decides to open a new franchise near a school. He also questions why Cathy reached out to a relative small-timer like Windmeyer instead of going to, say, GLAAD with his olive branch. McGonnigal’s answer to both points partially hinges on the possibility that Cathy hopes to confine the story of his friendship with a gay man only to certain media outlets — specifically, ones read or seen by the gay community — and out of the hands of those his restaurant’s stridently anti-gay constituency might be able to get a look at.
For the record, if McGonnigal really does think this way he’s sorely misjudging the way the media work in the year 2013; the story of Dan Cathy’s new BFF has already been picked up by ABC, NBC, CNN and just about every other major outlet. Stories often percolate up, not down, these days. Cathy had to know that he couldn’t keep this relationship, well, in the closet.
I certainly appreciate Jamie McGonnigal’s distrust of the man who heads an organization that’s been so outspoken about its belief in adhering to biblical principles and who as recently as six months ago was stating publicly that he was “guilty as charged” in pushing anti-gay initiatives. He brings up important points in his piece and asks necessary questions. McGonnigal loses me when he descends into ridiculous hyperbole: calling Chick-fil-A’s food “greasy, fatty” and “homophobic” and of course asserting right out of the gate that we’re apparently not allowed to eat there, but his views for the most part are worthwhile.
When I initially chose to wrote about my decision not to eat at Chick-fil-A following the Cathy interview, I knew I was potentially committing something to posterity that I’d come to regret later. I say this not because I don’t take gay issues seriously but because A) it was obvious almost from the beginning that the Chick-fil-A war was quickly going to become so embarrassingly stupid that I’d be sorry I’d even gotten involved, and B) I didn’t want my personal choice to come off as a call or support for a boycott. I try not to tell people what to do because I’m an idiot and can barely keep my own life together, much less dictate to others how to live theirs. As expected, I now look back on that original piece I banged out and almost wish I hadn’t. Jamie McGonnigal apparently aims to tell people what they can and can’t do in good conscience; I never wanted to make it seem as if I was doing the same thing.
I don’t know if I’m going back to Chick-fil-A anytime soon but I certainly believe that when possible — and that’s a very big caveat — reaching out to those who oppose progress is better than trying to beat them over the head with a stick. Or a picket sign. Is Shane Windmeyer being taken for a ride? Is Dan Cathy attempting to play the gay community in the name of his company raking even more money than it did last year? Most importantly, has Chick-fil-A truly stopped funding anti-gay programs? I’m not sure on all counts.
Windmeyer concedes that Dan Cathy’s personal views will likely never change. The question is whether they need to in order to build bridges that could benefit both sides of this battle. If you’ve got two people who are at least listening to each other, that’s a start.