I’m sure many of you by now have heard about the recent Chik-fil-A uproar. It’s been blowing up my Facebook page for the past couple of weeks. If you’re not familiar, Chik-fil-A (an apparently popular fast-food chain) president, Dan Cathy, recently stated on a radio show that, “we’re 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 that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.” This sentiment is not at all surprising considering the company’s consistently outspoken conservative Christian values and its history of donating large sums to anti-gay groups. Response to this news has come in the form of celebrities boycotting the chain, the Jim Henson Company breaking a partnership with the chain in protest, and people all over the country taking a stand against the company.
As consumers, the little power we have is to support businesses that reflect our personal values (and to boycott those that don’t). Of course, I fully support a boycott of any company spouting anti-gay rhetoric and funding anti-gay groups or any other company policy based on hate and discrimination through a narrow interpretation of religious texts. And yet, I’ve felt uneasy with responses to the Chik-fil-A news which come in the form of:
“Well, I guess I’ll have to eat elsewhere—too bad, I really liked their chicken sandwich!” I even saw a blog showing you how to make a version of their chicken sandwich at home.
Or “Shame on you, Chik-fil-A, for discriminating and promoting hateful behavior.”
Or statements like this one from actor Ed Helms: “Chick-fil-A doesn’t like gay people? So lame. Hate to think what they do to the gay chickens! Lost a loyal fan.”
I found myself uneasy with the fact that the majority of responses were about consumers’ former loyalty to the fast food chain, and that now, since discriminatory action within the company has been ‘discovered,’ a boycott must follow. When I first heard the news of the company’s anti-gay tendencies, I was not at all surprised. Not that I knew anything about Chik-fil-A’s history to begin with. But I’m not sure why anyone is surprised that any fast food chain or other company whose business is driven by the exploitation of billions of anymals each year and many thousands of disenfranchised workers (in factory farms, slaughterhouses, packing plants, and the restaurants themselves) is in the business of discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation.
The same social mechanisms that make us believe that it is acceptable to kill animals for food and underpay a disenfranchised workforce to do society’s most violent work are at work in anti-gay, homophobic behavior. A system based at its core on oppression and discrimination is naturally going to breed oppressive and discriminatory policies. Thus, while I’m fully in support of a boycott on any companies supporting an anti-gay agenda, I’m a little turned off by the indignant attitude that “We should be able to eat our chicken sandwiches without supporting an anti-gay agenda.”
So long as we have the attitude that certain kinds of discrimination are acceptable (e.g., speciesism) we will continue to perpetuate all forms of discrimination. We can’t be outraged by discrimination based on sexuality, while ignoring the speciesism, racism, and classism implicit in the system and expect society to change. We can’t pick and choose what forms of discrimination we resist and expect a better world to magically emerge.
These struggles for equality and liberation are intersectional and social justice movements must overlap to gain strength. This Chik-fil-A situation, then, is not merely an opportunity to take a stand for marriage equality and equal rights based on sexual orientation—It is an opportunity to open a much larger conversation about the implications of our food choices and other behaviors for humans of different races, sexes, socio-economic backgrounds, abilities, etc.; for anymals who suffer and die so that our lifestyles aren’t disturbed; and for the environment that takes the devastating brunt of industrial production.
Admittedly, this a much more difficult conversation to have. It is complicated and requires so much more of us than a declaration that, “I’ll have to buy my chicken sandwich at McDonald’s instead” or even “I’ll have to buy free-range chicken and make my chicken sandwich at home instead.” This conversation is a lifetime project in which we try at every turn to practice a deep-rooted and constantly evolving ethic that is anti-homophobic, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-speciesist, etc.