Over the past month I’ve heard all sorts of nonsense on social issues. Hell, in the past 25 years which is as long as I’ve thought about them, I’ve heard nonsense on social issues. Much of it not based on fact, much of it hurtful. Much of it from people who were and are speaking from positions that are resting on the suppression or exclusion of other people to maintain their exclusivity. This suppression, and often the exclusivity too, is often not even on the radar of those that have the good fortune of being within the boundary of the gold cord. If people who live outside that boundary take offense at certain things that are said by such privileged folk, the privileged folk often blink and look on in wonder. Though this phenomenon isn’t at all new (“Let them eat cake” is just one of an extended series of blunders in this mess), I plan to limit my subject to what appears to be, at first glance, about chicken sandwiches. But it isn’t about chicken sandwiches.
After CEO Dan Cathy’s interview in which he stated explicitly his views on same-sex marriage, which came as a surprise, really, to no one, there were immediate reactions and immediate polarization. While Santorum and Palin had their self-serving photo ops with bags of junk food, mayors of certain large metropolitan areas overstepped the law by saying, also self-servingly, that such businesses were never to set up shop within their boundaries. Gay activists, including people I knew, were planning sit-ins where they choked various restaurants staging kiss-ins or ordering cups of water rather than actual food. There are certainly better things to do than to sit in line to make Chik-Fil-A lose a nickel per person, and that is one of the many reasons I wasn’t at all interested in helping that particular restaurant gain any more publicity regarding this very public stance that the CEO and part-owner of the company took. I feel primarily, on a non-personal level, for the various owners of the franchises, who are the ones that are in the direct line of fire. They are the unfortunate ones that have to deal with the public comments of their upper-level administration. And though one feels for them, the money from their franchises goes to support not only said CEO and part-owner, but also—through the company’s donations—various anti-gay lobbying efforts, including organizations whose purpose is to help make homosexuality a capital offense in various parts of Africa.
But this isn’t even about fast food franchises or the money they make. There is, certainly, a merely Capitalist way to look at this—a way to see this limited to the idea of “well if you don’t like how they do business, then don’t do business with them.” The issue is where things get a bit problematic in the Facebook/Social media world; it’s more than the CEO blabbing on about things, and more than buying sandwiches that’s at stake. Let’s say a company makes a public stand on race. In the meantime, let’s put aside the fact that there are currently laws (less than 60 years old, by the way) against this. Let’s say a fast food restaurant does something like refusing to serve non-white customers and then, when the media blows up about it, has a CEO go on record saying “guilty as charged,” in an interview, using Biblical (as has certainly been authoritatively done in the past) or other religious-text reference as backup. Considering Ron Paul’s and others’ stated stance on businesses and civil rights legislation, this isn’t particularly out of the realm of possibility in the future. When people then go online in support of said restaurant, is it solely about burgers? It isn’t. It is about tacit approval of racism. If someone responds with “Hey, I’m all about putting on a crazy outfit on [restaurant] approval day so I can get a free burger,” they are not saying that they are about freedom. They are not saying that they approve of the Capitalist system playing itself out. Anyone with these particular ideas in play would make great pains to say so with explicit and carefully-worded caveats. To go all out without reservation for Cathy’s, Santorum’s, and the Palins’s publicity in support of what [restaurant] stands for is saying not that they like the restaurant or their food, or the freedom that they say it represents. They are saying, in unmistakable terms, that they approve of the racism that the restaurant CEO has explicitly put forth in his statement.
When I’ve used this example, people made the point that Chick-Fil-A doesn’t refuse service to gay people. That’s true. But mostly they’ve asked, with a degree of incredulity, whether I equated race with sexuality. The (I hesitate to use the word “hangup”) disconnect here seems to be that, to my commenters, race is something you’re “born with” and that sexuality is something that is either something you “choose” or, primarily, something you do. There are gay celibates, but they remain gay, so it is more than the act itself, regardless of gender. Regarding “choice,” even “gay-therapy” advocates have shown that prayer or other more insidious modes of reprogramming are ineffective in changing same-sex attraction. Not that this has been of any impedance to family members sending me, unsolicited materials on programs I can go to have myself discreetly “reprogrammed.” The argument here is less about the reality of the situation and more about the discomfort such people have with folks that aren’t like them. And such people have the audacity to take offense when these “other” people aren’t hip to putting themselves through anything less than years of agony to make the crowd more “comfortable.” Such people have the chutzpah to ask that gay folks not “get personal” in response to comments made on their position in society, which is, of course, a personal attack in itself. Or perhaps I’m misreading the statement: is “we like you, but we don’t really think people like you should be thought of in the same way as us” not to be understood as a personal attack?
Speaking of statements, considering so much of them are being made in social media; when people make public comments in a public forum such as Facebook, said comments are up for commentary. As a writer and academic, I understand and teach that one of the main tenets of academic discourse is the discourse. What gets put out on a public forum needs to stand up to facts. When various people made an effort to go public not only with the coverage of the Chick-Fil-A controversy, but that they were excited about donning cow costumes in support of Chik-Fil-A, I took them at their word; not only were they up for the tasty sandwiches, they were up for supporting the company spokesman’s statement in the midst of the ideological adversity it was experiencing. When I forwarded a list of outspokenly anti-gay businesses so as to make their shopping choices easier, I was told that I was in bad form; I could have made my disapproval known, but there was no need “to make things personal.” What these folks don’t seem to understand is that by making their approval public, they made it personal, as I’ve already mentioned. They made sure to let me know that that was how they felt, in spite of the fact that they knew I was gay. They made sure to let me know that not only was being gay bad, but that gay people had no recourse to equal treatment under law, and, in the specific context of CEO Cathy’s statement, such people such as me had no place within “the Biblical definition of family.” I could simply remain silent and thus give tacit approval of such statements, or I could respond, saying that I was not fine with being written out of my family, was not fine with other people deciding that I did not have the same rights in this country, was not fine with other people deciding what sort of caring relationship I could have.
Twenty years ago, I found myself in the awkward position of speaking in front of a bank of TV news cameras as a college undergraduate to a city council deliberating on adding the words “sexual orientation” to the city’s nondiscrimination statement. Assembled were a great number of people warning the council that they would be voted out, that majority ruled, and that they were the majority, and that they should, for God’s sake, think of the children, think of the families that would be ruined. With notes I wrote on the spot in a spiral notebook and without the knowledge or support of my family, I spoke at the podium about equal treatment under law while upstanding citizens sneered and hissed behind me. As I left the meeting, they clutched their bibles and muttered horrible things. Before the summer was over, my mail was routinely destroyed, threatening phone calls were made. People tried—and nearly succeeded—in setting my apartment on fire while I slept. The police were uncooperative. I’m hardly alone, telling a story like this. Actually I suppose I could say I am lucky. I should count my lucky stars I woke up in time to see the arm extended into the bedroom window after the screen was removed, and was able to clap out the flame creeping up the foam-backed drapes. Why I should take personally mere statements about support for chicken sandwiches is obviously mere oversensitivity on my part. Remaining silent while people assume I’m idiotic enough not to see that they aren’t just “excited about Chick-Fil-A” is simply not an option. And if people think it is simply about chicken sandwiches, they need to take a closer look.