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I'm gay and I eat at Chick-fil-A
If you grew up in Georgia, like I did, you’d know that Chick-fil-A is a Southern staple.
Grabbing a Chick-fil-A sandwich for lunch, or a chicken biscuit for breakfast, was at least a twice-weekly occurrence. Not only is the food delicious, but Chick-fil-A has cultivated a culture of employees who seem to really care about serving others. True to its beginnings in 1967, it feels more like a family-owned restaurant than a fast food chain. Their employees always provide service with a smile. When you thank them for your food, they respond with an emphatic, “My pleasure!” and it really feels like they mean it.
As anyone who frequents Chick-fil-A knows, it is closed on Sundays and always will be. The Cathy family, who founded Chick-fil-A, are outspoken Christian conservatives, and have remained insistent that Sundays are for going to church and resting, not for serving chicken sandwiches. Their profit margins would look even more favorable if the Cathys weren’t so steadfast in their faith, but they are devout and sincere. They have refused to budge on this issue for over fifty years because their belief in God comes first.
Having been raised in Georgia, I appreciate and identify with a culture of serving others and standing firm in one’s beliefs. To this day, whenever I leave my family’s home my mom offers a gentle reminder: “Remember where you came from.”
In 2012, Chick-fil-A became the center of controversy following Dan Cathy’s remarks regarding gay marriage. As a devout Christian, he does not support it. Following this controversy there were calls across social media for LGBT people and their allies to immediately boycott the restaurant chain, as it was clearly run by a homophobic bigot. I personally know of a few people who stopped talking to family members for the sin of continuing to dine there. Suddenly, eating at Chick-fil-A became a public expression of one’s internalized hatred of gay people—enjoying delicious chicken sandwiches, it seemed, was merely incidental to this act of bigotry.
More recently, reports emerged that Chick-fil-A frequently donated money to “anti-gay” organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Salvation Army, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home. These discoveries further cemented in peoples’ minds that Chick-fil-A was indeed a homophobic enterprise.
But I’m gay, and I still eat at Chick-fil-A.
An inconvenient wrinkle in the argument that Chick-fil-A is an anti-gay institution is the fact that it both serves and employs LGBT people every day, with a smile. To me, the good work of the organizations Chick-fil-A has donated money to over the years vastly outweighs their open belief in Biblical marriage and conservative Christian values. For example, the Paul Anderson Youth Home helps troubled young men get their lives back on track. In a time when male education rates are down and suicide rates are up, a rehabilitation program seems to me like an essential endeavor, whether it is centered around religion or not. Despite our ideological differences, I find it hard to believe that if I were to attempt to join one of the above organizations that I would be shunned, shouted down, and exiled. Unfortunately, my experience with the LGBT community to which I belong has been very different. Rather than bring people into the fold and explore our common humanity, the walls surrounding the LGBT community and its “allies” continue to grow higher every day. In opposition to this approach, people and organizations who give thoughtful consideration to current issues usually arrive at a reasonable conclusion. In fact, the Salvation Army’s website now dedicates an entire page to LGBTQ support. It’s amazing what happens when we dare to give others a little time, compassion, and the benefit of the doubt.
When asked about Chick-fil-A’s support of Republican political campaigns and donations from supposedly anti-gay institutions, Dan Cathy responded, “While we evaluate individual donations on an annual basis, our giving is focused on three key areas: youth and education, leadership and family enrichment, and serving the local communities in which we operate. Our intent is to not support political or social agendas. This has been the case for more than 60 years. The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity, and respect, and to serve great food with genuine hospitality.”
What is most striking in Cathy’s comment is the part about treating every person with honor, dignity, and respect. That is all I ask of those who might disagree with my lifestyle or believe it to be a sin. Treat me with dignity and respect, and I will do the same for you. Do I agree with efforts to delegitimize gay marriage in this country? Absolutely not. Do I have enough faith in our legal system to ensure that the will of the majority in this country (which is increasingly pro-gay marriage) is upheld by the law? Yes, I do. In my twenty-six years of life, I have learned that the best way to change someone’s mind is to get to know them, to let them get to know me, and maybe even swap stories over a chicken sandwich. We almost always realize that we have more in common than we thought. That is the beginning of building bridges and effecting change.
A large portion of my family lives in southern Georgia and are devout Christians. They all know exactly who I am, and they love me just the same. As they’ve gotten to know me over the years, they’ve begun to change their minds about gay marriage—or at least begun to reconsider their positions on it. There isn’t a single person in my family today who would refuse to come to my wedding, when that day comes. I would not have gotten to this point without being honest, listening to them, respecting their right to hold their beliefs, and giving them time to come to terms with who I am on their own.
I understand that patience can be painful, especially on what can seem to others like such an obvious decision. It can be excruciating to have conversations that make you feel like you’re having to defend your very right to live your life as you see fit. However, I believe that it is imperative for us, the LGBT community, to stand strong and to be compassionate. Have those difficult conversations. Be patient. Lean into loved ones who can support you.
For decades, we’ve faced impossible odds and opposition with strength and optimism. Why stop now?
This country was founded in the pursuit of freedom both of and from religion. While I might not agree with the Cathy family’s outlook on marriage, I will defend their right to hold those beliefs, and I will insist on compassion and conversation as the best way to resolve our differences. If the cultural pendulum begins to swing in their direction, I hope and pray that they will do the same for people like me. In the meantime, I think I’ll enjoy as many Chick-fil-A sandwiches as I please.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism or its employees.
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