Chick-fil-A: it’s not what’s said as much as what’s done

TW: heterosexism, cissexism, sexism, islamophobia, sexual harassment, neo-nativism

By now, everyone’s heard the news: Chick-fil-A founder and president Dan Cathy has said he only supports a traditional, allegedly biblically-sanctioned definition of marriage. Activists have criticized his response to an interview question and even the mayors of New York and Boston have responded to his statements by refusing to change zoning so that planned Chick-fil-A locations cannot be built. Numerous social conservatives have responded in a day of support for the company while many LGBT advocates and allies are taking part in a boycott. That’s all there is to the story, right?

I honestly can’t think of a worse simplification of the story. The way that this entire story was described by everyone from the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times was incomplete. This is bigger than most discrepancies though, since even less typical media from conservative-dominated blogs to left-leaning comedy shows picked up this version of the story, leaving virtually no one with the actual problem in mainstream discussion. The actual problem here isn’t what Dan Cathy said in a single interview. The real problem is how his company’s policies have been impacted. If you’ve been remotely aware of the now years-long protests of Chick-fil-A, then you should know that LGBT activists were boycotting the company long before someone else noticed the company president’s opinions.

The real issue here is that Chick-fil-A, the company rather than its president, has over the years donating millions of dollars to anti-LGBT groups. The only conceivable way that this is an issue about Freedom of Speech is if you’ve wholeheartedly adopted the usually mocked view that money is speech. In either case, that “speech” isn’t just about same-sex marriage, which is all that the reporting on this controversy has focused on. If you look at the company’s publically available tax information, you’ll notice that the groups they fund don’t just struggle against proponents of marriage equality, but are in many cases organizations that are in favor of treating having a “deviant” sexuality or gender identity as a mental disorder. By purchasing Chick-fil-A’s products, you not only give funds to the company owned by a man who might disagree with you about gay marriage, you give funds to a company that for years now has bankrolled groups arguing for the right to treat LGBT people as suffering from mental disorders.

Beyond the company’s sizable donations, missing from virtually all reports are an analysis of the company’s history of discriminatory hiring and firing as a result of its devotion to biblical values. With most of its locations in areas that do not protect employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, there’s little to say with regard to anti-LGBT biases impacting the day-to-day practices of the franchises. That said, it’s clear that a belief in “biblical values” created the environment in which a Muslim employee was fired for refusing to pray to Jesus, in which women were penalized for not being stay-at-home mothers, and in which victims of sexual harassment were shamed by whatever means possible.

In response to those “biblical” values, boycotts have been organized, protests have been held, Forbes articles have been written, and most recently a dirty trick normally used by islamophobes was used to deny Chick-fil-A a space in which they could discriminate and raise funds for Exodus International. That’s what’s actually at stake here – not Dan Cathy’s freedom of speech, but his freedom from consequences for believing in the superiority of those that pass the muster of his “biblical” values.

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