Last week, Charlie Rogers, a lesbian woman in Nebraska was attacked in her home by three men. They stripped her, tied her up with zip ties, carved words such as “dyke” and other gay-slurs into her skin, and set her house on fire. Incredibly, this woman bravely stated just a day later, “I’m not going back in the closet. You’re not going to scare me back.”
I am inspired by her bravery to endure such an experience, and within 24 hours, be able to assure the world and her attackers that even such extreme trauma would not keep her from being who she is.
I cannot help but think of Charlie as I read the mass coverage on Chick-fil-A this week. As she begins a long and difficult process of healing, many others are waving flags of support of a restaurant who donates to anti-gay organizations. I am surprised at how many people I know who are proudly passing along digital flyers about the Chik-fil-A Appreciation Day on August 1. As I read through comments on Facebook and comment sections of relevant articles, I came across a few common thoughts that seem to be driving support for the organization by otherwise loving people. I would like to offer a response to much of the reason people feel inclined to support Chick-fil-A.
A lot of the support comes from the notion that Chick-fil-A is being bullied by the LGBT community. There is a feeling that they are being attacked for holding “Christian values” and that the queer response to Chick-fil-A’s “opinion” is limiting free speech. People seem to be confused as to why there is suddenly such an uproar when all along everyone has known Chick-fil-A is a “Christian organization.”
However, most of the people who are upset about Chick-fil-A are not shocked or outraged by the simple idea that the founder of Chick-fil-A holds “traditional Christian values” or even that they are anti-gay. Many of us have assumed this for a long time. Perhaps this knowledge/assumption has kept people from eating there for a while now, but it is not the reason for the mass outrage that is currently taking place. They are not simply holding an opinion or living into their right to free speech. Chick-fil-A is actively supporting groups which are working against the civil rights and emotional well-being of queer people. This is where our problem lies.
In 2010, Chick-fil-A donated over two million dollars to anti-gay groups including Exodus International which is known for their history of trying to “cure” gays. Chick-fil-A doesn’t just have an opinion to which they are entitled. They are funding abuse and hate targeted at a marginalized community – one which suffers from high suicide rates, hidden lives, self-hate and violent attacks.
To those who wonder why LGBT people are so upset, I would ask you consider the connection between anti-gay groups and the hate crime endured by a woman in Nebraska just this week. I am not saying these groups or Chick-fil-A are the direct cause of such crimes, but they certainly feed into and encourage a culture which still reeks of homophobia.
Some Christians continue to make claims that Chick-fil-A is maintaining integrity by standing firm in “biblical values” As a Christian, I have been taught that the Bible speaks of the Kindom of God as a space in which there is no fear, no violence, no hate. Yet, when I read stories about lesbians having gay-slurs etched into their skin, those are the only things I can think of. I get scared – scared because stories like hers are real. Scared because it could be my story, or my best friend’s story, or my congregant’s story. I think of the violence that queers endure everyday – at the hand of others, in the words of the media or religious voices which paint us as degenerates, or at their own hand via self-loathing due to internalized homophobia. I think of hate – for purposeful efforts to make the queer community suffer. So when I hear about Chick-fil-A living into “biblical values” by financially supporting a narrow understanding of family which breeds all of these things, I have a hard time connecting the dots.
Chick-fil-A is not the first or the only company to support anti-gay groups. But it is one. My hope is that the reason the queer community and our allies are responding so harshly is that we are getting sick and tired of fear, of violence, and of hate. There is a wave of courage passing through the queer community and with any luck, together, we can learn from the brave woman in Nebraska and claim for ourselves: “[We are] not going back in the closet. You’re not going to scare me back.”
As we live into this courage, we may choose to no longer give money to Chick-fil-A or other organizations which breed, support, or encourage fear, violence, and hate. As a Christian, I do so on the foundation of biblical values. Some of us will take another step and participate in a “Kiss-in,” a nonviolent protest at Chick-fil-A’s across the nation this Friday. However we respond to Chick-fil-A’s funding of anti-gay organizations, it is not an effort to revoke anyone’s free speech. More than words are at stake in this case and no one is claiming they cannot share their opinion. It is not a case of bullying Chick-fil-A because they “bully” us. They have too much structural power – it would be like David trying to bully Goliath. It is not an act of the LGBT community shoving our “agenda” in anyone’s face – it’s a tired and frustrated demand for a society which no longer breeds fear, violence and hate.
Chick-fil-A can keep their values. They can say whatever they like and no one can legally do a thing about it. But as citizens, we can also choose to boycott, to protest, and to criticize their financial support of organizations which are dangerous to us.
As the “Day of Appreciation” approaches, I know this conversation will continue. I hope, however, that those who choose to support Chick-fil-A will remember their loved ones who are queer - their coworkers, their neighbors, their family members. When I think about those I know who have posted or communicated support of Chick-fil-A, I am confused. I wonder how they can hear about violence towards gays, be in relationship with me or others who are gay, and justify their concern for us, all the while cheering on Chick-fil-A.
Even if you do not share the same perspective as queers (not that we all have the same ones), I imagine many people don't actually wish us harm. However, to see your active efforts to make a statement via patronizing Chick-fil-A feels like you don't care about the harm we endure on a regular basis or that you are not remotely affected by stories such as the woman in Nebraska or the many like hers. I wonder if this is what you intend.
Mary Ann is a graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is currently working as the Youth Director and Justice Associate at a United Methodist Church. Her primary interests reside in the intersections of church and society, particularly in realms of sexuality, gender, race, and ecology. You can follow her on twitter at https://twitter.com/ladygadfly.