As a Chick-fil-A virgin, no taste bud recall explains why so many – including gay and lesbian devotees – delight in what has been referred to as the “chicken crack” of popular fast food offerings.
People love the stuff. It’s the side dish of anti-gay political sentiment by the national chain’s CEO Dan Cathy that leaves a bad taste.
In D.C., there is only a single restricted-access college food court spot with a limited menu selection and a mere handful of metropolitan area full-service outlets among the chain’s nearly 2,000 locations. However, the announcement earlier this year of a summer food truck launch triggered a robust discussion of Chick-fil-A corporate political contributions to groups opposing LGBT civil and marriage equality.
For locals, the national controversy that erupted last week had a been-there-done-that squawk to it.
Former local restaurateur and now food scribe, cookbook writer and Washington Post culinary columnist David Hagedorn sent feathers flying in March when he responded via Twitter to the breathless chatter about a coming Chick-fil-A curbside mobile vendor now operating on District streets. He set off an ongoing months-long discussion on social media, generating extensive local news and blog reporting.
The chain’s funding of anti-gay organizations quickly became as well known in the nation’s capital as their crazy-beloved waffle fries.
When the debate went nationwide, however, it took a decidedly wrong turn at the henhouse. Worse, LGBT activists, community leaders and commentators across the country irresponsibly jumped on a “hatechicken” bandwagon driven by politicians promoting illegal prohibitions of commerce based solely on political beliefs. A plethora of prohibitionist petitions popped up online.
Cascading and stunningly irresponsible statements by elected officials in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and elsewhere indicating they would outlaw or otherwise ban local Chick-fil-A retail expansion did not benefit public perception of our community’s civil and marriage equality efforts. In fact, public dismay over threats to violate the legitimate rights of a business due to the political opinions of its owner and the financial contributions of the company has detrimentally muddied the issues.
You know it’s bad when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – no defender of business rights or believer in regulatory common sense – is compelled to publicly chastise Chicago Mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and city alderman Joe Moreno on the legitimacy of their coercive stance. The ACLU of Illinois identified a “constitutional problem with discriminating against someone based on the content of their speech.”
Stephen Colbert pondered on his Comedy Central show whether we now expected our food to have political beliefs. We found ourselves reviving a foolish culture war, this time a hyped bitter battle over chicken.
Chick-fil-A is not accused of discriminatory operating policies, including toward its LGBT employees and customers. As quickly as government attorneys were able to get to officeholders, they began “walking back” their statements.
Have we forgotten it was illegal in some jurisdictions to serve alcohol to homosexuals or acquire a liquor license, criminalizing our social gatherings and precluding community business creation? Do we support business bans utilizing licensing and zoning obstructions when applied to companies that publicly support same-sex marriage?
Do we not believe that business owners have the same right to participate in political discourse as the rest of us? If no, someone needs to call Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie to tell them to rescind their generous $2.5 million donation last week supporting a November same-sex marriage referendum in Washington state.
There is no harm in spreading the word about outrageous opposition to our full civil equality. But a word of caution: national consumer boycotts are rarely successful. We run the risk of appearing as politically impotent as the so-called Million Moms did when its recent JC Penney boycott over the company’s selection of Ellen DeGeneres as a television commercial celebrity fizzled.
The hit YouTube and iTunes parody “Chow Down at Chick-fil-A” featuring RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Willam Belli and drag cohorts Detox and Vicky Vox is an instrument of persuasion more effective than the hard-edged and distracting sideshow antics of pandering politicians.
Especially when the special sauce offered by politicos lacks legal muster or any hint of fairness.
Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.