By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
I’m a gay man from a family of 10 siblings, and the only gay member of my extended family of cousins, to my knowledge. I have been dismayed for several years now that some members of my immediate family support Chick-fil-A, the fast-food corporation controversial for its positions placing religious freedom over LGBTQ rights. At best, the company’s stance is irrelevant to these particular siblings. At worst, these positions are a key reason for their support.
Some of them have even gone so far as to post Chick-fil-A on their Facebook page for several years now, even though I have brought to their attention how much that hurts me. In contrast to the aforementioned siblings, a couple of my other, supportive siblings, as well as several of my cousins, refuse to patronize Chick-fil-A as a show of solidarity with me and the LGBTQ movement.
It has led me to the painful realization that the most homophobic members of the entire extended family are those with the gay brother.
When several siblings are together, these same perpetrators don’t hesitate to suggest that we all go out to eat at Chick-fil-A. The disrespect has caused a rift between me and these siblings. It’s made me uncomfortable to be around them. I was definitely not looking forward to our annual July 4 gathering.
This situation has bothered me for at least five years now, and I am unsure how to handle it.
I don’t know what’s worse: being slapped in the face with a wet fish, or being slapped in the face with a lightly battered fried cod fillet served on a warm, buttered bun from Chick-fil-A. They’re both equally bad, I suppose. I feel your pain. Unfortunately, people often need to see the world from another person’s perspective to understand how their behavior and/or comments affect others, and — even when that is pointed out to them — they would rather pull masks off a rack at a big-box retailer or shout at staff who are courageous enough to work during a pandemic and, in your family’s case, post about their trips to Chick-fil-A even though they are aware that it alienates you.
If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that consumers are more powerful than anytime in history. With social media, Americans have a voice and many companies have chosen to listen.
If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that consumers are more powerful than any time in history. With social media, Americans have a voice and many companies have chosen to listen. For instance, I don't believe the Black Lives Matter movement would have spurred a reckoning that reached the C-suites of corporate America had companies not had one eye on the social-justice movement, and the inequalities of race in America, and the other eye on their bottom lines. Whatever it takes. Perhaps this time, the momentum to take action will sustain itself and continue to gain steam as Americans question their own white privilege, much like the #MeToo movement has done, with heads rolling and policies changing in industries across the land.
But your immediate concern lies with another fight for equality that, arguably, also upholds the ideals of Lady Liberty and the principles of freedom that this country was reportedly founded upon. This last decade has been a period of significant progress for the LGBTQ community in America. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ workers are protected from job discrimination. The court decided by a 6-3 vote that a key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 known as Title VII that bars job discrimination because of sex, among other reasons, encompasses bias against LGBT workers. Five years earlier, in May 2015, marriage equality became legal in the U.S., one month before my home country of Ireland made the same decision by popular vote.
But where does that leave you and your family as they walk past Chick-fil-A, and contemplate a chicken sandwich and fries? America is a country divided, and many dinner tables over the Fourth of July weekend were split, too. Even without that perplexing and polarizing political panorama, siblings like to push each other’s buttons. The more effective the button, the more likely it is to get pushed. You basically put a big red sign on your forehead with a Chick-fil-A logo, and I’m sorry you have to endure that. They clearly don’t like being told where they can and can’t eat, and they are determined to make you know that. They are giving you a dollop of indignation with a side order of passive aggression. Bill, I get it. That is enough to give anyone indigestion.
I’m not saying that what they’re doing is right or compassionate. It would be kinder and easier to eat there when you’re not around, and avoid checking in on Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +2.58% when they are there. More importantly, it would be more brotherly and sisterly, too. You regard their support for Chick-fil-A as a thoughtless swipe at your freedom to be who you are and live with the same legal protections and social acceptance as anyone else. They, I imagine, see being told where to spend their money as an infringement on their freedom to order a Chick-fil-A Deluxe Chicken Sandwich with 500 calories and 1640 milligrams of sodium. That, they might argue, is their right as Americans. Let them knock themselves out and free yourself from this. If it’s not Chick-fil-A, it would likely be something else.
It would be kinder and easier to eat there when you’re not around, and avoid checking in on Facebook when they are there. More importantly, it would be more brotherly and sisterly, too.
People are what they eat. And if they want to eat Chick-fil-A, that’s their prerogative. If, say, they want to patronize Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +0.77% instead of independent bookstores, they’re entitled to do that too. You have every right to tell them that it would mean a lot to you if they would not buy food at this joint, thank you very much. That’s the easy part. The hard part is waiting for their reply, and being prepared for a response that you may not like. You have stated your case. If you don’t get the reaction you had hoped for, you must let it go. Otherwise, you will drive yourself crazy obsessing over this. Today, it’s Chick-fil-A. Tomorrow, your difference of opinions could be over the Paul Taylor Dance Company at Lincoln Center named after David H. Koch, the late billionaire who donated money to many conservative causes.
I admire you for standing by your beliefs, and your willingness to speak up. You put your heart on the line. That takes guts. What’s more, it puts you in a vulnerable position. That doesn’t always feel good, but there is strength in being able to do that. However, you are playing God if you think you have the power or the right to control where they choose to spend their money. The way they see it: It’s their breakfast party, and they’ll enjoy their carbohydrates, if they want to. The restaurant has made some efforts to address these issues, most likely because they see the winds of social change, and they want to expand and reach more customers. For many LGBTQ people, it may ring hollow and be too little, too late. I understand that too. Such changes are hardly, if ever, entirely altruistic.
Last November the Georgia-based chicken-sandwich chain said it would cease making multiyear donations to two religious organizations that reportedly made and/or supported controversial statements about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The company said it would “deepen its giving to a smaller number of organizations working exclusively in the areas of education, homelessness and hunger,” and has committed $9 million to organizations such as the Junior Achievement USA, which fosters work-readiness and financial literary skills for students through 12th grade, as well as Covenant House International, which provides outreach to 70,000 homeless, runaway and trafficked young people each year.
Focus on the people in your life who support you and make you feel good about yourself, and take some comfort in the fact that you are living your life according to your principles.
A spokeswoman for Chick-fil-A told MarketWatch: “Chick-fil-A is a restaurant company focused on food, service and hospitality with no social or political agenda. We want our restaurants to serve as a welcoming environment for all guests.” Rather than praising Chick-fil-A for being more inclusive, however, many people on Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +0.30% — including some identifying as Christian and conservative — slammed the chain for chickening out in the face of a “left-wing mob.” You can’t please everyone. They too wanted Chick-fil-A to do what they wanted. How dare Chick-fil-A try to walk that line thin red line between two Americas? Will those customers also boycott Chick-fil-A now that the company has stopped supporting those organizations? Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. If they do, it’s not our business if they go to Popeyes, Bojangles or KFC /zigman2/quotes/209029767/composite YUM +0.73% , instead.
What’s important here is what you do. Don’t react to your siblings. Hide their Facebook feeds, if it helps. We all have a family of origin, and a chosen family of beloved friends. Focus on the people in your life who support you and make you feel good about yourself, and take some comfort in the fact that you are living your life according to your principles. Ultimately, we only ever have to live with ourselves. When you look in the mirror in the morning, know that you are who are you because of what you are: a man who believes that companies should be held to account for their actions. You can use your pocketbook to make a small change. As we’ve seen, it appears to work. Not everyone will agree, and that’s OK. Keep being you, and the rest will take care of itself.
If you can’t stop thinking about it, stop going to family events. If you are tempted to take a peek at your other siblings’ Facebook feeds to get riled up about their offensive posts, press “block.”
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