Commentary: Chick-fil-a day only fattened Cathy's wallet

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverAugust 9, 2012 

You know all those people who made last Wednesday the most profitable single day in Chick-fil-A’s history?

I’m still trying to figure out how they managed to eat the thousands of chicken sandwiches they bought – while simultaneously patting themselves on the back with both hands in honor of their political stand.

By filling Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s coffers with even more moolah than usual, many somehow feel they were striking a blow for traditional marriage and free speech in America.

Buffalo chips. They didn’t do a thing in the world except help fatten a corporate chieftain’s bottom line and their own butts. Freud said – about something else – that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Likewise, sometimes a chicken sammitch is just a freakin’ chicken sammitch.

This was such an instance.

On the day declared willy-nilly “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” by former Arkansas Gov. Mike “Cluck” Huckabee, I watched hundreds of people, lemming like, filing in to area Chick-fil-As to show their support for either the company president’s stand on gay marriage – he opposes it – or for his right to announce his stand on gay marriage.

Somebody answer me this: When did marching up to the counter and ordering some barnyard pimp on a bun become a political statement on a par with crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965? Sorry, homeslice, but hopping in the minivan and going through the Chick-fil-A drive-thru doesn’t make you a Freedom Rider.

As far as I could tell, there was no Birmingham, Ala., Sheriff Bull Connor, no water cannons or vicious dogs awaiting the customers, only over-solicitous cashiers asking, “You want some of our delicious waffle fries with that?”

Both sides self-satisfied

Yet the self-satisfaction in the faces and words of the people buying chicken sandwiches for the cause of traditional marriage was rivaled only by the self-righteousness of the people who feel they have the right to dictate what’s in the hearts, minds and bellies of their fellow men, women, gays and transsexuals.

That’s right: Chick-fil-A supporters weren’t the only ones suffering a surfeit of self-satisfaction. So were the people on the other side of the issue. In Arizona, a man recorded himself hassling a likely minimum-wage-earning Chick-fil-A drive-thru employee and applauded himself by saying, “I just did something really good. I feel purposeful. Thank you so much.”

What he did, after his video went viral, was get fired from his job as a chief financial officer for another company.

Sure, Cathy’s comments were gratuitously divisive and – if you ask James Miller of the LGBT Center of Raleigh – may have been part of a cynical ploy to increase sandwich sales. If so, that makes all those true believers who descended upon the store to buy a statement sandwich – in the words of the Everly Brothers’ song – Cathy’s Clowns.

In a telephone interview and in a written statement, Miller told me most in the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transsexual community “knew of Chick-fil-A’s negative stance on LGBT issues” before the current chicken contretemps kicked off. The company, Miller said, “has taken a public stance against progress, which will ultimately leave them on the wrong side of history.”

He applauded the company for its many charitable contributions, but decried that “they also chose to give heavily to anti-LGBT causes,” including groups that claim to convert gays to straight – in other words, to pray the gay away.

We all have a right

The great thing about America is that Cathy has a right to support any legal causes he wants, no matter how noxious we find them. Gays and their sympathizers also have a right not to support his business. But, having been unfairly bullied themselves, are gays in danger of being perceived as bullies – as a rainbow-clad Taliban intent upon squelching unpopular views and making everyone tow the party line?

If that perception takes root, the LGBT community could face a backlash from some of its sympathizers. I talked to people who actually support people’s right to marry whoever they love, regardless of gender, but who were nonetheless repulsed by the seemingly intolerant and heavy-handed response of many gay rights supporters to Cathy’s comments.

Of course, the response in support of Cathy’s comments was overdone, too. I swear, I kept waiting for someone to start singing “We Shall Overcome” while waiting on a chicken sammitch.

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