Commentary 27 Sep 2012 10:58 pm
The course of true chicken-sandwich love never did run smooth.
Like many supporters of basic human rights, I ended my boycott of Chick-fil-A last week when the media reported that the company would no longer fund organizations opposed to same-sex marriages. A statement from Chick-fil-A that it would divorce — pun intended — its giving practices from groups with “political agendas” was good enough for me, at least in the moment.
Yet I had a feeling the company wouldn’t so easily walk away from a deeply rooted belief, even when the Almighty Dollar — the only force in the world that could compete with the Almighty in the eyes of most conservative businessmen — was at stake. (A Chicago alderman had vowed to fight Chick-fil-A’s expansion into the Windy City as long as it supported an anti-gay agenda.)
But I didn’t want to research the matter too deeply until after I’d eaten the chicken. Chalk it up to a moment of weakness before you cry foul — or fowl.
Giving up Chick-fil-A has been a challenge: I like the chain’s food and love the way it trains its employees. I can walk into any Chick-fil-A restaurant anywhere in the U.S. and be greeted warmly by intelligent, well-trained employees who seem to actually care about what they are doing. That’s not the case with other fast-food franchises, and when it is, it’s more the exception than the rule.
Although I’m not a religious person, I support Chick-fil-A’s decision to be closed on Sundays because it gives associates a well-deserved rest, a chance to be with family and an opportunity take care of personal business. It also, I suspect, contributes to their positive demeanor the other six days.
I don’t even mind the openly religious music pumped through the restaurant because I can hear it only when I’m in the restroom and because it’s very tapioca-bland and not much worse than most country-western or Top 40 pablum. And with the water turned on or the toilets flushing, I can’t really hear the lyrics, anyway.
But when news broke in July about the millions of dollars that the company’s WinShape foundation had given to groups whose hate-speech is constitutionally protected — organizations such as the Marriage and Family Foundation and Focus on the Family — I knew I had to put my money where my mouth is (or was). No more Chick-fil-A.
I had no delusions of economic grandeur about my boycott. My $10 every month or so wasn’t going to make or break the company, and my rantings on Facebook and Twitter to a few hundred friends and associates weren’t going to light much of a fire either.
Yet even as I celebrated Chick-fil-A’s alleged change of heart last week by ending my boycott and darkening the door of one of its restaurants again, The Advocate reported that the company sponsored a WinShape Ride for Family fundraiser, urging supporters to donate directly to the Marriage and Family Foundation, which cozily shares an address with the Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta.
And one day after ending my forced fast, CEO Dan Cathy offered assurances to Mike Huckabee — conservative politician, talk-show host and organizer of a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day this summer to allow haters to show their support — that nothing had changed and that he and his company were still “guilty as charged” when it came to their opposition to gay rights.
So it’s back to the forced sabbatical from Chick-fil-A for me.
I recognize that I, like many Americans, am a hypocrite when it comes to spending in support of civil liberties. Each year, the Human Rights Campaign publishes the Corporate Equality Index, which ranks companies based on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender practices and policies, and many of the places with which I do business score poorly. Among them: Bed Bath & Beyond, Berkshire Hathaway (parent company of Dairy Queen), Big Lots, Dish Network and Radio Shack.
Beyond LGBT issues, I should also stay away from Walmart, which gets almost all of my grocery budget despite predatory-pricing policies and a poor track record with labor and wages; Apple, which has become my computer and smartphone company of choice despite allegations of sweatshop labor in overseas factories; and Amazon.com, where I spend hundreds of dollars each year even though it treats warehouse associates like dogs during peak seasons and skirts sales tax in most states.
If I keep doing business with these companies and others like them, why don’t I keep eating at Chick-fil-A? I don’t have a good answer to that, other than the rather lame rejoinder that everybody has to draw the line somewhere, and I guess this is mine.
Besides, my sandwich was kind of cold last week and the employees weren’t as nice as I remembered. That makes it easier not to be a chicken and take a principled stand.
Originally published Sept. 27, 2012, in The Alliance Review.