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‘Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day’ lets homophobes get their bigot on

The controversy also tests LGBTs and allies’ consideration of principle over tastebuds.

As we’ve noted multiple times here, Chick-Fil-A Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy’s offensive and bigoted statements about marriage equality are an expression of free speech. That’s not what the controversy is about — sadly the media has mostly taken the angle that the protests are about his “Christian” beliefs. The problem is the company’s charitable foundation and the groups it funds (See Alvin’s post, “What Chick-fil-A’s money supports – a video montage of homophobia” for a peek at the real problem).

Yesterday’s “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” (led by Mike Huckabee) gave out-and-out homophobes a chance to let their bigot slip show, and it wasn’t very Christian. (Think Progress):

Gay and lesbian employees of Chick-fil-A had perhaps the most disheartening reaction to the day. An Alabama gay staffer named Andrew described the day as “hater appreciation day,” calling it “very, very depressing.” A gay employee at the company’s headquarters in Atlanta heard a customer say, “I’m so glad you don’t support the queers, I can eat in peace.” Another in Colorado had customers telling him, “I support your company, because your company hates the gays.” Many report experiencing homophobia not just from customers, but from fellow employees as well.

Zack Ford summed up the reason why the protests irk a lot of people who give lip service to LGBT equality but aren’t giving up their Chick-Fil-A.

The Chick-fil-A story is an important test for all people who claim to support LGBT equality, whether they themselves identify as LGBT or allies. It takes a certain amount of courage to say, “I support marriage equality,” and a different level of courage to say, “I’m not going to buy tasty chicken sandwiches because I know the profits are used to harm LGBT people.” [The Washington Post’s Alexandra] Petri, like the Log Cabin Republicans’ R. Clarke Cooper, can’t be bothered with the task of actually taking personal responsibility to defend LGBT people if it means living in a world without “a lot of excellent sandwiches.”

There is a very obvious reason why all of the conservatives defending Chick-fil-A only talk about it as defending “traditional marriage,” ignoring president Dan Cathy’s vitriolic comments and the company’s odious donations. They want to minimize the validity for outrage and reduce the issue to one of mere First Amendment privilege. Conceding to that spin allows the true harm of funding ex-gay ministries and anti-gay hate groups to go unchecked. Chick-fil-A and its president Dan Cathy are nothing short of religious bullies, and attacking the LGBT community for standing up for themselves is an expression of either ignorance in regards to Chick-fil-A’s offenses, apathy for LGBT equality, laziness, or a combination of all three.

Chick-fil-A has given at least $5 million to anti-gay organizations, including known hate groups and proponents of ex-gay therapy, since 2003, including almost $2 million in both 2009 and 2010. Even with this fact along with many others, it’s pretty pathetic when purported allies jump ship for a fried chicken sandwich even when informed.

After all, Chick-Fil-A has faced charges of religious discrimination. Is this enough to withhold your dough?

Chick-fil-A, the corporate parent, has been sued at least 12 times since 1988 on charges of employment discrimination, according to records in U.S. District Courts. Aziz Latif, a former Chick-fil-A restaurant manager in Houston, sued the company in 2002 after Latif, a Muslim, says he was fired a day after he didn’t participate in a group prayer to Jesus Christ at a company training program in 2000. The suit was settled on undisclosed terms.

And what about discrimination/sexual harassment against women? The alleged behavior during and after is less than Christian.

A lawsuit filed Thursday claims four former employees of Chick-fil-A in Chula Vista were sexually harassed, fired, then reported to immigration. Norma Duarte said she is filing a lawsuit after her boss harassed her several times in a back area of the Chick-fil-A restaurant at 2089 Olympic Parkway in Eastlake Terraces.

“He would put me in the refrigerator, and he would touch me and grope me,” Duarte said. Gustavo Angulo, the restaurant’s manager, repeatedly harassed her and three other female employees over the past two years, Duarte said.

The women allege in their lawsuit that when they complained to the restaurant’s owner, Mandy Medlin, they were ignored. They also claim Chick-fil-A’s corporate headquarters ignored their complaints and instead of taking action to stop the harassment, the three of the women were fired. According to the women, management also reported them to U.S. Customs and Border Protection in an attempt to have them deported.

Or firing a woman so she could be a “stay at home” mom?!

Brenda Honeycutt, who used to work for Chick-Fil-A, is suing her former employer because according to court documents, her supervisor, Jeff Howard, who owns the Duluth, Georgia Chick-Fil-A restaurant, fired her because he wanted her to be a “stay home mother.” To make matters worse, Howard replaced Honeycutt, who is suing for wrongful termination, with a male employee. Court documents also state that Brenda Honeycutt got performance evaluations of “satisfactory” or “above satisfactory.”

I ask those that find this company’s practices objectionable but feel the offenses you’re still going to open your wallet to consume Chick-Fil-A’s food — what would be your tipping point if the above, including the firing of employees for being LGBT, which is still legal in most states, isn’t enough?

Josh Ozersky at Time Magazine first viewed this as only a First Amendment/religious freedom issue. But once he knew the extent of Chick-Fil-A’s involvement with virulently anti-gay organizations, he was big enough to say aloud that he changed his mind.

wrote back in February that I liked Chick-fil-A’s food, and that as an American, I felt bound to respect its owners’ opinions, however wrong I might think them, as separate from a business whose practices and product seemed above reproach. (This is the New York Times official position, more or less, and it’s wrong too.) I also pointed to One Million Moms’ idiotic attempted boycott of JCPenney for employing Ellen DeGeneres at its spokesperson. No one came onboard, and I argued that this was fair-mindedness.

…Opposition to gay marriage has become a matter of pride for the Georgia-based chain. Worse by far is the support, as IRS forms show, by the WinShape Foundation (Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm) for various anti-gay bodies including Exodus International, whose leaders talked up its gay “cure” in Uganda before the country introduced legislation that threatens gays with death or imprisonment — although Exodus now says that going to that anti-gay conference was a mistake.

The problem with Chick-fil-A goes beyond LBGT issues. A former worker recently filed a lawsuit against the parent company in which she claims that a franchise owner of a Chick-fil-A in Georgia fired her so she could be a stay-at-home mom. The corporate culture embraces an overt religiosity, from prayer meetings at business retreats to asking people who apply for an operator license to disclose their marital status and number of dependents.

I respect Chick-fil-A’s owners for taking a love-it-or-leave-it stance in regard to their religion; and, like a lot of people, I am choosing to leave it.

So yes, patronizing Chick-Fil-A once you know the full picture, is still a personal choice. But as you chow down on that tasty fried chicken sandwich, you’re endorsing corporate policy, not simply Dan Cathy’s personal point of view. And if that policy hurts someone you know is LGBT, apparently that’s not a problem — your tastebuds and tummy supercede those little matters. It’s good to have that out on the table for discussion.

How about hearing from a gay employee at Chick-Fil-A about what happened on Appreciation Day? She initially implored people not to boycott the chain because it would hurt her ability (and other LGBT staff at Chick-Fil-As) to earn an income. After yesterday, she’s changed her mind. (The Daily Beast):

No one really stopped talking about the reasons why today was as busy as it was. The people I work alongside kept going on and on about how powerful it was to be part of such a righteous movement, and how encouraged they were to know that there were so many people who agree with Dan Cathy. They went on at great length about how it was wrong not just for gays to marry, but to exist. One kid, age 19, said “I hope the gays go hungry.

I nearly walked out then and there. That epitomizes the characteristics of these evangelical “Christians” who are so vocally opposed to equal rights. Attitudes like that are the opposite of Christ-like.

…When they go on about “family values,” it’s clearly only their families they value. That arrogance, self-righteousness, and desire for their opponents to suffer: that’s the least Christ-like attitude of all.

…When this first started, I implored my friends and allies not to boycott. Now, if I didn’t work there, I’d be boycotting too. That much hypocrisy and hatred leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and the last thing I want to eat is their chicken.

We all knew the fundies know how to turn out the bodies…and they did for “Appreciation Day.” No surprise there. The fact is most Americans aren’t committed to giving up anything they like on a day-to-day basis – even if they know a business abuses animals, people, or pollutes the environment.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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