Editor’s Note: Allison Hope is a writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Slate and elsewhere. The views expressed here are the author’s. Read more opinion on CNN.
Chick-fil-A is clucking about ending donations to religious, anti-LGBTQ organizations.
Without citing which organizations the cow-friendly fast-food chain would now partner with, a company spokesperson confirmed Monday they would focus their foundation’s giving on “education, homelessness and hunger.”
Many in the LGBTQ community reacted to the news, understandably, with caution.
“If Chick-fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families,” Drew Anderson, GLAAD’s director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement Monday.
But cautious and condemnatory are two different things. And the latter approach, taken by many LGBTQ folks online, could backfire.
I’m a lesbian with a long history of activism. I know firsthand that protests work to get attention when nothing else does, and then you shove your hand in the slightly open door that’s been locked for years, and you shake the slimy hand on the other side. Because then they listen when you talk. Because then you can build influence and you can, with time, help turn one small win into many more victories and create meaningful, and long-lasting change. It’s easy to sit in our slacktivist silos and preach, but for anyone who has ever seen how legislative or policy change actually works in government or big business, the path to progress nearly always involves compromise. If you dig your heels in and don’t budge and point fingers at progress because it’s not enough, you may find yourself waist-deep in a vat of chicken fat in perpetuity.
The comments on social media in response to the Chick-fil-A announcement were nothing short of cancel culture’s finest hour.
“…and I won the lottery, got a job that pays $120k a year, my dad isn’t dead and he bought me a big fat dachshund puppy to go with a new house….. if you’re gonna lie, lie big,” said one commenter on Facebook who is a member of the LGBTQ community.
“It’s too late. We all know who they are and what they believe,” another said on CNN’s Facebook feed.
“I wouldn’t eat Chick-fil-A if it were free and while I’m at it Hobby Lobby can keep their hate-filled, sparkly, ‘inspirational’ garbage as well,” said another, also on CNN’s Facebook post when the news broke.
Snark and puns have also run rampant, but behind some of the fun lies real vitriol, a certain air of “we don’t care if you are doing better, you still suck,” that could come to bite us – and by “us,” I meant the LGBTQ community, our allies and anyone who is invested in achieving social equality.
While a fast-food corporation with billions of dollars and a homophobic history doesn’t exactly need or deserve LGBTQ folks’ sympathy, it’s possible we could be doing more harm than good by reacting this way after this tiny pawn was moved to our advantage.
It’s true that Chick-fil-A didn’t cite as an impetus for the sea change an awakening of true belief that LGBTQ inclusivity and equality mattered – and it seems clear the public pressure and negative press coverage was a contributing factor. It’s also possible they may backtrack on their word and continue to fund anti-LGBTQ causes.
But if we condemn them even while they’re making moves to be better – regardless of the reason and especially when right-wingers are also bashing them – we risk alienating them and others who are watching. All of the powerful, influential consumer brands and politicians that make decisions in our name and that impact us and our families each and every day, may think twice about changing their tunes. They may say, “Hey, that company tried to do right by people and they still condemned them. Why bother?”
The left dogma is right in line with what former President Barack Obama recently said, that there’s “this idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff. You should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids. And share certain things with you.”
We live in a society with a multitude of views. Most people aren’t dreadful human beings (though, to be clear, some are); they just haven’t been exposed to the information that feels like second nature to some of us. Once a straight person meets someone who is LGBTQ, they are overwhelmingly more likely to be pro-LGBTQ equal rights. We will be much more successful – and peaceful – if we engage in respectful discourse, acknowledge efforts made and firmly, but diplomatically, push for more.
We don’t need to celebrate the chicken giant or go eat a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, by any means, but we can keep some of the snark at bay and give them the benefit of the doubt. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let them know we’re keeping a watchful eye to ensure they actually follow through and continue to improve, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of our civility.