Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Chik-fil-A LGBT Boycott Debate from a Vegan Perspective

“Anything we could do to the animals we could do to each other: we practiced on them first.” – Surfacing, Margaret Atwood

“[M]y vegetarianism is a great protest. And I dream that there may be a whole religion based on protest … against everything which is not just: about the fact that there is so much sickness, so much death, so much cruelty. My vegetarianism is my religion, and it's part of my protest against the conduct of the world.” –
Isaac Bashevis Singer


I remember Chik-fil-A from my childhood.  I loved those sandwiches – the buttered bread and the pickles.  Who knew that pickles tasted so good with chicken?  Those Chik-fil-A folks knew.  I remember my mother taking my sister and me to Chik-fil-A when we were out shopping, buying groceries or clothes to go back to school.  I remember her saying how she respected Chik-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy’s business stance never to be open on Sundays. 

I remember Chik-fil-A later, after I’d long since stopped eating animals, when it started its most successful advertizing campaign, the one with the cows begging for their lives, turning against their fellow creatures and urging us all to “eat mor chikin.”  And I remember my mother telling me then that she’d read a really compelling editorial in her local newspaper by a woman who claimed that this ad campaign made her a vegetarian because looking at those cows, anthropomorphized sentient beings who knew that they were going to be turned into corpses and served as food, gave her pause.  One thing that that campaign did, after all, was put an animal face on one kind of animal (the kind that ends up as burgers) that is rendered absent in the transition from animal to meat.  Note that there aren’t any chickens in Chik-fil-A’s ads; we’re only allowed, via the “eat mor chikin” visual to sympathize with the cows, to want to spare them their fate.  To depict chickens might make us attach a face to Chik-fil-A’s product, and such a move might compromise the sale of that product.

Here's a chicken.

It’s a brilliant ad campaign, calculating and divisive, asking that we care about one animal and eat another.  Such a position seems apt in the current calls to boycott Chik-fil-A, a position that requires us to demonstrate our support for one animal (LGBT human beings) by not eating another (chicken – at least chicken that comes from Chik-fil-A). 

You know the story: Dan Cathy, Chik-fil-A’s president, said the following to the Baptist Press:

“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage . . . .  I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.”

"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."

And then a media shit storm ensued.

OK, so does Cathy have a right to his opinion about marriage?  Sure.  Does he have the right to state that opinion?  Well, sure again, but consider that he stated such an opinion in the context of his business, which muddies the water a bit.  The bigger issue, it seems to me, is whether Chik-fil-A actually discriminates against anyone as opposed to whether or not its president is a bonehead who believes

1.  That there is a god figure existing somewhere in the ether who created marriage, and
2.  That the bible is some divinely inspired text that enforces said god creature’s supposed heterosexist marital norm. 

You decide.  Here's Betty Bowers on the subject.

So on the point of Chik-fil-A and discrimination, I’m not sure.  Chik-fil-A has been sued for discrimination, but any idiot to sue anyone for pretty much any reason, so that’s not really evidence.

What I can tell – and I’m basing my position on a article called “The Cult of Chik-fil-A” in a recent edition of Forbes magazine – is that the company so closely screens who it hires – working to hire people in traditional marriages, for example – that it’s able to avoid litigation later. . . it discriminates before hiring to avoid being accused of discrimination after hiring. And here’s a Huffpo piece with some interesting info about Chik-fil-A and its business practices that casts some light on the issue. 

So boycott or not; it’s really up to you to decide what you want your money to support.  After all, much of what any of us buy is produced by corporations whose ethics we might find even more problematic than Chik-fil-A’s, if we knew what they were.  Perhaps Cathy’s biggest error was simply opening his mouth in the first place.

Valid question.

Several days ago, I posted on Facebook that I would boycott Chik-fil-A over its LGBT stance, if I hadn’t already boycotted it ages ago over its chicken stance, and this whole mess has me thinking about the way oppression works, particularly as the focal point of this human rights argument is a place that serves dead animals.  In nothing that I’ve read about the Chik-fil-A debacle has anyone recognized or said anything about the interconnectedness of kinds of oppression; that is, no one has considered that the oppression of certain groups of a people – in this case, LGBT people – and the oppression of animals might be somehow related, or that one might be foundational to the other. 

Let me back up for a second. 

The ecofeminist position holds that oppressions are linked and that we can’t get past any of them unless we recognize that linkage and stop perpetuating it.  I’ve argued elsewhere that there’s a kind of primary binary opposition at work in such thinking, the binary that allows us to distinguish animal from human, that in othering animals to the extent that we can do things like factory farm them and experiment on them, we are then capable of shifting that thinking in order to dehumanize certain groups of people.  In any binary system of thought, one part of the duality is perceived and treated as inferior.  So if we think of animals as less deserving of rights than humans, when we rhetorically animalize humans – think of Barbara Espinosa calling Obama a monkey – such rhetorical action can lead to such literal actions as, oh, I don’t know, the Nazis killing the Jews with rat poisoning.

As a caveat, I realize that this thinking might in and of itself be hugely flawed, and that such a position could seem to indicate that I think that speciesism, if it is foundational, then becomes the most important ism out there, that it has to be undone first so that the undoing of all other isms can follow.  That’s not how I feel at all.  Nonetheless, my belief is that we’ll continue to perpetuate oppression(s) until we are able to stop compartmentalizing them – and when the universe so conveniently hands me something as blatant as this Chik-fil-A business, I have to start with the animal issue, since no one else seems to be doing it.

In a 2007 article by Jasmin Singer in the online publication SATYA called Coming Out for Animal Rights: LGBTQ Animal Advocates Make the Connection,” Singer says

There are so many correlations between animal and gay rights—advocacy and activism, mainstream acceptance and prejudice, community and pride, legislation and politics, and, of course, the countless personal stories of coming out as vegan and queer in a world where the majority of people see both as radical and aberrant choices. In a country where mainstream media bats a blind eye at Butterball workers who punch and stomp on live turkeys until their skulls explode, and practically ignore gay hate crimes such as the brutal stabbing of teenager Sakia Gunn, the question should not be, “What is the connection?” but rather, “What is the difference?”

If the brouhaha over Chik-fil-A doesn’t draw such sentiment into sharp relief, then I don’t know what does.  As the cows say, “eat mor tofu!”