By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter–
In the few months since the anti-gay Chick-fil-A controversy burst onto the national stage, local gay-rights activists have been clear about their main beef with Dan Cathy, chief executive officer and president of the fast food restaurant chain.
Cathy is within his First Amendment rights to speak out against same-sex marriage, said Back Bay resident Ian Struthers, co-chair of the Join the Impact Massachusetts and one of about 20 Kiss-In protestors last Friday August 3, at the Burlington Mall.
There, he said, “We were trying to steer away from [the same-sex] marriage [issue] because Chick-fil-A has contributed millions of dollars to anti-LGBT hate groups.”
To make their point, Struthers explained over the telephone, protestors duct taped T-shirt signs, front and back, creating human banners, reading, “Chick-fil-A funds hate groups.”
Protestors locked lips.
They chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Homophobia has got to go.”
And the lip lockers handed out free-side-of-bigotry coupons to underscore Chick-fil-A’s hate-group funding.
For the most part, local mainstream media seemed to get it, as coverage from the Boston Herald, Boston Globe, NECN, local and national broadcast outlets mentioned protestors’ concern over Chick-fil-A’s hate-group funding.
Burlington Mall’s Chik-fil-A customers show support
One reason may well be that shoppers and onlookers at the Burlington Mall’s Chick-fil-A restaurant were supportive. Many in the food court “cheered and applauded” us, said Somerville resident James Croft, a Kiss-In participant and Join the Impact member.
“We didn’t expect that,” he added over the telephone. “It seemed like the public was on our side. That was heartening.
A grassroots organization, Join the Impact Massachusetts is committed to full equality for LGBTQ-identified people. It’s mission is to “mobilize individuals and work with existing LGBTQ groups to maximize our collective impact both locally and nationwide while respecting diversity of opinion and belief,” according to a Facebook posting.
It was some weeks ago, during a radio interview, when Chick-fil-A’s Cathy chose to weigh in on gay marriage after being asked to comment on the social phenomenon of children increasingly being raised without fathers.
“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.’ And I pray God’s mercy on our generation for having such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”
Biblical definition of the family unit
Cathy also told the Baptist press, “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.”
Those comments became fresh culture-war fodder and a news hook, as the mayors of Boston and Chicago weighed in against Chick-fil-A, along with pro fast-food chain supporters, former Pennsylvania U.S. senator Rick Santorum and 2012 presidential candidate and former Arkansas governor and 2008 GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who called for a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, as an affirmation of free speech, for Wed. August 1.
In response to the show of support for Chick-fil-A, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), helped to promote a National Same-Sex Kiss Day to be held at Chick-fil-A restaurants across the country on August 3.
Chick-fil-A also garnered the support of a high-profile religious leader, the Rev. Billy Graham, who praised restaurant founder S. Truett Cathy and son Don Cathy “for their strong stand for the Christian faith,” according to CNN.
“I’ve known their family for many years and have watched them grow Chick-fil-A into one of the best businesses in America while never compromising their values,” Graham said, in breaking his usual silence on hot-button issues, according to CNN.
Locally, Mayor Thomas M. Menino drew fire from conservatives and praise from gays when he sent a letter urging the Chick-fil-A chain to “back out” of plans to open a restaurant in the former space of the Purple Shamrock, located near Faneuil Hall and along Boston’s Freedom Trail, where the mayor said in his letter, “There is no place for discrimination.”
The Saturday, August 4, after the Chick-fil-A Kiss-In, North Shore resident Jackie W., who asked that her last name not be used, voice admiration for the mayor.
“I love Mumbles,” she said. “I am so proud to live and work here” and “proud of what Massachusetts is doing.”
Jackie W. and a companion, who were shopping at the Burlington Mall, spoke not far from the food court where Chick-fil-A is located. They did not participate in the August 3 Kiss-In.
Asked about Appreciation Day, she said, “It’s disgraceful so many people are rallying behind a company that is so blatantly for discrimination.”
“I am angry. If this were any other minority group, there would be floods of protests, furious people,” Jackie said.
Cathy entitled to his own opinion
Nonetheless, she too, said Chick-fil-A’s Cathy is “entitled to his own opinion on gay marriage.”
Over the years, Atlanta, Ga.-based Chick-fil-A, which had annual sales of more than $4.1 billion last year and has more than 1,615 locations in 39 states and Washington, D.C., with the strongest concentration in the Southeast, according to CNN, has donated millions to anti-LGBT groups.
EqualityMatters.org finds out about the WinShape Foundation
Two studies by EqualityMatters.org, an LGBT advocacy site, found that Chick-fil-A, through its charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation, established by the fast-food firm’s founder S. Truett Cathy, donated more than $1.1 million dollars to anti-gay organizations between 2003 and 2008 and nearly $2 million in 2009.
The largest contribution in 2009 went to the Marriage & Family Legacy ($994,199). Other contributions that year were to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes ($480,000), National Christian Foundation ($240,000), Focus on Family ($12,500), Eagle Forum ($5,000), Exodus International ($1,000), and Family Research Council ($1,000).
“What’s unique about Chick-fil-A is the company has publicly denied, on several occasions, having a political agenda that discriminates against LGBT people,” said Carlos Maza, lead researcher at Equality Matters.
“In the meantime, Chick-fil-A donated nearly $3 million over the past several years to some of America’s most vile anti-gay groups, including the Family Research Council and Alliance Defense Fund,” he said.
Monies to support anti-gay causes
“Chick-fil-A has the right to donate to whichever organizations it supports, but it doesn’t have the right to mislead its customers about the millions of dollars it pours into anti-gay causes,” said Maza who served as the lead researcher of the two reports.
Linking gay men to pedophilia
In singling out Family Research Council (FRC) and Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), Maza was referring to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s naming FRC a hate group for spreading “false accusations linking gay men to pedophilia.”
Similarly, Southern Poverty Law considers ADF to be one America’s most influential groups fighting against LGBT equality. ADF has gone so far as to say efforts to enhance LGBT equality is “the principle threat to your religious freedom.”
Between 2003 and 2008, Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm gave ADF $5,000.
Based in Montgomery, Ala. the Southern Poverty Law Center is “a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society, according to its Web site.
Joint the Impact’s Croft said his research points to Chick-fil-A’s contributions running high as $5 million.
The contributions to “groups that seek to demean and discriminate against gay people” gave [protestors] “a legitimate right to protest,” he said, because every person who spends money” at Chick-fil-A ought to realize that “part of their money goes to fund these groups.”
Appreciation Day haters outnumber kiss-in participants
And yet, by many media accounts, locally and nationally, Appreciation Day attracted far more participants than its Kiss-In counterpart.
At the same time Join the Impact Massachusetts achieved a measure of success in re-framing the issue away from free speech to the blatant homophobia given rise by Cathy’s speaking out.
“His statements brought attention and were cast in terms of his stating a personal opinion,” said longtime South End resident and gay rights activist Don Gorton, during a telephone interview.
“Don Cathy’s personal views on marriage are not in and of themselves significant,” Gorton explained. Still, “Cathy did nothing to acknowledge or defend contributions to hate groups.”
For Join the Impact, monitoring Chick-fil-A’s contributions to hate groups is a priority.
“We are going to monitor the charitable giving of the WinShape Foundation to see where its money is going,” said Gorton.
“If [Chick-fil-A] continues giving to hate groups, we will continue to make that an issue,” he said.
“Our aim is to marginalize hate groups,” such as Family Research Council, Gorton explained. “The KKK does not get a forum on CNN or MSNBC. Why should a group like Family Research Council get on [national television]?”
Public enemy number one and storify’s hate-filled tweets
For Gorton and Join the Impact, public enemy number one is right-wing hate and homophobia. “They fuel the fists of bashers, create a climate of unsafety for gay kids in schools, make people feel bad about themselves, and tell [youth] something about them is wrong, sending them to damnation,” he said.
Asked for an example of hate and homophobia unleashed by Appreciation Day, Gorton pointed to Storify.com’s Top 50 Homophobic Chick-fil-A Tweets, a nationwide compilation of social media comments presented by @Homophobes, a Twitter account that exposes homophobia.
“I want some Chick-Fil-A, I also want some faggots to die,” wrote Sarah Munzer.
In another tweet, wrote Jay Wu, “Love chick fil a, even more so now that they hate fags. Thank gawd i can eat my chicken without the risk of getting aids!”
For Join the Impact’s Croft, the homophobic hate speech was indeed shocking. “If you look at any news stories in the last week or so in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, and Twitter feeds, 80 percent of the comments keep coming again and again, really vile stuff,” he said.
“It’s disturbing to me to see, Croft added, “to see how much work there is to do about homophobia in American and even Massachusetts.”
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