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Ben Griffith Headshot

Who the Chick-fil-A Boycott Really Hurts

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In the Chick-fil-A controversy I find myself without a team.

Like the left, I believe strongly that discrimination against the LGBT community is unjust and politically indefensible. But unlike the left I find that boycotting a corporation like Chick-fil-A is both unrealistic and contributes to a growing polarization in American civil discourse.

I want to think about the actual action of boycotting Chick-fil-A. What does it accomplish? Who does it injure? Consider the economics of a #1 at Chick-fil-A. When I buy my #1, 50 percent goes to the local Chick-fil-A to pay for overhead, labor costs and the operator's earnings. The other 50 percent goes to Chick-fil-A's corporate office in order to pay for corporate employees, marketing, research and all of the other things that a business major could tell you a lot more about than I could. Of that 50 percent that goes to corporate, part of it goes into a fund for charitable donations, and part of that money goes to organizations who seek to prevent LGBT rights.

So, who does the boycott hurt? As I see it, it first and foremost hurts the local employees. Out of $6, pennies go to anti-LGBT organizations while $3 goes to the few dozen employees.

Good actions frequently involve something bad within them. Rarely (if ever) is an action wholly good without any unintended negative consequences. This boycott is no different. In refusing to eat at Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy is affected slightly, organizations like Family Research Council are affected slightly, but local workers like Aaron or Wes or Nancy are affected directly and profoundly. And in my experience, Aaron, Wes and Nancy are often (obviously, not always) people who both employ and firmly support the expansion of rights for LGBT people. For me, the "collateral damage" of the boycott is an important, yet overlooked, ethical aspect of this controversy.

But the realism of this argument exposes the fundamental issue at stake -- boycotts are essentially ideological. People on left and right are attempting to make a statement much more than they are genuinely trying to affect public policy concerning LGBT civil rights. Those on the left could spend their time and energy enacting social policy change through political organization. If they disagree with the sentiments of Dan Cathy or the agenda of those organizations Chick-fil-A supports, they could attempt to directly engage Cathy or the organizations in dialogue on the matter.

Instead, people on both side have bought into an ideological divide that makes little realistic or practical sense. Each side has picked teams and given those who share their jersey an uncritical free pass. Further, little thought is given to the real implications of a boycott and the people who it actually hurts. I imagine that for many others like myself the ideological impasse and vitriolic rhetoric is disheartening. We should be better than this.

So, my question: is further polarizing the (un)civil discourse of the left and right and hurting the employees of local Chick-fil-A businesses worth making an ideological point?