As a post-50 lesbian feminist who came out more than a quarter-century ago, my heart is with the kiss-in protestors outside of the Chick-fil-A "restaurants." Love is a good response to hate. The kiss-in demonstrations are reminiscent of the organized lesbian hand-holding showings at shopping malls in the early '80s. However, just as I avoided shopping malls like the plague as a young lesbian, a large part of me is tempted to ignore the Chick-fil-A debacle. I wonder what would have happened if everyone else, including the media, did the same.
This is America, and the fact that this issue has spiraled into a consumer feeding frenzy, with those for and against gay marriage lining up to make a buck, is not surprising. The results are predictable. Are people who support gay marriage more likely to spend their money at Chick-fil-A or Starbucks? People may be thinking that they are supporting a political cause (in the case of establishments supporting same-sex marriage) or "supporting free speech" in the guise of endorsing bigotry, but really they are being suckered into another advertising racket.
Given what I have read about fast-food chicken lately, it may taste like hate now, but chances are that it never tasted like real food, either. I have to admit that I've never eaten at a Chick-fil-A. While I never thought about that fact before, I now am proud of it. Go figure. When my mother was terminally ill and I was taking care of her (I chronicled the experience in Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters, from Bella Books), I was macrobiotic, the closest to vegetarian that I have ever been. Having been raised by a card-carrying atheist mother and an agnostic father, I also found myself reading about Buddhism. The Buddhist philosophy of compassion was helpful to me at the time. Still, neither the macrobiotics nor the Buddhism stuck with me. I have been, in the vernacular of the macrobiotic people I knew, "eating wide." And my interest in Buddhism has waned, although I do find that I am more nonviolent than ever before.
Nonviolence is a cultivated trait. More than a decade ago, a disturbed and homophobic young man on the block where my partner and I live hurled several rocks through our bedroom window. My first inclination was to get some rocks of my own and throw them back. Then I calmed down and called the police. I reported the incident as a hate crime, even though this was before Pennsylvania legislature expanded the existing hate crime law to protect gays and lesbians in 2002. I was unaware that I was not legally protected. The Philadelphia cop who handled our case was unusually sympathetic. He offered to go across the street and talk to the young man, but he cautioned us that "the problem with people like that is that when you confront them, they get worse." It turned out that he was right.
Right-wing Christians are the same way. Chances are that if everyone had ignored Dan Cathy's statements, he wouldn't have had the legions of right-wing Christians or "free-speech supporters" lining up to spend their money on empty calories. But unfortunately, Dan Cathy doesn't stand alone. It seems that every day the headlines report on yet another homophobic act of violence that is committed in small-town America. Cathy was betting on the fact that the anti-gay folks would come forward to support him. He figured out a way to make money by stirring up hate.
The backlash against the LGBT community is misplaced anger. People are angry, and they have a right to be. They are really angry about the economy. They are really angry that people like Dan Cathy pay less in taxes, proportionately, than they do (while exploiting low-wage workers and peddling food that is hazardous). But it's easier to blame everything on gay marriage -- especially when people in power (Cathy, Santorum, etc.) are stirring up people's fear and hatred.
As my mother once said to me, "What's the big deal about sex? America is so puritanical. I think that's why there's a big fuss about gay rights." America is also profit-driven, and its citizens are frequently in denial about their own oppression. It makes sense that sex (or sexual orientation) would be an easy scapegoat.
Come to think of it, the kiss-ins don't sound so bad.
You can learn more about Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters here.
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