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Chick-fil-A: Losing Chickens, Winning Wars

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"Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern." That was the headline on the front page of the New York Times on December 17, 1963.

We've come a long way, gaybies, and the Chick-fil-A insanity of last week is not going to send us back to the dark ages of human sexuality and gender identity.

In the midst of the chicken slaughter of 2012, I have been plowing through hundreds of pre-Stonewall articles about the "homophile" movement. I'm finishing a book about gay newspaper history, Gay Press, Gay Power. The straight media victimized, criminalized, medicalized and demonized us -- and if we were lucky, they just left us alone.

The positive coverage was so few and far between that generations of LGBTs grew up thinking they were alone, without role models -- except those fired as "perverts" by our federal government, or those arrested in bar raids.

Well, you can't say the media is ignoring us any more. And very few of them demonize us.

The mainstream media coverage of the gay community started to really shift during the early years of the AIDS crisis. Many gays were fed up with the homophobia and AIDSphobia, and fought back in huge protests against the media. Anti-media protests really started in the 1960s and 1970s, but by the 1980s the community was much stronger. AIDS was a final straw, and out of that anger many new groups were formed to fight media bias.

By the 1990s, with more journalists coming out of the closet, thanks in part to the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the mainstream media kept moving along to better coverage.

The media is now produced by a new generation of reporters and talking heads that actually include some openly LGBT people. They know homophobia when they see it, and most of them are on our side. Yes, there are some outliers, those who simply choose to stereotype and present biased views of who gay people are.

What happened last week is our community lost the message because our allies spoke on our behalf (seeking a ban on the restaurants in Chicago and elsewhere). That was a tactical mistake from well-meaning supporters. I can't blame them for this, and it did do some damage. But that damage is offset by our momentum.

What was more disappointing than our allies making a mistake was our lack of leadership on this issue by those paid to "run" the official national gay movement. There was mostly silence from the top, and this created a vacuum to be filled by a wide range of responses, most of them uncoordinated and ineffective. But some responses were deliciously fun, and humor proved to be the best medicine to those of us watching in horror at the lines of homophobia.

The good news is that it doesn't really matter that we have no true leaders. In fact, the lack of leadership in our movement means that we are like "Whack-a-Mole." You can go after one of us, but we are ready with thousands more ready to fight back.

Finally, to my friends who were so depressed at the rare outward display of bigotry -- the pride these anti-gays showed in kill-a-chicken-for-hate-day -- I would say that this is simply the manifestation of the hate we all know exists beneath the surface.

This was a chance for our allies, those who are that silent majority who do not see and experience this hate against us as much as we do, to see it for what it is. It is a chance to put a face to the hate we talk about over Thanksgiving dinner, the hate we allude to when we fear for our homeless LGBT youth, the hate that is so theoretical and unreal to our allies -- until they see it on CNN and MSNBC, manifested in the lines for a chicken sandwich.

It's the same thing I say when Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church klan show up at pride events and funerals. The hate is real, and sometimes it is very helpful to put a face to it, so that our allies will work harder to keep the arc of justice moving in our favor.

Tracy Baim is publisher of Windy City Times and editor of the upcoming book Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America.