Last week, equality advocates discovered that Chick-Fil-A’s charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation, specifically bars homosexuals from attending or using their retreat facilities. Their statement on the matter was “WinShape Retreat defines marriage from the Biblical standard as being between one man and one woman. Groups/Individuals are welcome who offer wholesome, educational conferences and programs that are compatible with Biblical values and WinShape’s purpose.” At this news, many gay-rights advocates are calling for a boycott of Chick-Fil-A. What’s a good old southern gal who believes in marriage equality, but really loves her fried chicken and pickles supposed to do? And what effect do moral boycotts have, anyway?
Whether you call it ethical consumerism, moral boycotting positive buying or any other name, most people practice some form of selective shopping. My dad tries to buy as much as possible American made, refusing to buy anything Made in China unless otherwise unavoidable (specifically requested gifts, things not available any other way, etc). One friend refuses to buy anything Gap corporation because she doesn’t agree with their practice of making lesser quality clothes specifically for outlets. Even vegan and vegetarianism (for non-dietary reasons) are forms of moral boycotting. In the current activist led political times, it seems every week there’s a new call to action for a moral boycott of something or other. Check out this list from Ethical Consumer.org and see if you can shop anywhere without stepping over a moral picket line.
Chick-Fil-A has been under fire for their traditional values stance (some college students even protesting to have franchises removed from campuses), but seems to not have gained a huge amount of traction because, well… they’re closed on Sundays. It’s not like they’re hiding their values. Target, on the other hand, drew ire from MoveOn.org when they donated to a group running ads for candidate Tom Emmer, a Republican with a very strong anti-gay stance. This movement drew a lot more national attention because of the betrayal felt by many equality advocacy groups. Target has long been a supporter of LGBT organizations and a face at Pride celebrations and achieved a 100% rating as an employer from the Human Rights Campaign for 2009. Target defended the donations, saying that they supported Emmer’s stance with regards to businesses, not social issues. They also revealed that their Political Action Committee ensured that they split donations to political campaigns evenly between parties. On the right side of the divide, a movement was started back in 2007 to boycott Bank of America because of their willingness to open accounts for illegal aliens.
In many of these instances, whether the company comes off as the bad guy or not depends a lot on what and how much news you read. An article posted in The Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out that these moral boycotts aren’t even so much about hurting a company in their pocketbooks, but more about controlling the narrative. It’s hard to imagine a boycott of your local gay club for only hiring LGBT employees or of Target for supporting democratic candidates gaining much traction on the left side or boycotting Bank of America for charging outrageous fees to those illegal immigrants gaining traction on the right.
The Chick-Fil-A controversy provides a particular quandry for me. Besides growing up a southern gal, Chick-Fil-A part of my fast-food rotation, I was good friends with the daughter of the local franchise owner in high school. While CFA is a faceless corporate entity for many, not for me. I’ve seen a friend that would deliver to me across the mall, even though they weren’t supposed to. I’ve seen the goodness of the people, their home always open to a girl who needed a place to stay on a school break. I’ve seen friends benefit from the job opportunities the stores provide, where a 16 year old can start at the fryer and make their way up to assistant manager by the time they’re in college if they work hard enough. I’ve seen the scholarships they provide to students working there to assist in furthering their education. It’s not as if the company is secretive about their traditional values, as evidenced by the wanton hankering I get on Sunday for a chicken biscuit. Unfortunately, these traditional values do sometimes extend to fundamental views on homosexuality. So, do I boycott them for remaining true to what they believe? For me, that’s the same as saying that because a dear friend of mine has religious views and values different to mine, I should cut all association with them. A world of people like that would be a world of close-minded ignorance, exactly what I’m so passionate about fighting.
I’ll keep enjoying my chicken and waffle fries and I’ll also keep fighting for a world where the definition of “traditional values” includes same-sex couples raising loved families. One does not reflect or depend on the other.