Of poultry and polarization
On April 14, 2002, my gay brother died surrounded by his partner, John, my mother, sister and me. None of us will forget the outpouring of love and support from his extended family of friends.
We’ll never get over Gordy’s death. We can aspire only to be as kind, gentle, tolerant and patient as he — and make peace with his absence.
My peace was disturbed when it came to my attention that a cousin’s Facebook page endorsed last Wednesday’s “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” a response to the backlash against Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy’s rebuke of same-sex marriage.
The fast-food fight threatened to ignite a family feud until I remembered her genuine affection for Gordy. She moved away too long ago to know his devoted companion or of the exhaustive care he provided through a slow, agonizing decline. Nor does she know how John still helps her beloved aunt (my elderly mother), who adores him as if he were her fifth adopted child.
Someday I hope to explain to my cousin how much John enriched Gordy’s life, eased his death — and how much our family values him. Maybe she’d come to appreciate him on par with Chick-fil-A.
Relatives should be predisposed to mutual peace and good will. And so should strangers. That’s why it pained me to see such a bitter appreciation day, with one local sign bearing the a la carte admonition, “Don’t forget the side of hate.” A Tucson protester was fired after he posted a video of himself hectoring a profoundly polite drive-thru employee (a young woman) for toiling under “a hateful corporation.” “I don’t know how you live with yourself and work here,” he said. In a second video, he apologized. “You handled my frustrating rant with such dignity and composure,” he said. “I’m blown away by, really, the beauty in what you did and your kindness and your patience with me.”
Amid a student-led petition drive to shutter a campus franchise, University of Louisville president Jim Ramsey seized on a teachable moment: “The message here is that tolerance must work both ways,” he said. That point was echoed by Kevin Smith of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a panelist on WHAS-TV’s “Moral Side of the News” last Sunday. But then Dr. Smith mocked Dr. Ramsey’s reported response to Dan Cathy’s controversial comments: “‘His remarks we unnecessary and offensive.’ So what?! President Ramsey says things that I think are unnecessary … There’s no constitutional right not to be offended … Our nominal democracy, our citizenship, it’s pansy, it’s weak, it’s soft …”
Smith’s presumptive rationale for his anti-gay slur came earlier in the show. “It’s sad when leaders, politicians — and even educational leaders like people at U of L — feel like they have to kiss the rear-end of political correctness in order to win certain points,” he said. “So I’m glad to see U of L back up from that foolishness and say, ‘Yeah, the law says anyone can have a business here.’”
Intellectuals disagree on whether free speech is the issue. Regardless, the chorus to disable or deny franchises seemed as outrageously unconstitutional as the Supreme Court electing a president. I say let the people decide. Principled boycotts are beautiful exercises of spending power. In a republic that dehumanizes people, humanizes corporations, and equates money with speech, consumerism and politics are inextricably linked. I haven’t bought Snapple or Pizza Hut products since Rush Limbaugh promoted them years ago. I recognized his as a face and voice of hatred long before he called a Georgetown University law student a slut for her congressional testimony in favor of President Obama’s birth control rule.
I don’t detect such brazen hatred among the supporters of Chick-fil-A. Nevertheless, I’ll join the boycott against polarizing chicken. And I’ll urge gay-rights advocates not to demonize opponents but to engage them in civil discourse that evolves minds.
There’s momentum for equality. An annual UCLA survey of incoming freshmen nationwide showed that in 2011, “71.3 percent either believe ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ that gay couples should be allowed to marry” — up 6.4 percent from the previous year, according to the online publication Inside Higher Ed.
“Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come,” said French philosopher Victor Hugo. For Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and panelist on ABC’s “This Week,” the time has come for Popeye’s, maker of her favorite fried chicken.