Editors’ Note: Guest blogger Sean Cotter is a writer and activist from Manhattan, New York. His writing has appeared in the Washington Blade. Sean blogs at SeanRobertCotter.com.
R. Clarke Cooper, Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, had an article on Huffington Post on Monday about the endless Chick-fil-A story and how it has completely consumed coverage of the LGBT civil rights movement. I may be a progressive Democrat, but this is another one of those instances where I find myself mostly in agreement with the Log Cabin Republicans, though much of his language is harsher than I would have used. Cooper describes this campaign as having jumped the shark (I’ve noted that even the most noble movements can be susceptible to this). He writes:
Turning a chicken sandwich into Public Gay Enemy Number One makes LGBT people look superficial, vindictive and juvenile — everything that we as a community have worked hard to overcome. Remember, employers don’t want drama queens on the payroll, military service is serious business, and marriage is not a right society grants to spoiled children. While in a perfect world our equality should not depend on our good behavior, in a world where our rights too often hinge on political reality, the way our movement conducts itself matters.
It’s important to remember that gay media/activism is a very insular world. It may feel, within this kind of bubble, that gay people are winning the argument, that they have an overwhelming majority of public opinion on their side. But I see little evidence that the damage done to the Chick-fil-A brand is as severe or permanent as some would like. Every time a new gay marriage referendum comes up and is voted down, it ends up demonstrating how rampant this kind of gay-positive groupthink is. Most Americans probably don’t have very strong opinions about the whole controversy.
There is also a tendency in gay politcs/media/activism to overrate the degree to which LGBT civil rights battles are fought within the realm of pop culture, and this is that “superficial, vindictive and juvenile” faction that Cooper is referring to. Sure, visibility has always been an important factor in the movement, but it’s not the only one. The theory has always been that if you use consumer culture and pop cultural allies to increase the visibility of gay people, you will change the broader public’s view of them and that will cause policy changes. (Has anyone asked Lady Gaga what she thinks about this yet?) But if you look at the history of most civil rights movements, you’ll see that this is really a two-way street. In fact, it’s often the case that public policy changes come first, which lead to social changes later. Fighting for rights in court rooms and legislative chambers may not be as glamorous or exciting as talking about a fast food chain everybody’s heard of, but it’s much more effective at improving people’s lives in the long run.
Finally, when politicians threaten to abuse their municipal powers to win the favor of a specific demographic group, we shouldn’t be afraid to call it what it is: pandering. Banning a private business from operating over the opinions of the people who run it is unconstitutional and a dangerous political road to tread. Sure, it might feel good for gays to know they have people in power willing to act this strongly on their behalf, but they should remember that this is the same approach that politicians in states like Kansas have used to effectively ban abortion clinics from their states. People should never be proud of their leaders behaving in this way.