So... Chick-Fil-A. Heard of ‘em? I thought so. With Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy taking a strong stance against marriage equality on behalf of his company a couple of weeks ago, so many people on either side of the issue have taken to their social media channels to voice their opinion. Boycotts and kiss-ins are staged; politicians call for Chick-Fil-A appreciation days to support traditional family values. As a writer, I work hard to keep my perspective impartial. To be true to what I write, I actively look at issues from all sides. While offended by Cathy's views, I fully support his freedom to express them and run his company how he sees fit. I support equally the freedom of his detractors voicing their outrage to that of his supporters that celebrate conservative family values. And both sides are definitely voicing their opinions! Not a day goes by where one's Facebook or Twitter feed is not inundated with posts, memes, or comments about the issue. At first, I was like many who were just sick of the whole thing. It was a cut and dry issue to me: he has the right to run his company as he sees fit, I have the right to not purchase his product. But then my news feed got oddly... right wing.
People who I considered a friend, who had other gay friends, were posting about traditional family values. A lot of times, some of the memes they posted had a homophobic slant. It got to a point where the anti-Chick-Fil-A posts I'd expect from my mostly liberal circle were running neck and neck with this conservative rhetoric. I stayed out of direct involvement, passing along articles and blog posts written by anonymous LGBT Chick-Fil-A employees and other people who it directly affected. But then it began to truly sink in that these "friends" who support the right for Chick-Fil-A's conservative family values would, and were, actively fighting against the right for me to get married. I actually began to take it personally.
An old friend from high school was such a poster. After a week of reading her shared conservative rhetoric on the matter, I'd had enough. She posted an update about how she'd received detractors who didn't agree with her, and that she had freedom of speech, the right to say what she believed. Many people agreed with her (as do I) but the comments started to take an unsettling homophobic slant in cheering her on. It was the final straw. I was shocked, hurt, and upset that someone I considered a friend could look me in the eye and truly believe in her heart of hearts that I was undeserving of the rights afforded to her because of who I am. And so I wrote (typos and grammatical errors included but names deleted:)
"i do not nor have i ever doubted you are a wonderful person, beautiful soul, wonderful artist, dancer, teacher, wife, and mother. i do not speak for anyone other than myself. i find it funny that a chicken sandwich can galvanize a whole group of people and show each other what everyone truly believes. i am the biggest proponent of free speech, obviously. no one should be judged, reprimanded, or hated for their opinions or beliefs. what i find truly hurtful is the concept of "family values" in the conservative sense that you've shared over the course of the week. it excludes me. it makes me unequal to you. it takes away my right to have a family. do you have the freedom to believe that and express that? ABSOLUTELY! please, continue to express your beliefs, it is one of the things that makes this country great. however, disagreeing with my lifestyle is not loving me as a person. "love the sinner, hate the sin" just doesn't cut it for me anymore for the people in my life. it really saddens me that my friends *** & *** cannot see why it would be so hurtful to me, that to "agree to disagree" at this point is no longer an option for me. i will not agree that someone in my life, albeit on Facebook, who i respect highly, believes that i am not entitled to the same rights as they are. that is my opinion and as you have the right to express yours, i may express mine. i am saddened that your opinion excludes me from everything you have a right to. please continue to be a wonderful mother, a wonderful artist, a wonderful person. i truly believe you are. please continue to eloquently put out your opinion. as *** put it, i am simply baggage in your Facebook life, though not a "snake" as your friend *** might call me. please, if anything, above anything else, my message in this ridiculously long comment is that you absolutely have the right to express your opinions. and your opinion hurts my feelings and excludes me as a person. so i graciously bow out as baggage in your Facebook life, for i truly believe i am equal and worthy of the same rights as you. and it hurts me that you don't agree.
peace and love in everything you do and thank you for being a friend and inspiration in high school.
I took a stand. I decided right then and there that I could not have anybody in my life (virtual or otherwise) that saw me as "less than" and not "equal to." I reposted the entire comment I'd posted as a status update. I did not anticipate the overwhelming response that the update would receive. Most applauded my conviction and candor; others noted that they would not have been so polite or objective in their response. Many more said that they had had similar experiences, that they had to write such posts and messages to their friends who's support of Chick-Fil-A (in light of their stance on marriage equality) had saddened them.
But also, there came a slew of other comments. Some people clearly didn't bother to actually read what I wrote, saying that I was stamping out this "friend's" freedom of speech, calling me a hypocrite. The issue was deflected on how I actually worded the post and how "so-and-so" was taken out of context so many times that I had to repeatedly copy and paste parts of the post in the comments to make sure that the actual point was not lost. Not even twenty-four hours after having written this post, feelings were hurt, "friends" were lost, and passions on both sides were still flaring up. "I love gay people, no matter how they CHOOSE to live their life" and "I have gay friends, but my beliefs are my beliefs" are statements I can no longer stand to hear from people I consider a friend. Friendship is equal; voicing your opinion is a two-way street.
Here's the thing guys: you cannot stage boycotts of rainbow colored Oreos but cry foul when others boycott buttery chicken sandwiches. You cannot invoke the power of free speech for your cause but protest when others push back and challenge what you say. This goes for both sides. "Hating the sin" is also "hating the sinner." I'm a fair person. I can agree to disagree on many things: sports teams, beer preferences, and even political affiliations. But I can't agree to disagree on basic human rights. Asking me to do so is like asking me to sit down at the back of the bus and keep my mouth shut.
This isn't about a chicken sandwich. It's about some heterosexual people that believe that they can be friends with an LGBT person but that that LGBT person doesn't deserve the same rights that they themselves are afforded. The sandwich and the company that produces that sandwich was just a catalyst for this current conversation.
To her credit, the (now unfriended) "friend" in question responded to my post. After a couple of back and forths, she asked: "I just want to clarify something to make sure I understand what you all are saying. I can't be friends with someone who is gay because I do not believe in gay marriage?"
I responded: "You may have as many gay friends as you wish. But poll them: tell all your gay friends that you love them but do not believe that they have the right to marry. Then see how many of them choose to remain your friend." There was no response to that and shortly thereafter, my entire post was flagged for removal. How's that for freedom of speech?
--Danny Bernardo is a columnist and official geekologist for GoPride. His episodic serial fiction "Boystown" can be found Monday-Friday exclusively on the GoPride network.
photo 1 credit: Facebook
photo 2 credit: Frederic J. Brown / AFP / GettyImages