Across the country Wednesday, thousands of people flocked to Chick-fil-A to eat a sandwich and make a statement. In listening to, and reading accounts of, these people who crossed the road to eat a chicken, one learns that they were making many statements. They were eating in support of the restaurant, its CEO, his views on family and marriage, and the legitimacy of speaking one’s faith, even if it is unpopular with some, as long as one lives within the law.
Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day supporters were also eating in opposition. They were eating in opposition to mayors and other leaders who wanted to take legal action against the chain, and in opposition to what many of those who showed up experience as intolerance of their views.
And this is where it gets really interesting.
Without wasting time on fights about who the “real” victims of intolerance are, we can simply point out the hysterical and instructive irony that this is where those who support Chick-fil-A and those who most oppose it are actually quite alike. In each case, a group of aggrieved people who feel their rights and dignity being infringed upon embrace the notion of political and collective social action.
It doesn’t matter if the claims are equally accurate, because they are indisputably equally real in the experience of the ones making the claims. What matters is using this as an opportunity to point out that groups which typically feel little or no connection to one another could at least come to appreciate each other’s experience. Why is that helpful? Because without sharing a single conclusion about public policy, the sense of shared experience often leads to the greater respect and empathy which both sides seek. Not only that, it creates a healthier context in which to make better public policy around deeply divisive issues.
But wait, as they say in those TV infomercials, there’s more! The lasting takeaway (once again I couldn’t resist), is that both sides are likely to get at least much of what they want. In the long run, both gay rights and Bible-quoting fast food shops are likely to succeed in America, and we have the supporters of Wednesday’s appreciation day to thank for reminding us of why that is.
Those who wanted to affirm Chick-fil-A and its CEO Dan Cathy’s right to live out loud were able to generate far more action than were those who would silence him. Why? Because, in the end, as the massive response to the appreciation day demonstrated once again, Americans really have less stomach for restricting expression than they do for allowing it.
That basic desire for more expression, not less, is one of the things which makes this nation great and even if we don’t all agree about who should get to express what, we do share that impulse, which is good news not only for lovers of Chick-fil-A, but for those who seek full rights and inclusion for LGBT Americans as well.
While it may not always feel that way, the overall trend line in this country has always been toward greater inclusion and freedom of expression. It’s a bumpy and sometimes even bloody road, but we do get there. And without minimizing that those “bumps” are measured in real people lives, not to mention in the worst cases, their blood, from race to religion to chicken which is about religion, we keep making more room than we might have ever expected we could or would. Based on that history, and the popularity of Chick-fil-A day, we have every reason to expect nothing less when it comes to sexuality as well.
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