Target, Chick-Fil-A, and Our Reluctance To Sacrifice

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The retort is: “Yeah, well maybe I’m afraid of being seen as a Target shopper.”

Believe it or not, the American Family Association is (I think—who can tell?) still boycotting Pepsi and Home Depot, and probably a few other companies who have done anything pro-LGBT. I guess that demonstrates that the AFA is all bark, no bite.

But part of the power of a boycott is its visibility. It’s not always just enough to not shop at a certain store or not buy a certain product. For example, I don’t buy peanut butter or eat at Long John Silver’s, but not because I’m boycotting either.

I actually have been boycotting Target, though. And I’ll be honest, I haven’t been the best at it. Sure, I’ve not purchased anything at Target in a good 10 months, but I haven’t been vocal about it, and I certainly haven’t stood in front of Target protesting or written letters to the editor or done any of the things effective boycotters should do. For me, it’s just been a matter of personal principle.

There are a lot of folks in the LGBT community who shrug their shoulders at boycotting Target, and I can appreciate their reluctance. I used to think Target (tar-zhay) was the gay store. It was the anti-Wal-Mart and anybody who was anybody had one of those chic medusa lamps in their dorm room. And Target has long been lauded by HRC as being pro-LGBT. Target’s donations last summer challenged that image, and just because we can understand why Target would support a pro-business PAC doesn’t forgive them for supporting an anti-gay PAC, nor for continuing to support anti-gay candidates since that debacle. Lady Gaga’s calling off of her deal with Target should’ve suggested we haven’t seen the last of the store’s anti-gay antics.

The same goes with Chick-Fil-A. A lot of people really like Chick-Fil-A and don’t want to stop enjoying their tasty chicken. I am fortunate, I suppose, that thanks to geography I’ve never really had Chick-Fil-A. (Ironically, the one time I’ve ever had it was on the campus of a university who ended up not hiring me as a social justice educator because they weren’t “ready” for someone so outspoken about LGBT issues; unsurprisingly, that campus has not had much debate about the presence of a Chick-Fil-A in its campus center.) But plenty of folks will continue to eat there, regardless of how anti-LGBT the company might be. After all, it’s just chicken, right?

But this week, we learned a little bit more about both of these companies and just how anti-LGBT (and duplicitously so) they really are. In the case of Chick-Fil-A, Equality Matters uncovered that Chick-Fil-A is a WHOLE lot more anti-LGBT than we already knew them to be… to the tune of $1.1 million. And that’s money not just going to pro-business right-wing PACs; it’s going directly into the hands of “pro-family” groups who spread lies about LGBT people, defend Christian bullies, and promote harmful ex-gay therapies.

In the case of Target, we learned this week of their lawsuit against Canvass for a Cause, and as I wrote about over on The Wonk Room, they seem to be targeting this group exclusively because of its support of same-sex marriage. While the complaint speaks of CFAC’s harassment of customers, the trial saw no first-hand testimony confirming these allegations. But Target’s own filed complaint (PDF), corroborated by its employee’s testimony, confirms that Target is concerned customers will “never shop at Target again,” “ensure their friends and family do not shop at Target,” and “return everything they bought at Target” because they “believe Target promotes the same sensitive political message” as CFAC.

And while CFAC promotes a number of issues, that particular “sensitive” message is support of gay marriage marriage equality; it’s the only issue mentioned in the whole case from the documents I’ve seen, and they mention it a lot. Daniel Brown, the employee who provides the only testimony hearsay (PDF) about the complaints, said that some customers were “offended” and that “many mothers with children have complained about the sensitive nature” of the messaging.

For decades, the LGBT community has been fighting the meme that queer people are dangerous to children—that we’re going to molest them, recruit them, and teach them all about anal sex while they’re in Kindergarten. And here is a supposed “friend” using that same old stereotype to defend itself in a gratuitous lawsuit against a grassroots group being defended by a volunteer lawyer.

Target doesn’t want to be known as supporting marriage equality because gays are dangerous to children. That’s the takeaway. It’s in the public record.

So the decision comes back to the LGBT community. Do we still patronize these companies—companies that actively demonize us and work against our equality? While my personal answer will continue to be No, I think the larger community needs to have a serious conversation about it.

If the recent poll on marriage equality tells us anything, it’s that we have more allies than ever. If we really wanted to mobilize a huge block of people to support us, I’m betting that we could. The problem, I think, is that we’re too comfortable. We like shopping at Target and eating at Chick-Fil-A and we don’t see their actions as that big of a deal—at least not big enough to change our habits. We want equality, but it almost seems as if many of us would rather wait than make any sacrificial efforts in the meantime.

Maybe AFA is the lesson for us. Maybe boycotts don’t work in 2011, or don’t catch on, or aren’t worth it. Maybe bad press is enough to get the job done, along with a certain quota of negative tweets. Or maybe we’re desensitized to our inequality; we’re willing to tolerate it, such that  it takes something as big and visible as Prop 8 or DADT to really get us off our asses.

But gosh, I’d love to see us try. I’d love to see pickets in front of Targets and Chick-Fil-As (Chicks-Fil-A?). I’d love to see all the big orgs really visibly condemning the corporations and every single blogger actively promoting the boycott. I don’t think we’ve tried it on the national stage, at least not anytime recently. And certainly we saw a lot of success—or at least visibility—from the boycotts of Prop 8 supporters like the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. So the only thing stopping us is ourselves.

At the end of it all, when we finally get all the equality we deserve in this country, I hope we don’t look back and say, “We could’ve gotten it a lot sooner if we’d just acted more like we wanted it.”

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There are 2 Comments to "Target, Chick-Fil-A, and Our Reluctance To Sacrifice"

  • Alan E. says:

    I have been good about not shopping at Target, and there are no convenient Chik-Fil-A’s for me. The target thing has been confusing for a lot of people, especially in recent months. We haven’t heard many details about the Lady Gaga thing, and now this lawsuit. Thankfully, there are people more diligent than I who have read through this paperwork.

    I do get on my friends and family about boycotting (and the reasons for it) these places. My sister and I have come to a compromise about Chik-fil-A, though. She can have a milkshake from there only if she is sick. It’s one of her vices.

    ps Great to see your work over at Think Progress! Congrats.

  • Buffy says:

    My wife and I are boycotting so many places, manufacturers, companies, etc. now that we pretty much need a spreadsheet to keep track of them. That’s one of the side effects of her running her own database of donors to anti-gay amendments and causes. We’re not vocal to the extent of picketing the businesses/companies but we will tell others if the subject comes up, and we have written a few letters.

    Are the boycotts having any effect? Ultimately we may not be putting the tiniest of dents in anti-gay pocketbooks. But we are sticking to our principles by not knowingly putting our money into the pockets of those who would harm us. If that’s all we ever do it’s enough for us. Of course the occasional ranting comments we get from people insisting we remove their entries from the database because “we’re not anti-gay stop saying that!!!!” are also very fulfilling.

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