Gang Style Chicken
August 17th, 2012
As much as I’d like to ignore it, Floyd Lee Corkins, II, has forced me to think once more about Chick-fil-A and the food fight between the left and the right. Dan Cathy’s remarks several weeks ago opened up a fault line – suddenly, instead of staying safely within our left-wing and right-wing echo chambers, Americans are debating the First Amendment and boycotts and marriage rights. Many in the LGBT community report that once-silent family members are now sending them emails, proudly posting pictures of chicken on Facebook, and calling them late at night to quote Bible verses about death and destruction. Just two days ago, Mr. Corkins shot a security guard at the Family Research Council and fifteen Chick-fil-A sandwiches were found in his backpack; it’s safe to assume he wasn’t delivering Tony Perkins’ lunch.
Although food has loomed large in touching off historical debate (see the Boston Tea Party, Gandhi’s march to the sea to make salt, or four college students sitting implacably at a Woolworth’s lunch counter), the food is only a foil for a larger, more important debate – what constitutes our community’s values, how do we define those values, and which of those values can bring us together rather than tear us apart? The single common denominator throughout all these “food fights” is that in each instance a community stood up to protest its second-class status. The same holds true for today’s debate.
The question at hand is this – can LGBT people and the unions they form, the children they raise, the families and community bonds they form, be truly accepted into American society? Can the American dream accommodate a group once pegged by the majority as alien and subversive? Now that, in 2012, it seems clear that the majority has begun to respond with a resounding yes, how do we deal with the not-insubstantial minority that is left angry and upset? How do we deal with those within our own ranks, as it appears Mr. Corkin was, whose rage at those who refuse to “see the light” may translate unforgivably into violence?
In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center designated several anti-gay groups as “hate groups” for the first time. Their research of FBI documents over the previous fourteen-year period revealed a little-publicized fact: LGBT people are overwhelmingly the largest target of physical attacks inspired by hate in the U.S. Our status as second-class citizens is second to none. Coming from a conservative family background as I do, my first reaction when I heard that Mr. Corkins had attacked an organization labeled as a “hate group” was this – is that label helpful in any way?
Reading up on how the FBI discusses groups that inspire violence it became clear that labeling the Family Research Council and other organizations like it as hate groups is simply a recognition that the violence occurring against the LGBT community has a real, concrete source and a real, concrete voice. When Tony Perkins talks about the “homosexual agenda” and Dan Cathy triumphantly says “guilty as charged” when asked about the millions of dollars he contributes to anti-LGBT causes, their words fall dangerously close to the dividing line the FBI has established between rhetorical violence on the one hand and physical violence on the other. Identifying seven distinct stages along this spectrum, the last stage between rhetoric and physical violence is Stage Five when
“the hate group attacks their target without weapons . . . prowling their turf seeking vulnerable targets.”
This is what America saw on Mike Huckabee’s “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day”: a community rallied together to attack the idea that the LGBT community – our unions, our families, our places of gathering, our places of worship – is worthy of first class citizenship. Chick-fil-A restaurants and its packaging has become home turf, a veritable gang sign, and Mr. Corkins’ deplorable attack two days ago was simply a confirmation of that fact.
In our national gang-style fever, calling out hate is not only justifiable but critically important. Keeping up the fight for marriage equality, for equal protection laws, for first class citizenship in a calm, rational manner is the most effective way to take the long view and play it out in full. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, pictured above eating fried chicken with his family,
“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”