Tag Archives: Chik-fil-A


So the CEO of Barilla says he won’t allow gay people to be depicted in their advertisements, and within hours, the LGBTQ community mobilizes big time. Boycotts, Internet petitions, op-ed pieces – the LGBTQ community and its supporters have stepped up in a big, big way, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.

But I do have a cynical side (if you haven’t noticed by now). And that cynical side, when I first heard about the Barilla boycott, I thought, First it was Chik-fil-A. Then it was Russian vodka. And now it’s . . . pasta? Come on now. Is nothing sacred?

The reality is, I don’t drink hard liquor. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten Chik-fil-A in my life. And Barilla – well, I’m not a big pasta eater, but in my graduate school days, when spaghetti from a box and sauce out of a jar was part of my regular meal repertoire, Barilla never made it into my pantry. So, for me, boycotting these companies is like giving up marijuana for Lent. If I don’t use it in the first place, giving it up doesn’t really count.

My cynicism comes from a much deeper place. There are a LOT of companies that the LGBTQ community should probably consider boycotting. Walmart, in addition to being cited numerous times for poor treatment of LGBTQ employees, recently included a book on its shelves titled Chased by an Elephant by Janice Barrett Graham (wife of LDS pastor Stephen Graham, believer of “praying the gay away”). The book description begins like this:

“Overgrown jungles? Mad elephants? Tarzan and Jane? That’s what LDS families will find in this book to help shed the clear light of truth on today’s dark and tangled ideas about male and female, proper gender roles, the law of chastity, and the God-given sexual appetite.”

Not exactly LGBTQ-friendly. That should be enough to prompt a boycott, don’t you think?

Or what about Domino’s Pizza, whose founder created an entire city – Ave Maria, Florida – devoted entirely to promote the teachings of the Catholic Church.  Or Exxon Mobil, for failing to adopt non-discrimination policies for their LGBTQ employees? And then there’s Babies R Us/Toys R Us. Hobby Lobby. Lowe’s. Marriott. Tyson Foods. Dish Network. Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Celestial Seasonings. Radio Shack. Verizon. Curves. Purina. Gold’s Gym. Dole. Forever 21. These are all companies that engage in anti-LGBTQ practices in some way, shape, or form. And this, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you find this list dizzying, then you’re in good company. And in my dizzy stupor, I’m reminded of a story.

Years ago, when I was in college, a bisexual friend and I would routinely go to the gym, work out together, and then go to the Wendy’s next door for a burger and fries. “I won’t tell if you won’t tell,” we’d say to each other – not referring at all to the fact that we were devouring junk food after our virtuous workout. In fact, our secretive behavior had everything to do with the fact that the LGBTQ community (among others) was actively boycotting Wendy’s at the time, and here we were, sneaking around behind the scenes.

I’ve written about what motivates people to boycott companies in previous blog posts. In one post, I talked about a study that identified, among others, two major variables that motivate boycotts: (1) a desire to make change happen; and (2) the personal growth that comes from participating in a boycott (the researchers call this “self-enhancement”). I definitely desire change, and I embrace the personal growth opportunities activism has provided me with. And yet, here I was at Wendy’s, surreptitiously scarfing down a bacon cheeseburger. That experience has stuck with me, and since then, I’ve wondered why someone like myself, someone so heavily invested in social change, risked having my “queer membership card” taken away – and over a trayful of fast food, at that.

How you spin your message has an enormous impact on how people receive that message – a phenomenon called a “framing effect.” For example, if you tell a teenager that there’s a 1 in 20 chance that condom use will result in a pregnancy, that teenager will probably be far more gun-shy about condoms than if they were told that condoms are 95% effective at preventing pregnancy (which sounds like pretty good odds). That’s the power of the framing effect in action. So what if we apply the concept of framing effects to boycotting?

Andrew John of Melbourne University (who is one of the co-authors of the study cited above) is an economist whose research focuses largely on consumer boycotts. In his research articles, he uses the term “boycott” – but alternatively, he frequently uses the phrase “purchase sacrifice.” I think that’s a brilliant phrase – because if you think about it, participating in a boycott is really all about sacrifice. It’s a purchase sacrifice, and a time, energy, and resources sacrifice – especially when it comes to researching which companies are LGBTQ-friendly or -unfriendly. Boycotting a company or product might require buying an alternative brand that’s more expensive, or not as easy or convenient to obtain (which, for some, might be a significant sacrifice, depending on one’s socioeconomic status).  If I need to disconnect my Dish and pay $10 extra per month for DirectTV (or just tell myself, who needs TV, anyway?), forego the thick, plush towels from Bed, Bath, and Beyond and get the ones that feel a little scratchy from Target, stop drinking my Celestial Seasonings herb tea and either do without or make a special trip to a more expensive store to get some other brand, force my cat to eat something other than Purina Cat Chow, find some way to explain to my kid why Toys R Us is bad (and then try to find an alternative), spend hours trying to keep track of the “good” companies and “bad” companies, and then feel all guilty because I just found out that Barilla is a “bad” company after I’ve bought five boxes of pasta – if my immediate personal loss is greater than the long-term potential gain, then the motivation to boycott is likely to be low. That’s probably how I felt years ago, when I chose to cross the boycott line and eat at Wendy’s – that it wasn’t worth giving up the burger.

I wonder if, instead of using the word “boycott,” we name the action more clearly and say, “We’re asking you to make a purchase sacrifice in support of the LGBTQ community.” Would higher levels of boycott participation result? I bet it would to some extent, although I have nothing other than gut feeling to back this up. There’s something about that phrase that reminds me that I’m in the driver’s seat when I make my spending choices – and I can also be in the driver’s seat regarding what losses I’m willing or able to take. Activists love to be in the driver’s seat – or at least feel like they are, especially given the level of disempowerment and marginalization many of us have experienced.



Filed under homophobia, human rights, LGBTQ, psychological research, stereotypes

Hitting the wall

“We’re just as normal as everybody else.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that statement – or variations of it. I’ve seen headlines titled “Gay – the new straight.” Or “The mainstreaming of gay.” I must say, though, if anyone’s been paying attention to the Chik-fil-A drama, it’s pretty clear that, for many people, being gay is kind of a big deal, and far from being considered normal.

But I don’t want to talk about Chik-fil-A – there’s enough media saturation on that topic. However, I do want to talk about religion, which is embedded in the Chik-fil-A debate, because I think that the LGBTQ community’s struggles in this arena powerfully illustrate the challenges of gaining acceptance in a mainstream cultural institution. More specifically, I’d like to spend some time focusing on one particular religious enclave – the contemporary Christian music industry.

Marsha Stevens, at one point in her career, was considered to be the “mother of contemporary Christian music.” She had a record label and a successful career – and then, in 1979, she came out publicly as a lesbian. Her record label dropped her. Her music was pulled from retail stores, and promoters canceled her concert bookings. Christan Century magazine called Stevens “conservative Christianity’s worst nightmare – a Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, God-fearing lesbian Christian.” Her career hit a wall.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and we have Jennifer Knapp, a top-billed Christian singer who sold a million records between 1998 and 2002, earned four Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association, and secured two Grammy nominations. In 2010, after a six-year hiatus from the music industry, Knapp made a public announcement stating that she’d been in a same-sex relationship since 2002. She, too, lost her record label, and her latest independent release isn’t being played on Christian radio stations.

Qui510, formerly known as TriQui Di, is a vocalist and songwriter hailing from Oakland, California. Although she doesn’t perform Christian music, she got her start in the African American Baptist and Pentecostal churches, singing in the choir that produced the Hawkins Singers (of “Oh Happy Day!” fame). She, like Marsha Stevens and Jennifer Knapp, was signed with a major record label and performed with Snoop Dogg, Aaliyah, Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan, and Tony! Toni! Toné! Since 2009, when she came out publicly on her radio show, she’s had difficulty getting even local gigs. “Before, I was on the front page,” Qui510 told me. “Now, I’m an afterthought.”

All three of these artists decided to be true to themselves, and live as openly, honestly, and authentically as possible. All of them still hold strongly onto their religious faith. And all three of them have been effectively shut out from the mainstream – and their careers have suffered tremendously.

When it comes to accepting LGBTQ people into the mainstream, religion seems to be the last house on the block. And I think that psychological theory and research can help us explain why that’s the case. Using social identity theory, Megan Johnson, Wade Rowatt, and Jordan LaBouff of Baylor University explain why there’s such a strong divide between people who identify as religious and people who are gay. In their most recent study, “Religion and prejudice revisited: In-group favoritism, out-group derogation, or both?” published in the May 2012 issue of Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Johnson and her colleagues found that people who identified as Christian were more likely to hold negative attitudes towards gay men (and to Muslims and atheists, interestingly), compared to people who didn’t practice a Christian faith. This finding probably isn’t all that surprising, given the stronghold that the religious right has on anti-gay policies.

But it’s this next finding that is quite interesting, in my opinion. Regardless of preexisting religious beliefs, people who were subliminallly primed with religious words developed more negative attitudes towards gay men than those who were primed with neutral terms. In other words, being exposed to religion – even in a subconscious way – was enough to create animosity towards gay men.  Clearly, there’s a very powerful “us vs. them” mechanism that is embedded within traditional Christianity.

Here’s where social identity theory comes in: According to this theory, identifying as a member of a particular group helps people to maintain and enhance their self-esteem. If that group is associated with positive characteristics, such as “good” or “moral,” that enhances self-esteem even further. Moreover, establishing an out-group (such as “gay”) and establishing a set of negative connotations to that group (such as “bad” or “immoral”) further helps to solidify one’s in-group identity and self-esteem. Put more simply, putting others down helps us to feel better about ourselves. And putting gay people in the “them” category helps people feel more secure in the “us” category.

No wonder the stonewalling in the music industry (particularly in contemporary Christian music) is so pervasive. Keep the lesbians out, and we’ll all be safe.

At this moment, it doesn’t look like assimilating into the Christian music industry is much of an option. So what choices do these artists have? When Marsha Stevens was shut out of the Christian music house, so to speak, she built her own – in the form of BALM (Born Again Lesbian Music) Ministries, which now has its own record label. As for Jennifer Knapp, she’s chosen to abandon Christian music altogether; for now, she’s writing and recording secular music under her own independent label. And Qui510? Although she’s doesn’t perform Christian music, her fan base was the Black community – and that fan base has dissipated significantly since she came out. And as a Black performer, she’s historically faced challenges in getting booked at venues that have more White audiences. As an African-American lesbian, she’s a member of more than one out-group – and her career has taken the hit. But she’s not giving up – if anything, it’s strengthened her resolve to live her truth.




Filed under coming out, homophobia, LGBTQ, media, psychological research, racism