The Chik-fil-A Flustercluck: What’s Next?

For all the buzz about “boycotting” Chik-fil-A, we haven’t really seen anything that formally organized yet.

Basically, thus far, what we’ve seen is a big corporation telling part of the public that “We don’t want your money here,” and that part of the public unsurprisingly responding “OK, then, you can’t have it.”

This latest corporate flustercluck is mostly following the standard script for what happens when a business decides to fire off a volley in the culture wars on a matter wholly unrelated to its actual business.

Smart businesses don’t do this. When you politicize and polarize your non-political product, you reduce the overall pool of potential customers.

Think of the Ronald McDonald House. Even if you view McDonald’s support for its flagship charity as nothing more than a cynical PR ploy to purchase good will with the public, you have to acknowledge that it works. Named after the World’s Least-Funny Clown, this charity aids and comforts the families of sick children. Who could possibly object to that? The philanthropy boosts good will toward the company without alienating any potential customers.

Or think of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, the philanthropic focus of rival fast-food chain Wendy’s. It promotes adoption for foster children. Who’s against foster children? No one. (Well, actually, pretty much everyone. The deck is mightily stacked against these poor kids from the get-go and they’re always first in line for budget cuts. But what I mean is that no one harbors a visceral antipathy to foster kids. In the abstract, at least, everyone is in favor of them.)

Shrewd businesses that rely on a broad consumer base tend to support innocuous, utterly unobjectionable charities. If you’re starting a new fast-food chain, I’d suggest making a big show of your philanthropic support for, say, Alex’s Lemonade Stand. If you come out in favor of research to fight childhood cancer then you’ll appear more favorable to everyone else who favors that. And you know who favors research to fight childhood cancer? Everybody. You won’t have to worry about losing the business of people who are pro-childhood leukemia because no one is pro-childhood leukemia.

(Yet. Eventually it will occur to the tea partiers that “Obamacare” is anti-childhood cancer, and that means they’ll have to be for it and we’ll start seeing pro-leukemia rallies across the country. I’m not joking. We’ve already seen rallies vehemently opposing medical care for poor children, and elected officials “proudly” prohibiting medical aid for families who can’t afford it. So we should expect the right wing eventually to be as explicitly pro-leukemia as it already implicitly is.)

Chik-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy seems to subscribe to a marketing plan modeled on the sort of political campaign that thinks it’s more important to “fire up the base” than to try to win over swing-voters and independents. He’s banking on the idea that by telling LGBT customers to take a hike, he’ll see an increase in the enthusiasm of the anti-gay teavangelical Chik-fil-A fans who currently provide a big chunk of his company’s revenue.

That’s possible, in the short run. But in the long run it seems self-destructive. Enthusiasm wanes, but customers can carry a grudge forever — particularly when it’s a deeply felt and completely legitimate grudge.

So again, this seems to be following the standard script. Chik-fil-A will take a short-term PR hit which will eventually fade somewhat, but millions of customers will be reluctant to eat there ever again as Chik-fil-A comes to occupy in their minds the same space as Domino’s pizza or Brawny paper towels — a right-wing company that has declared itself an enemy of their interests, their families and their freedoms.

Chik-fil-A has also secured for itself an enduring status as a punchline, a joke. That ensures that its brand will, for a long time to come, be associated with prudery and bigotry. Like all big companies, Chik-fil-A has spent millions over the years trying to make its brand “cool.” The “eat more chicken” billboards with the cows were an effective campaign to make the brand seem friendly, funny and likable. The company seems determined to undo all of that, cementing a reputation as unfriendly, unfunny, unlikable and the epitome of uncool.

That will likely prove expensive in the long run. Which means the company may soon realize that it needs to find a way of undoing its own undoing of its reputation.

And that means that an actual boycott could be particularly effective here. A boycott demanding a specific, focused change from the company would have a good chance of achieving that change because it would also, in a sense, be throwing Chik-fil-A a lifeline — a way to clean up the PR mess it has made for itself.

Now, this isn’t up to me and no one has any reason to seek or to heed my advice. But I’m a blogger, after all — tossing out unbidden and unwarranted advice is my job. So below the jump is a hasty sketch of what I would do if I were organizing a boycott against Chik-fil-A.

1. Set aside the comments made by executives and focus on the financial support the corporation is providing to anti-gay political efforts. Two reasons for that. First, comments made by executives don’t really work as the focus of a boycott. “The CEO must stop saying stupid things!” isn’t the kind of specific, measurable demand that a boycott can effectively address. A boycott could demand that a CEO resign, but that’s unlikely to inspire broad public support unless the CEO in question is guilty of something seriously criminal. (Plus, keeping a chastened CEO in his post is sometimes more effective than scalp-collecting.) And second, it’s Chik-fil-A’s financial support for anti-gay lobbying groups that is the real, tangible harm here. So I would focus the boycott on stopping that tangible harm.

2. Some of the groups Chik-fil-A supports hold anti-gay beliefs. Others are dedicated to an anti-gay agenda. This distinction matters quite a bit. It undermines the argument against Chik-fil-A to confuse the two groups. The Family Research Council is a hateful, pervasively political group dedicated to denying civil rights and legal protections for LGBT people.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is not like that. FCA is not a political organization or a lobbying group. It’s something more like Campus Crusade for Christ. It’s run by conservative evangelicals who all seem to believe the weird set of urban legends about sexuality that most conservative evangelicals believe, but that’s not the group’s focus. It’s focus is on proselytizing and on putting a Tebow in every huddle, not on using power politics to do others harm.

Don’t misunderstand me. If the question were “Is FCA anti-gay?” then then answer would be a clear yes. And God have mercy on any LGBT young person who gets caught up in that “ministry.” But that’s not the primary or secondary focus of either the group itself or of its supporters. Donors to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes — including Chik-fil-A — contribute to the group in order to support its “muscular Christianity” and its proselytizing. If you want to promote an anti-gay legal agenda you don’t give money to the FCA, you give it to the Family Research Council. Which leads us to my next point.

3. The Family Research Council hates LGBT people. It hates them and it works hard to hurt them at every turn. The Family Research Council is a far, far bigger threat to the LGBT community than Chik-fil-A will ever be.

FRC’s crimes against its neighbors include telling hateful lies about LGBT people every day, 24/7, in every media outlet and every media platform it can find. It tells those lies to promote hate — to stir up anti-gay sentiment and spread it as widely as possible so that they can solicit funds from anti-gay donors and so that they can use those funds, in turn, to influence legislation. The legislation FRC supports denies civil rights and legal protections to LGBT people. It hurts them. It changes the law so that the law will hurt them. That makes the Family Research Council a much worse enemy of LGBT people than Chik-fil-A. So let’s put the focus on them. Let’s go upstream and use this boycott opportunity to make the corner boys roll over on the bosses.

4. Given all the above, the specific goals I would set for this boycott would be: 1) A public apology for supporting the Family Research Council and its affiliates, because financial support for a hate group is unacceptable; and 2) A corporate policy restricting charitable contributions from going to political lobby groups.

The apology is necessary because an apology is called for, but it’s also an effective reminder that the Family Research Council is shameful and that even associating with the FRC is shameful. Decent people do not give money to the Liar Tony Perkins.

The change in policy would prevent Chik-fil-A from using its foundation to funnel money to political groups and to political action against its neighbors. It’s a post-Citizens United world, of course, so Dan Cathy could simply turn around and create a “super pac” that he could use to secretly pour company profits into whatever anti-gay political efforts he saw fit to support. But the change in policy would deal a blow to the idea that anti-gay politics somehow counts as “charity.” And it would deal another blow to the FRC by setting a precedent against their claim to be philanthropic.

5. I think Chik-fil-A could be persuaded to take that deal as one of the few options they have for damage control at this point. They don’t seem to be interested in such options right now, but a few more weeks of doubling-down and seeing how much worse that makes things for them will likely persuade them otherwise.

It may seem that this bargain let’s Chik-fil-A off too easy. Frankly, I’d accept letting Chik-fil-A off easy if that also meant shifting the pressure onto the Family Research Council. But here’s the thing about boycotts — they linger. Back in the 1990s, one activist nun told me that her congregation still avoided California table-grapes. If a boycott is based on a legitimate grievance, then the negative associations with the product will endure long after the organizers’ demands are met.

In exchange for the policy change and the apology, organizers would call an official end to the official boycott. But those millions of people reluctant to patronize right-wing, anti-gay businesses would remain reluctant to eat at Chik-fil-A. And comedians looking for the epitome of bigoted prudery will still be using the chain’s brand as a punchline. So I’m not really sure this bargain would let them off that easy.

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  • PJ Evans

     Back in the 1990s, one activist nun told me that her congregation still avoided California table-grapes.

    ¡Viva la huelga!
    (We avoided the problem by growing our own. I’ve liked grapes with seeds ever since: they have more flavor.)

  • Tonio

    Part of me wants to see a gay couple and a clerk with the moral courage of Rosa Parks deliberately choose jail time to protest this unjust law.

  • One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish
    all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the
    ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order.

    NAMBLA is not the same as a QUILTBAG rights organization! (>_<)

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Enthusiasm wanes, but customers can carry a grudge forever — particularly when it’s a deeply felt and completely legitimate grudge.

    True story.


    All these posts about chick filla* are making ads for Red Rooster pop up on my screen. They support the Muscular Dystrophy Association and make awesome chips, but sadly I find the chicken too greasy.

    *There’s a NZ accent joke in their for those who want it

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I will be buying a sandwich for every post I read against Chick-Fil-A or Dan Cathy and give them away to those that are hungry making sure the people who receive them know it comes from Chick-Fil-A. (Its adding up but between myself and my friends we can afford it all.)

    You better actually do that now, because using the idea of hungry people to make a political point is pretty low. If you are going to do what you have righteously declared, then I can only say: Go Fred, go!

  • Just so I understand this, you opened the door of a moving car, and it is Ford’s fault?

    You, sir, are a genius.

  • aunursa
  • Hawker40

    No, he was a child.  A 8 year old who discovered totally by accident a design flaw that could be lethal to a child who did not/could not know any better.

  • ReverendRef

     Two posts below your comment, Hawker40 got it right.  I was a child who discovered totally by accident a design flaw.

    But your comment made me spew my chocolate milk and you owe me a new keyboard!  :-)

  • EllieMurasaki

    I will be buying a sandwich for every post I read against Chick-Fil-A or
    Dan Cathy and give them away to those that are hungry making sure
    the people who receive them know it comes from Chick-Fil-A. (Its adding
    up but between myself and my friends we can afford it all.)

    Am I right that Aberm and Amber are the same person, only with a typo the first time? If so:
    Hi, Amber. My name’s Ellie. It’s good to meet you; it’s always good to meet people who share my goals. I think you’re a good person. You and your friends. Feeding the hungry is always a net win and I’m glad you’re doing it. I am glad you’re helping people and I’d like to help you help people.
    I just have one question for you.
    I am bisexual. I am genderqueer. Chick-Fil-A donates money to organizations that are actively trying to hurt people like me simply for being people like me.
    The Family Research Council, which receives money from Chick-Fil-A, opposes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act: they want me to lose my job and never get another one because I am bisexual and genderqueer. The Family Research Council, which receives money from Chick-Fil-A, opposes marriage equality: they want to make sure I can take advantage of the legal benefits of marriage if and only if I want to marry someone who was born with a penis and whose driver’s license says M; that means, if I want to marry somebody whose driver’s license says F and/or who was born with a vagina, FRC wants to make sure we can’t file taxes jointly, we can’t both be the legal parents of our children, we can’t be each other’s next-of-kin for hospital and other purposes. The Family Research Council, which receives money from Chick-Fil-A, supports the Ugandan effort to pass a law that will mean people like me in Uganda must be reported to the government and, once caught, must be imprisoned for life if they’re lucky, or, if they’re not lucky, executed.
    None of the people who will be hurt if the Family Research Council (which receives money from Chick-Fil-A) gets its way have ever wanted straight people and cisgendered people to lose their jobs and never get new ones for being straight and cisgendered, have ever wanted straight people and cisgendered people to be unable to marry because they’re straight and cisgendered, have ever wanted any government to round up and imprison or execute straight people and cisgendered people for being straight and cisgendered. The Family Research Council is trying to hurt me and people like me; we are not trying to hurt them or people like them.
    I can’t imagine that you actually want me and people like me to be hurt; you’re a helpful type of person, not a hurtful type of person, see the feeding-the-hungry bit.
    The question is, why are you insisting helping one group of people in a way that is hurtful to several other groups of people (including me), when you could help the first group more and better by donating the money to your local food bank instead?
    And if the answer is that you, Amber, do actually want me to be hurt, I’d like you to look me in the pixels and say it in so many words. “My name is Amber and I am a hurtful person. I want to hurt Ellie and people like Ellie. No amount of feeding the hungry will keep me from hurting Ellie and people like her.”

    If you’ve got the nerve to keep going: “I want Ellie and people like her to be broke. I want Ellie and people like her to be hungry. I want Ellie and people like her to be homeless. I want Ellie and people like her to die. They’re not real people, not like me. I am a hurtful person.
    Say it to my face and say it out loud.

  • Loquat

    See, that nun he mentions? Forgot that the Delano grape strike WORKED.

    Actually, there was a new grape boycott from 1984-2000, over the use of toxic pesticides. So the nun and her congregation were probably participating in that, rather than holding on to an old boycott from the 60’s.

    I know this mainly because I was in college at the time the boycott was ending, and some of my dormmates, undeterred by official announcements of the boycott’s end from the UFW, were campaigning to make our dining hall a grape-free zone. (The dining hall, for its part, served up big bowls of luscious grapes every day of the week leading up to the student vote on the matter.)

  • AnonymousSam

    I’m not the intended recipient of this, but I loves you, Ellie. D:

    Seriously, that kind of challenge demands the opposite response. From someone. Anyone. Even if it’s someone with APD.

    Anyone who can do as you say and affirm their hatred after a post like that needs a special meeting with the giant spaghetti monster in the sky. Preferably one involving lots of meatballs.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Way to go, Ellie :)

    And to add to your point–a whole lot of hungry people are not straight. So Amber’s not just into helping one group of people at the expense of another group; she’ll be helping a group of people while hurting people including members of the very same group.

    Hey, and? Treating gay people as second class citizens is a direct cause of homelessness and poverty for many people, disproportionately young people. If you, Amber, feel bad for homeless teens maybe you could have a think about opposing some of the things making them homeless in the first place.

  • Tonio
    What a contrast. Despite its CEO’s Mormon beliefs, the company provides domestic partners benefits and services aimed at gay couples. While I would prefer that such companies value individual self-determination for its own sake, and not primarily because it’s good business, overall there’s a great deal that Click-fili-A can and should learn from Marriott.

  • Ross Thompson

    The wife very calmly tells the police that she made a pie with a very large concentration of poison. She then very distinctly told her husband not to eat the pie she just made while she went out to the store. […] the opinion of the officer in charge is that a good lawyer could probably argue it and get the woman off.

    Unless she has video of her telling him not to eat the pie, or a signed affidavit from the deceased that she told him that, why should the jury believe that she didn’t actually say “I made you this delicious pie. Now eat it up before it gets cold”?

  • Ross Thompson

    I will be buying a sandwich for every post I read against Chick-Fil-A or Dan Cathy and give them away to those that are hungry making sure the people who receive them know it comes from Chick-Fil-A. (Its adding up but between myself and my friends we can afford it all.)

    So, if I saw rude things about CfA, poor people get fed?

    You know that the kind of people who are objecting to their political activism are in favour of feeding the hungry, and this can only encourage them, right? For example, if you hadn’t posted that, I wouldn’t have made this claim:

    Dan Cathy has secret dreams of hot, sweaty naked-times with Colonel Saunders and the Burger King.

  • Ross Thompson

    … ads for Red Rooster …

    What is it with restaurant chains being called Red [animal]? Around here, we have branches of Red Lobster, Red Robin and Red Squirrel. I don’t remember and differently-coloured animals off the top of my head, though…

    Could be confirmation bias, I guess. Someone will point out Green Antelope, and I’ll be all “Oh yeah, there’s a ton of those around here. Wonder why I didn’t think of that.”


    why should the jury believe that she didn’t actually say “I made you this delicious pie. Now eat it up before it gets cold”?

    As individuals? No particularly good reason at all, beyond however much faith they might have in her word. In fact, they have no particularly good reason to believe she made the pie in the first place.

    As jurors? Absence of evidence establishing that she did so.

    More generally, in the U.S. if some question of fact must be established in order to show guilt, then it’s the prosecution’s job to establish that fact. If the prosecution fails to do so, guilt has not been “proven” and oughtn’t be assumed.

  • Ross Thompson

    More generally, in the U.S. if some question of fact must be established in order to show guilt, then it’s the prosecution’s job to establish that fact. If the prosecution fails to do so, guilt has not been “proven” and oughtn’t be assumed.

    I guess. Pretty sure I wouldn’t want to hang my Perfect Murder on that, though.

  • Kiba

     If you, Amber, feel bad for homeless teens maybe you could have a think about opposing some of the things making them homeless in the first place.

    Which would include not supporting hate groups like the FRC which Chick-fil-A does. More than 1 in 4 LGBT kids are thrown out of their homes when they come out to their family and I can’t help but wonder what that number would look like if groups like the FRC weren’t out there peddling their hate (same goes for conservative religions). 

    If anyone is interested in some information on LGBT youth homelessness on the USA: 

  • John Mulholland:

    Don’t be an ass.

    Most car doors are explicitly designed to prevent opening them unless they are unlocked, then opened. Haven’t you ever had curious kids who just HAVE to play with every damn thing in a car?

    I actually regard that Ford thing as a serious design flaw unless there’s an interlock that keeps the car door from being opened when the vehicle is in any gear other than park or neutral.

  • Marriott’s not perfect by any stretch (they run a cleaning subsidiary and do a lot of the contract cleaning work for businesses and universities etc) and their labor policies aren’t that great.

    But I’ll give them that point over Chik-fil-A, that’s for sure.


    Pretty sure I wouldn’t want to hang my Perfect Murder on that, though.

    Right there with you.

    That said, I wouldn’t want to hang my Being Innocent of a Crime of which I was Unjustly Accused on court presumption of innocence, either. Sometimes, though, it’s all we got.

  • I confess to having eaten at a Chik-Fil-A a couple of times even after learning their anti-gay stances. I just like their sandwiches. Now, though, I’ve chosen to take my business elsewhere. We currently go to Bojangles’. I hope to God THEY aren’t rabidly anti-gay, too, because I love their chicken sandwiches even better than Chik-Fil-A’s!

  • Lori


    More generally, in the U.S. if some question of fact must be established
    in order to show guilt, then it’s the prosecution’s job to establish
    that fact. If the prosecution fails to do so, guilt has not been
    “proven” and oughtn’t be assumed.  

    I’m not convinced this is going to work when applied to baking a pie filled with poison and then telling someone not to eat it but somehow totally failing to mention that it’s filled with poison.

    The story sounds like a close relative of that faux clever Ashley Judd movie, Double Jeopardy. IRL, if the woman actually does kill her scheming husband she’s going to prison, earlier, incorrect, conviction for killing the same guy notwithstanding.

  • VMink

    There is not enough +1’s in the world, and after reading the first few chapters of Knuth’s ‘Surreal Numbers,’ I’m afraid I’d made some sort of lame attempt at a lame maths joke, so I’ll just say… very, very well put, and thank you.

  • Lynn

     Yeah Dude, that Tim Tebow is such a bad influence.

  • Emcee, cubed

    It is possible that a household droid witnessed the conversation. I honestly don’t remember. And it isn’t actually stated that she got off. Just that the officer thought there was a chance a lawyer could spin it so she did. She was sweet little old lady who didn’t really have a serious motive (they weren’t rich or anything), and who didn’t hide it or lie to the police about what happened when asked. Even if it wasn’t a case of, “Well, technically, she did tell him not to eat it”, a case could certainly be made for some sort of mental break. (It also wasn’t written as if the woman expected she would get away with it.) 

  •  I sometimes wonder how many people would have to walk up to a counter
    and say “I would be buying a $foo right now, but because of your
    company’s stance on $bar I’m not going to. If your franchise puts up a sign disclaiming that stance, I might change my mind. Have a nice day!” before the report makes its way up to the franchise manager, and how much discretion franchise managers have on that sort of thing.

    Of course, this doesn’t directly affect the financial situation; the individual franchises don’t control where corporate donations go.

    OTOH, it potentially gives the franchise owners incentive (or at least cover) for being my ally.

    I can’t readily do this, as I haven’t eaten at a CFA for years and years, but I do something similar to this when the friendly Red Cross people ask me if I’m willing to donate blood. No idea what good it does, but it makes me feel better and doesn’t seem to do any harm.

  • Filling out a comment card, if they have one, would be more effective. From all the “customer service jobs suck” blog/communities I’ve seen, a low-level employee can convey customer complaints until they’re blue in the face and nobody above them is going to pay a single bit of attention.

  • When you tell strangers that the only reason you’re not screwing dogs and horses is because Congress doesn’t explicitly permit it, you have no business accusing anyone else of having bad sexual ethics. That’s just my rule.

    (Not that the “pedophilia” = “homosexuality” thing isn’t repulsive enough on its own; I believe that’s one of the arguments that the Boy Scouts like to rely on, and it’s as annoying here as it is there.)

  •   Yeah Dude, that Tim Tebow is such a bad influence.

    I have a visceral disgust with Tim Tebow.  I have a much, much larger disgust with his fanbase, who love him specifically because they see him as a tool to popularize their sectarian aims.  I have no similar problems with, say, Kurt Warner, because even though he’s a devout Christian quarterback who does things with the FCA, he’s not a showboating jackass.  Similarly, I have no problems with David Robinson, who was once the official sports hero of Evangelical Christian teenagers.  Also, I don’t recall either one of them recording Super Bowl commercials with Focus on the Family to use a nationally televised sporting event to push a hateful organization’s political goals.

    Tim Tebow himself might do good things, but any good he does is diminished by his motivations for doing it and the narrative he and his allies in Focus on the Family and related organizations are using it to push.  It’s actually quite similar to being able to acknowledge that Chik-fil-A might make good chicken sandwiches (a point with which I disagree, but whatever) and foster a good working environment for their workers, but none of that matters in the face of the fact that Chik-fil-A’s money is going towards discrimination and undermining the notion of America as a place where all men and women, gay, straight, or somewhere in between are treated as equals.

    And, in general, the goal of the FCA to put more flamboyantly Evangelical Christians on sports teams and grow support for their relentlessly sectarian message on every sports team in the country.  Imagine that somewhere there’s a gay team mate of a young, charismatic proto-Tim Tebow who is struggling to come to terms with his own identity but still fit in with his team.  I imagine that would make things quite difficult.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Red squirrel?

    O O

  • Ross Thompson

  • The ONLY issue that matters here, regardless of one’s opinion on gay marriage, is FREE SPEECH!

    In our Constitutional Republic, Chick-fil-A has the right to voice their opinion. 
    Gay marriage advocates have the RIGHT to protest, picket, make noise, write articles, and refuse to patronize Chick-fil-A. 

    In a Constitutional Republic, the government has ZERO RIGHT to be TYRANNICAL DICTATORS. 

    The REAL STORY HERE is the FASCIST behavior of the Chicago SCUMBAG FUHRER Rahm Emanuel and the twisted perspective of the sewer media. 

  • PJ Evans

     New here, aren’t you?
    We’re not arguing free speech rights; we’re arguing that someone funding hate groups should be willing to accept the consequences of their actions. And that LBGT people deserve the same rights as YOU.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    If you don’t agree with this, then perhaps you ought to be asking why
    you’re praising a company for supporting this kind of blatant, horrible

    This is where so many Liberal Christians go wrong.  They think that “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor applies to EVERYONE, even those people, when a Literal reading of the text makes it quite clear that it’s only forbidden to lie about the people actually living in houses to either side of you.