Did the Chick-fil-A Boycott Backfire?

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Monday August 6, 2012

After thousands of people turned out to support Chick-fil-A and marriage equality on the Mike Huckabee created Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, many media outlets are calling the boycott on the fast-food chain a failure.

"You're not going to change a guy's religious point of view with a boycott," Fred Taub, president of the Cleveland-based consumer advocacy group Boycott Watch, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "The backlash more than proved that."

A few weeks ago, Dan Cathy, the company's president, made national headlines for condemning same-sex marriage on a radio show and then telling the Baptist Press that he was "guilty as charged" for his beliefs. Gay activists and supporters were appalled by his statements and because, in the past, officials from the company donated money to anti-gay groups, including Exodus International and Focus on the Family.

To counter the LGBT community's outrage and a boycott of the restaurant, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee launched Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. The event called for people around the country to visit their local chicken establishments to show their support of the company, Cathy and traditional marriage.

The event turned out to be a huge success for the corporation and those who oppose same-sex marriage as Chick-fil-A officials reported "a record-setting day" in terms of sales.

The article also points out that boycotts that do not work still highlight a cause and connect citizens to larger political forces.

Some have even painted activists who oppose Chick-fil-A as bullies. The Huffington Post points out a controversial YouTube video that went viral. The clip shows a man named Adam Smith who goes to a Chick-fil-A drive-through, orders a free water and harasses the young women who serves him.

"I don't know how you live with yourself and work here. I don't understand it. This is a horrible corporation with horrible values. You deserve better," he told the Chick-fil-A employee.

After the video made the rounds on the web, there was a statement from MarketWire that Smith had been fired from his job as the CFO of Vante, Inc., a Tucson, Ariz., based medical manufacturer.

'You're not going to change a guy's religious point of view with a boycott'

Some politicians around the country, including Boston Mayor Tom Menino, condemned Chick-fil-A and said they would prohibit the company from opening establishments in their city.

Jon Stewart of the "Daily Show" slammed Menino for his stance. While it's pretty obvious that Stewart does not agree with Cathy's view on gay marriage, he pointed out that the politician may have forgotten about the First Amendment.

"[I'm] pretty sure you can't outlaw a company with perfectly legal business practices because you find their CEO's views repellant," Stewart said. "Not sure which amendment covers that, but it's probably in the top 1."

EDGE's editor-in-chief wrote a blog post that reflects what some others have said: that he does not believe the businessman's personal opinions should be the reason why his company is banned from the city.

"I find Cathy as repugnant as the next person," Weinstein wrote. "But I also do not believe that his personal beliefs are enough to allow a public official to disallow a company from opening in his city. If the franchisee gets the proper permits, pays the rent, and observes local laws -- including no hiring discrimination based on sexual preference or gender identity -- then he or she should have every right to open."

But the biggest problem with gay supporters' response to Chick-fil-A is that inspired a mass uprising across America among those who oppose marriage equality. Coming only a few months before a national election, the turnout for the "Appreciation Day" appears to have galvanized those forces -- at exactly the wrong time.

This was the view expressed in a Huffington Post column by Michelangelo Signorile. The well-known author and radio host distilled the thoughts of many who believed the gay protests were, as he said in his headline, "a big fail."

To be fair, that was part of a rhetorical question. But he admits that "there were problems with strategy. We allowed opponents of LGBT rights to use the media to recast the issue as one about the First Amendment." He also believes politicians' rhetoric "gave an opportunity for the right to reframe the issue."

He also echoed others' criticism of a gay "Kiss-In," held after the "Appreciation Day" as also an overall failure, because of the very weak turnout.