Yesterday I was among the first in my Facebook network to proudly share the Muppets image stating that the Jim Henson Company is severing its ties with Chick-fil-A because of President Dan Cathy’s comments against gay marriage. Within seconds, the likes starting popping up on my screen, and before long many of my friends (and their friends) had shared it. The rest of the day, I felt confident that encouraging a boycott and publicly denouncing the company was the right course of action. But the more I’ve witnessed the hatred boiling over in the last few 24 hours, the more I wonder if this punitive approach is the right response.
I didn’t meet a gay person until I was twenty-three. Of course, I’d probably been around gays and lesbians before. But when you grow up in a town that feels like the setting for the movie Boys Don’t Cry, being homosexual is not something you’re going to advertise. Not if you want to live.
My first gay friend was named Patrick. I met him during my Peace Corps training in Poland. He was from San Diego, movie-star handsome, and just about the nicest guy I’d ever met. He was a lot more conservative than me, a lot more buttoned up, which I found to be pretty funny. Here I was thinking that gay guys were party animals and sex fiends and Patrick turned out to be a guy, and a masculine guy at that, who stared at the run in his sweater for half an hour before ever-so-gently tugging at the correct thread to fix it. Patrick and I shared tons of happy times throughout our summer of training and beyond.
When training ended and volunteers dispersed to towns all over Poland, I became friends with another gay man, James. Like Patrick, James was more conservative and traditional than I was (think Martha Stewart when she was cool). He loved to entertain, write, learn, travel, perform, decorate, shop, exercise, and cook while I could barely boil water and had only one knife, two cups, and three plates in my entire kitchen.
Until James, I had never opened up to a man. I’d never shared my darkest fears and secrets, never shown my vulnerability, and had certainly never believed that a man would love me once he saw all of my many imperfections. During our time together in Poland, James and I laughed, helped each other pick out chic clothes (yes, chic) at discount shops, sat quietly listening to the Counting Crows, and talked often about how grateful we were to have each other as friends and confidants. We even, and I swear this is true, came up with an idea for a TV show, a comedy called “The Gay and the Jew,” that would depict each of our communities’ overlapping neuroses. Too bad Will and Grace beat us to it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about James and my other gay and lesbian friends these last couple of days as I observe the hate being spewed by both opponents and proponents of gay marriage. On the simplest level, I wish that Chick-fil-A's President Dan Cathy had someone like James in his life, because if he did he’d easily see that a person’s sexuality does not determine his or her character. He’d see that people who are gay deserve to have the same rights as everyone else. If Cathy had a friend like James, there is no way he would be anything other than joyous to see his friend find love and lifelong companionship and get married.
Since this controversy over Cathy's comments began, I’ve also been wondering what I should do to show that I support gay marriage. Do I boycott the restaurant (can you boycott a restaurant you've never been to)? Write angry letters? Post critical comments online? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen an instance where confronting hate with more hate does anyone any good. Will Cathy really change his mind because of vitriolic articles and letters? Will punishing him financially get him to embrace gay marriage? Some of you might be saying, "who cares, as long as he acknowledges that publicly stating his opposition to gay marriage is wrong, nothing else matters."
But what about a different approach, one that is less centered on punishment? Here’s what I’d love to do. On Aug. 1, when Mike Huckabee has his “Support Chick-fil-A Day,” why don’t we all go to a restaurant (and I use that term loosely) and talk to people about our gay friends and why we support gay marriage? And not in an angry way. If you don’t know anyone who’s gay, tell them about James and Patrick. Or tell them about my daughter’s old preschool teacher, Megan, who has become a tremendous role model for me and for so many other parents and kids. Or why don’t those of us in support of gay marriage go to Chick-fil-A on August 2 and make it Gay Chick-fil-A Day? I'd love to show the company how those opposed to discrimination and intolerance so obviously outnumber the people who showed up the day before.
Whatever the solution, I hope we figure it out soon, because our country has some very real and serious issues to contend with. And let's be honest, folks: letting two people who love each other get married is just not one of them.
~By Wendy Widom, Families in the Loop
Please note: Thoughtful dialogue is welcomed but comments that make you look like a meanie will be removed.