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04/09/2014

No longer doing anti-LGBT movement's bidding, Chick-fil-a head says he's 'become more wise'

by Jeremy Hooper

Back when so many people were accepting the far-right talking point that they had "won" the whole Chick-fil-A controversy, I, a person who was at the center of that storm, was a dissenting voice saying that the whole thing was actually a disaster for the company and its reputation, and that whatever boost the fast food chain was experiencing at the time was ultimately unsustainable. It was so clear to me that this whole thing was a PR disaster for the company—one that couldn't be offset by a quick influx of conservative cash.

Now, even more evidence that those of us who stood up against the idea that our marriages bring forth "God's judgment" did, in fact, make the lasting cultural impact. In his most high-profile interview yet, the man at Chick-Fil-A-Icon-Lgthe heart of the controversy, Chick CEO Dan Cathy, is admitting that the internal pushback against him was real and that he is now "more wise":

Cathy, whose comments condemning gay marriage in 2012 set off store picketing and a social media firestorm, has now fully backed away from such public pronouncements that mix personal opinion on social issues with corporate policy.

"All of us become more wise as time goes by," he says, apologetically, in a rare, one-hour sit-down interview. "We sincerely care about all people."
...
Chick-fil-A's socially conservative agenda, which formally led the company to donate millions to charitable groups opposed to gay marriage, has been tempered. This, just as the company aims to quickly expand into Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Southern hospitality must give way to urban reality as the 1,800 store chain moves to compete with big city success stories like McDonald's, Panera Bread and Chipotle.

If nothing else, Cathy has listened. In 2012, Cathy not only heard from some unhappy consumers about his comments against gay marriage, but also from some store operators and employees. Now, he says, "I'm going to leave it to politicians and others to discuss social issues."

That's precisely what experts are advising. "He should put this as far behind him as fast as he possibly can," says Gary Stibel, CEO of New England Consulting Group.

FULL: Chick-fil-A wings in new direction after gay flap [USA Today]

Whether or not Cathy's personal view has shifted (and to be clear, it hasn't) or if he is just saying this stuff so that he can get his restaurants into big cities (that's what it seems) is of less importance to me. The fact that he is using phrases like "more wise" to address his shift from being actively part of the opposition movement to striving to be a more neutral businessman is a testament to the equality movement's sway. The social conservatives could not have made a stronger or louder push in support of Chick-fil-A. From members of Congress to the most influential pundits to everyday Tea Partiers, Cathy had a vast support network willing to go to bat for his anti-LGBT views. But it simply wasn't enough.

As I said at the time, the bigger story lay with the silent majority of Americans who were thoroughly turned off by the whole episode. Some were staunch supporters of equality who wouldn't even dream of giving the company money. Others were more neutral observers who found the politicization of a fast food chain to be a tacky stunt, at best. Some fell elsewhere on the spectrum. The fact is, there were (and still are) a whole lot of people out there who now had a very strong opinion about a very polarizing chicken sandwich seller. Comedians were making jokes about the chain on network TV, commentators were using the company's name as shorthand to mean anti-gay, and the very act of munching on one of the company's waffle fries became a statement that exceeded personal hunger. And while LGBT activists are always accused of having undue power to craft wars against their opponents, the truth is that this all happened quite organically, the product of an American public that does pay attention and does have a more nuanced view than we sometimes give ourselves credit for possessing.

Two years later, it is 100% clear that those of us who told the chain that gunning for gay rights was a bad idea were, in fact, right. If we had to declare long-run winners in a contrived two-sided battle, those of us on the side of LGBT equality would be on the side of victory. Our case won out. You will never again see this, a chain that the far-right thought it had in its pocket, use its corporate mite on behalf of suppressing LGBT rights, and Dan Cathy publicly declares himself to be "more wise" for this decision. That's a win for the narrative that the country is inevitably headed toward equality, and it's a direct repudiation of those cultural forces who think they can stop this train.

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