Sue Kerr: Run over by a Chick-fil-A controversy

By October 9, 2018 No Comments

Last week, I learned that the Pittsburgh Marathon had welcomed a new title sponsor for their youth programming: Chick-fil-A, the purveyor of fried chicken sandwiches and waffle fries that are, I can agree, delicious (note: I last ate at Chick-fil-A more than decade ago so my comments about deliciousness are historically rooted). However, their chicken is also accompanied by a side of anti-LGBTQ discrimination and bias with every sale.

Essentially, Chick-fil-A is a string of franchises that, regardless of the individual owner’s personal beliefs, put money in the central corporate coffers. Some of that money goes to the corporation’s foundation. And that foundation invests in notoriously anti-LGBTQ organizations.

When this story was circulating about five years ago, Chick-fil-A executives stated that their personal Christian beliefs did not align with the corporation’s business decisions and agreed to stop funding anti-LGBTQ organizations.

In June of this year, ThinkProgress examined the most recent tax filings of the corporation, the year 2016, discovering that the foundation had spent $1.8 million in grants to three nonprofits known for anti-LGBTQ discriminatory actions. Moreover, the corporation had not taken any discernible actions to address their corporate culture — no internal policies addressing discrimination and an ongoing score of 0 on the Human Rights Campaign corporate equality scorecard.

I do not think this company is an appropriate sponsor for youth programming that is supposed to create safe, healthy environments for all young people. I also believe it dampens the participation of LGBTQ adult runners. And it creates a sticky dilemma for longtime marathon partners such as Pittsburgh Public Schools that have comprehensive inclusion and respect policies for all students, policies that should extend to these sorts of external contracts involving the students.

After contact to the Marathon’s nonprofit organizer, P3R, revealed that they had no plans to alter their course of action, one parent launched a petition that has been signed by 800 people as of Sunday morning. I wrote a blog post about the initial situation and followed up with an update. Some folks contacted members of the PPS School Board; others reached out to Marathon board members. I spoke with Mayor Bill Peduto’s Chief of Staff Dan Gilman about what I perceived might be a conflict for the City’s internal employee policies with this sponsorship.

I wasn’t surprised that P3R defended their sponsorship choice. I anticipated that with enough partners aware of the serious ramifications of the partnership, there would be robust internal conversations focused on finding a solution that would preserve the programming albeit under another sponsor.

What did surprise me was to wake up Friday morning and discover that FOX News had posted a big article on their website about the situation and they had centered on me as the ringleader for their outrage.

The following 72 hours have been surreal. The article was picked up by a dozen other smaller sites, mostly Christian media. Thousands of people have commented on those articles, via email, on Twitter, on Facebook, on my blog, and elsewhere.

Beyond their outrage at my point of view, these folks opted to reinforce my concerns about bullying and safety for youth with a litany of vicious, horrible, and mean-spirited insults targeting me. They mocked my weight and my appearance, disparaged my mental health and motives for taking up this cause. They attacked my sexual orientation and credibility. They posted veiled threats. They dug into my public social media content to find old photos and details about my life just because they could.

Insults and bullying aside, they are just factually wrong on many points. They deny that Chick-fil-A discriminates in spite of $1.8 million examples otherwise. They believe that a franchise restaurant has no tie to the corporation. They think the prevalence of sexual violence within Christianity is not that bad or a systemic issue. They mistakenly state that I am calling for a boycott of Chick-fil-A which will hurt the employees’ livelihoods.

Then there’s the name calling. I’m a “Nazi, Communist, Fascist, Anti-fascist, Socialist. I’m also a snowflake, a ‘butt hurt snowflake’, a femtard (that’s a new one to me, I must admit), a libtard, disgusting, amoral, subhuman, vile, stupid, weak, a child predator myself, a baby killer, ugly, fat,” and so much more. They really seemed to seize on the fact that I am a fat woman critiquing a marathon.

Our nation has been grappling with the fallout and trauma of abusive, toxic behaviors. Silencing women with opinions and survivors willing to speak about their assaults is an important tool for propping up rape culture. These tactics are not unfamiliar to me as a blogger of more than 13 years.

Still, it hasn’t been fun dealing with these comments in such a large quantity. I don’t have the luxury of just ignoring them because I know from personal experience as a survivor that documentation is important if someone decides to escalate. And we all live with the evidence of what happens when we don’t listen to survivors, as well as if survivors don’t keep a trail of actual evidence.

I’m disappointed in my friends and acquaintances who have continued to patronize Chick-fil-A over these years despite evidence of their discrimination. They have provided cover of sorts to create this situation by tacitly suggesting that the company is fine. If you still think that, please be sure to follow these links to read the comments and see what you are endorsing.

Perhaps most disappointing is the reality that scores of comments have been on Twitter, tagging my account and the @PghMarathon account. They cannot reasonably claim to be ignorant of the hateful response even if they haven’t followed the FOX News story spinning through the Internet. And not just the ugly things said about me, but the general disgust for the LGBTQ community in general and clear statements that reinforce my worst fears about what the relationship with Chick-fil-A will mean for LGBTQ runners, adult and youth. In a twisted way, this awful response has simply proven my original points.

Some of my progressive friends have urged me just to ignore the hateful blather. I don’t think they’ve realized yet that we no longer have that privilege. We should not engage, for sure. But we have to monitor. I’ve coped with two white cis men here in Pittsburgh who have cyber stalked me over the years. I screenshot everything so if it escalates, I have evidence. We need to rethink our casual advice to women like me who are targeted by telling us to just avoid online spaces where this happens. How can I do my job and why should I have to change my behaviors because other people are abusive? All I did was write two blog posts and share a petition someone else created.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’d like to see the regional media community, including bloggers, engage these questions. We need to convene a conversation around this for women, queer folx, people of color, disabled journalists and the countless others who are treated in this way.”

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