There used to be two businesses we refused to frequent because I felt skeevy giving them my money. One was Chick-fil-A; the other was Walmart. But then there came a time when I found something out about the place we went instead of Walmart, and I realised something. I came to think I couldn’t object to shopping at one place for its objectionable practices or support of objectionable causes if I wasn’t prepared to check into each and every place I frequented to make sure they weren’t doing anything I objected to. So for some time now, we’ve occasionally shopped at Walmart or eaten at Chick-fil-A.
Of course, for the past week or so, we’ve again foregone Chick-fil-A. But I’ve not been able to help feeling like that doesn’t really mean anything. Chick-fil-A’s certainly not aware of the loss of the ten dollars they’d have made off us on Saturday, when we drove past one right as we wanted lunch on our way back from the Liverpool-Tottenham match in Baltimore. And that would probably have been the only time in July or August that we visited them. I just can’t shake the feeling that a personal boycott doesn’t actually hurt either Chick-fil-A or the hateful organisations that they support, and it doesn’t actually help the cause of gay rights that all our outrage is supposed to be in support of. It seems to me that it’s more about making myself feel smug and feel like I’ve helped a cause when actually, really, I haven’t.
But obviously, just doing nothing isn’t acceptable either. If a personal boycott feels like it accomplishes nothing, then simply continuing to patronise Chick-fil-A is actively hurting the people that Chick-fil-A makes its donations to hurt.
I crunched some numbers. Chick-fil-A took in $4.1 billion last year. The year before that, they donated $2 million to seven organisations that Business Insider describes as “anti-gay”. Now, I’m not going to dispute that pretty much all the organisations on this list hold noxious positions on equality and civil rights when we’re talking about the rights in question being exercised with people whose sexuality they don’t like. But the lion’s share of the money is going places like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or the National Christian Foundation, organisations for whom anti-gay campaigning isn’t really at all a major focus of what they do. I don’t think that makes those organisations okay, but I do think we need to make a distinction between them and pure hate groups such as the Family Research Council, whose sole concern is hating gays and who received a thousand bucks from Chick-fil-A in 2010.
If our family of four swing by Chick-fil-A and spend sixteen dollars, therefore, we’re spending about four-fifths of a penny toward those seven organisations, and about .0004 cents toward the Family Research Council. If we eat there, say, six times a year (probably a lot for us), we’ve contributed about two and a half cents and .0024 cents respectively.
So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to make a ten-dollar donation to a gay rights group; we don’t know which one yet. And if, at any point in a calendar year, we eat at Chick-fil-A, then come the New Year, we’re going to make another ten dollar donation. Is ten dollars a lot? Not in the grand scheme of things, no. But when it comes to this family, Chick-fil-A is going to be responsible for orders of magnitude more money going to gay rights than toward hate.