Menino on wire: why Boston’s mayor shouldn’t block Chick-fil-A’s Beantown branch

Boston’s mayor Thomas Menino today released a leonine letter expressing displeasure at the possibility of a Chick-fil-A franchise across from Faneuil Hall. In a Sorensonian press release, the mayor “urged [Chick-fil-A] to back out of [its] plan to locate in Boston” and mocked president-in-poultry Dan Cathy by wholeheartedly welcoming his accusation that Boston “is guilty as charged” of being on the gay rights forefront. If it were a speech, the apex would be obvious: “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it .” Nothing like a little provincial pandering (about a local landmark most residents have never visited) brewed in progressive righteousness. Even so, that’s a beautifully articulated sentiment and fit for a mayoral epitaph one day.

On balance a memorable performance, I think, for Menino. His letter isn’t particularly ballsy or brave in Massachusetts (the 50 Shades of Liberal State), but still rates laudable for its forthright assertion of principles. Letters of that genus often aren’t drafted because they don’t move voting blocs or avoid controversy—the two holy grails of politicking. But Menino’s stark statement quietly fulfills another role our elected officials are, well, elected for—speaking for constituents. Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approve of gay rights and should be proud of it. I’ve walked behind gay couples for over a mile* without catching one hateful look or comment from passersby. I’ve been in groups where gay friends make gay jokes without knowing people in the group and without fear of retaliation. Having slept around the states (figuratively and literally), neither of these situations hold in many American states, 44 of which still deny gay couples basic rights. Bostonians and Massholes are right to boast of this legacy, and Menino should be commended for channeling his constituents’ milieu against a chicken-hawk(er)-cum-hate group.

That said—if Menino uses his office to deny real estate licenses for Chick-fil-A, he’ll turn an admirably full-throated defense of equality into a blatant breach of the First Amendment. There exists no evidence to conclude he will use the office in such capacity, contrary to most of the overheated intellectual flatulence I’ve received in posts, tweets, texts, and telegraphs—but the statement’s language certainly hints at legal obfuscation.

No matter how badly I desire fully equal rights for my LGBT brothers and sisters, I’m not willing to achieve equality at the expense of the First Amendment. We shouldn’t have to make that choice; we’re not to concede to those who offer such Faustian bargains. And it’s not as if finagling real estate law to prevent Chick-fil-A from setting up shop will result in any appreciable gain or loss for the LGBT community. “Hey, another restaurant opened in Boston that I’ll never go to….also it funds hate groups, want to protest in front of it?” Chick-fil-A doesn’t discriminate against LGBT persons in its employment, only through political donations to purveyors of inane faith-based hate—like the Family Research Council and Marriage Foundation—so it can’t be interfered with in this way by governmental action. Additionally, there is a strain of blowback—militarily, controversial, but occasionally correct—that applies here. “Family advocates” will seize on any attempt to prevent a Chick-fil-A opening in Boston because this is the highest-profile case of the legal species seen yet. And, even if you don’t particularly mind silencing those who willfully neglect factual anecdotes and evidence, many in the anti-gay-rights movement simply haven’t spoken with people from the opposition. They have never met a gay person, watched a loving gay couple take care of their children or applauded for a gay celebrity. Most of them—as you well know—watch and read the works of gays everyday—completely unaware of their blasphemy. In other words, you can change the entire outlook of some Americans on gay rights by playing the Balrog fight and then letting them know Ian McKellan is gay. We shouldn’t risk losing this significant segment of the population by airmailing political RPGs to the more vicious and politically unscrupulous elements of the “God sent Katrina because we allowed gays to hold hands” movement. Which normally actually skirt rather close to treason (certainly Falwell committed treason in arguing the same re: 9/11 [and Robertson] {Okay, I’ll stop there}) but I digress.

If Menino takes action to block Chick-fil-A’s infesting of Boston, it should be opposed as forcefully as Cathy’s hate speech. Don’t let’s set a precedent for this sort of behavior. Would anyone agree with the discretionary power wielded by Menino if the case were flipped? Strictly comparable situations don’t exist because major American cities are governed exclusively by Democratic mayors, but imagine, for the sake of argument, that Bobby Jindal became the governor of New Orleans, or Sarah Palin reigned over Juneau for half a term. Further imagine that Levi’s wants to install an outlet store in NOLA or American Apparel is looking to exploit the nascent horde of zombie-slim teenagers in Juneau—and Jindal or Palin releases the diametrical opposite of Menino’s statement, claiming that Levi’s is not welcome in Juneau because it donates to the No-to-Prop-8 campaign (substitute your local gay-rights supporting corporation here). Gay rights advocates would rightfully blow several gaskets on account of the First Amendment infringement alongside the brain-dead reasoning behind it. Similar actions by pro-equality politicians like Menino are no less legally (read: constitutionally) abhorrent, even if LGBT advocates are factually correct and morally commendable.

And, I disclaim here, to anticipate criticism—I’m writing as a straight male, and I cannot (I do my best, nonetheless) imagine what it’s like for LGBT folks. I’ve never been laughed at for who I wanted to fuck (unless you count the dozens of times I’ve publicly said Sigourney Weaver is gorgeous) and I haven’t faced any social or occupational impediments for simply being myself. And yet I maintain you (and I) will have to accept immediate tactical losses  in favor of long-term, strategic victories. It’s never been easy for me to make such an argument: “Don’t worry–you’ll get your basic rights eventually”–but I’ll make it as long as I think my argument hastens the coming of that day.

None of this is to say Chick-fil-A should be left alone if and when its subpar fowl-greasing facilities grace our city. I’ve never protested for gay rights at a chicken-based establishment, something that stands out conspicuously on my bucket list. Though the United States thankfully does not have laws preventing businesses with hateful opinions from opening shop anywhere they please, it also enfranchises all of us to both vote with our wallets (Why the fuck were you eating at Chick-fil-A anyway?) and write or protest anything we like. Chick-fil-A already signed its own death warrant—let the free market release the guillotine. Or the Kraken. Whichever is available first. But let’s not support basic civil rights by way of endorsing “exceptional circumstances” against the First Amendment and crudely silencing the moral defects that continue to deny the LGBT community their long-awaited lawful due.

*I wasn’t tailing them, I’m just a frequent long-range pedestrian.

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One thought on “Menino on wire: why Boston’s mayor shouldn’t block Chick-fil-A’s Beantown branch

  1. As someone who has, oddly enough, protested for gay rights at a chicken based establishment (Chick-fil-A’s only location in NYC is harbored on my campus), I find no fault with your opinions. Frankly, I couldn’t have expressed an opinion on the matter better myself. I must, however, comment on your writing style. It is…fantastic. Should you ever endeavor to write a book, on any topic, I would happily read it cover to cover several times over. I’m quite glad to see a fellow CBA alum express thoughtful commentary on meaningful issues whilst not dressed in tacky sleeveless shirts and neon sunglasses. Should we ever meet again, I expect fascinating political discussions over copious amounts of alcohol and nicotine. -Robinson

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