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Five Successful Public Backlashes Against Homophobic Corporations
Why it matters whether you give your money to Chik-Fil-A.
by Jeremy Popkin
Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s incendiary comments against gay marriage recently revealed the fast-food chain as the most morally bankrupt fried chicken joint since Los Pollos Hermanos. As the likes of Andy Bernard, the Muppets, and the entire cities of Chicago and Boston join gay-rights organizations in boycotting the ol' Hateful Chicken (as we call it 'round the Nerve office), we thought we’d offer up our encouragement with a history lesson on five other public backlashes that forced major corporations to stop acting like homophobic assholes.
1. There's no place for the gays down at the ol' Cracker Barrel.
“No! Not Cracker Barrel!” screamed gay-rights activists nowhere in 1991, when a leaked memo from the chicken-and-patriotic-tchotchkes emporium revealed that the company had been firing anyone who didn’t display “normal heterosexual values.” Even though it doesn’t get any more normal or heterosexual than working at a Cracker Barrel, eleven employees were let go for not living up to the chain’s sepia-toned, wannabe-Mayberry image. Gay-rights groups responded immediately with the appropriate outrage, and the backlash forced the restaurant to rescind its policy and issue an apology. But the company didn’t officially add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy until 2002, when it finally became possible for people of all creeds to guzzle down gallons of country gravy. Even after that, the Barrel was the subject of a 2004 Justice Department investigation that found, among other things, that the restaurant chain segregated dining areas, allowed white servers to refuse to serve black people, and often seated white customers before black ones. Maybe their whole down-home charm isn't some kind of innovative marketing gimmick: Cracker Barrel might just actually think it's still the 1860s, which would be cute if it weren't so awful.
2. World of Warcraft has two races of elves, but no gay people.
Apparently sexual politics have no place in Azeroth. In 2006, game company Blizzard threatened to ban the account of World of Warcraft user Sara Andrews when moderators found her advertising her guild as an accepting safe haven for LGBT players. Blizzard defended itself by claiming that "advertising sexual orientation is not appropriate for the high fantasy setting," apparently not finding anything sexual about scantily-clad mythical beings slaying beasts with an assortment of phallic weaponry. Andrews took her story to WoW forums across the internet and rallied a user base that was familiar with banding together to defeat giant monsters, forcing an apology out of Blizzard and a new policy that allowed the formation of LGBT guilds.
3. Coors: workin' on their night moves, and their homophobia.
The tale of Coors v. The Gays is a long and interesting one. The LGBT community initiated a boycott of Coors products in 1977 when Coors was accused of firing gay and lesbian employees (and subjecting prospective employees to a polygraph to determine their sexual orientation). The boycott continued until 1995, when the company finally extended domestic partnership benefits to same-sex employees and (surprisingly) became a major supporter of the LGBT community, sponsoring the Denver Pridefest and contributing to the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Interestingly, the Coors Brewing Company has actually publicly distanced itself from family member and Republican candidate Pete Coors, whose support of an anti-gay-marriage amendment kept the boycott going strong in certain parts of the country. Bob Seger has yet to weigh in.
4. Laura Schlessinger launches new television show with multiple homophobic comments.
Possibly the greatest victory in gay-rights history was keeping conservative radio host (and demonic Jane Lynch-lookalike) Laura Schlessinger off television. Schlessinger’s The Dr. Laura Program was the second-highest-rated radio show in 2000, behind only The Rush Limbaugh Show in both number of listeners and depth of hate-mongering. Her popularity led to a TV deal for a syndicated talk show on CBS; and, in a seriously misguided attempt at playing her own hype man, Schlessinger made a series of controversial homophobic remarks in the lead up to the show's premiere. These included such lovely bon mots as claiming that homosexuality was a biological error and that gay parents were similar to pedophiles. Activists launched the website StopDrLaura.com in response and organized protests in over thirty cities, pressuring sponsors to pull their support. The show was canceled in under a year.
5. Salvation Army reaches brief cease-fire with Homosexual Liberation Front.
Gay-rights activists have long been at war with The Salvation Army over their discriminatory practices. The charity claims that their standing as a church allows them to base hiring decisions on their religious beliefs. The long-standing battle had seemingly come to an end in 2001 when The Salvation Army announced a decision to extend domestic-partnership benefits to its gay employees, but the policy barely lasted a month. The church overturned it in the face of pressure from evangelical interest groups including Focus on the Family and the American Family Association.(Side note: why is it every homophobic special-interest group has "family" in the title? Do gay people not have families?) The boycott is still going, providing us with yet another reason not to feel guilty for failing to put a dollar into those red kettles.