Vandals painted graffiti reading "Tastes Like Hate" on exterior wall of Torrance Chick-fil-A restaurant at 18200 Hawthorne Blvd. (Sandy Mazza, Daily Breeze)

Vandals painted graffiti reading “Tastes Like Hate” on exterior wall of Torrance Chick-fil-A restaurant at 18200 Hawthorne Blvd. (Sandy Mazza, Daily Breeze)

Now that the Chik-Fil-A flap has died down a bit, and the fast food is recording record sales, it’s time to start taking a look at what really happened. Frankly, this entire situation was a series of mass disdain, outright bullying, and a series of one missed opportunity after another. In case you wondering, I’m pointing fingers at everyone. Including myself.

Oh, sure. I could spend hours complaining about the masses that swarmed Chik-Fil-A restaurants all across the country — all buying chicken so that they can support Dan Cathy’s rant, “free speech” rights and of course, “traditional marriage.” Let’s be honest here, what did we really expect? Gays are still the most reviled group of people in America.

When we have a picture that somehow these mean-old homosexuals are going to beat up a poor, Christian man like Dan Cathy, then we can be sure that every fried-chicken-eating, church-going, good Christian is going to plunk down their six-fifty to help make sure that he doesn’t have to be bullied by those mean old gay bullies. After all, the gays are trying to take away his right to free speech! They’re trying to keep the chain out of Boston and Chicago!

It was a public relations boon for Chik-Fil-A. No matter how much the left-wing bloggers tried to demonize the chicken chain, it only made the chain’s supporters that much more determined. In the end, people on both sides grew further apart from each other — all over a chicken sandwich.

The media and blogging machine did their jobs well — too well. The mainstream media played down the claim from gay activists that WinShape donated money to a SPLC-certified hate group. As a result, the message got completely lost. As a result, pro-gay activists were painted as hate mongering bitchy bigots who were out to stifle Dan Cathy’s free speech.

And that’s the message that got out. Instantly, the rightwing media, bloggers, and radio show hosts capitalized on the “free speech threat” that was evident, giving them a golden calf to hold up to their followers. Protect their free speech! Dan Cathy needs to be saved from the gays!

Then, as could have been predicted by nearly anyone, gay activists played right into their expected role. “Bigot chicken” became a mantra, and instantly, anyone who bought a chicken sandwich was a hater. Bigots, they were. All of them.

Then it got ugly.

At least two Chik-Fil-A restaurants were tagged with graffiti. One, a “freestander” in Torrence, California, was vandalized by a gay artist named Manny Castro with the phrase “Tastes Like Hate.” The graphic was painted in a similar typestyle of the chain’s “Eat Mor Chikin” campaign. I’ve heard of at least one other report of vandalism at another store.

Unfortunately, the attacks don’t stop there. Adam Smith, a former CFO in Tuscon, filmed himself as he berated a Chik-Fil-A drive through employee.

“Chick-fil-A is a hateful company,” Smith tells the employee. “I don’t know how you sleep at night,” Smith adds at another point. This is a horrible corporation with horrible values.”

Smith’s video went viral. It ended up costing him his job. The employee in the video has received almost universal praise for maintaining her composure. However, he was criticized heavily from people on both sides. From the same article:

“Vante regrets the unfortunate events that transpired yesterday in Tucson between our former CFO/Treasurer Adam Smith and an employee at Chick-fil-A,” the company said in a statement. “Effective immediately, Mr. Smith is no longer an employee of our company.

“We hope that the general population does not hold Mr. Smith’s actions against Vante and its employees,” the statement continued.

On a more local level, reports are just as disturbing. A Clarksville, TN Chik-Fil-A owner was driving around town, and she reported that two cars boxed her in. She was flipped off and called a bigot. Her sin? She drove her company car. I’d love to say that this incident was isolated, but it wasn’t.

Huffington Post has a great piece that tells the employees’ point of view, including from some gay employees. Yes, there are gay employees at CFA.

“It seems like very few people have stopped to think about who actually works for Chik-Fil-A and what those people’s opinions are,” he wrote. “They are putting us in a pot and coming to support us or hate us based on something they heard and assume we agree with.”

And yes, they heard from both sides:

Gabriel Aguiniga, a gay employee at a Chick-fil-A in Colorado, also said the hardest part hasn’t been hearing Cathy’s comments. Instead, “[it’s] constantly having people come up to you and say, ‘I support your company, because your company hates the gays,'” Aguiniga, 18, wrote in an email. “It really takes a toll on me.”

Looking through all of this, it’s become clear — we’ve had many missed opportunities with the Chik-Fil-A saga. At every turn, we could have found a way to cut to the real issues and made some genuine headway. Alas, we became more divided and more polarized than ever.

All over a chicken sandwich.

I’m not going to pick on the church folk too much. But then, I do have to say that the mad dash to buy chicken sandwiches because of the company’s stand on same-sex marriage, or because you think they “hate gays” or because you were told it’s about “free speech,” well, I do have to ask a simple question: Do you feel better now?

It’s a sad commentary on American culture that so many people will rush to buy deep fried chicken sandwiches to show everyone how much you dislike gays. It’s sadder still to do so because you want to stand for “free speech.” After all, it’s pretty silly. You see, Dan Cathy’s free speech was never in question. In fact, it’s his free speech that kind of started this whole mess.

And He can still say whatever, whenever, to whomever he wishes. He won’t be thrown in jail, and he won’t be prohibited from opening new restaurants in Boston or Chicago — despite what those blowhard mayors say.

In the end, it’s all about actions. The actions of countless people that bought all of those chicken sandwiches spoke loud and clear: We care more about eating chicken than we do about building relationships with LGBT people.

I’m not so naive to believe that we should all just get along, but what would have happened if we had real leadership in the Christian community that recognized the fact that there are some genuine concerns about using a brand of religiosity to coerce government to follow a certain religious creed — a government that was designed to be bereft of religious creed from the start.

Now, let me talk to the gay and pro-gay crowd.

We have missed more opportunities with the Chik-Fil-A protests than I think any of us would like to admit. In our rush to protest the “bigot chicken,” we made ourselves look like bigots. 

Here’s a taste of reality. Right wing bigots like Bryan Fischer and Matt Barber are orgasmic over the fact that we couldn’t get our act together. And we couldn’t get our act together because we let the other side distort our message.

Let’s be honest here. What was the crime of all of those people who swamped their local Chik-Fil-A store? What was it that was so bad that we had to get all worked up? They bought chicken sandwiches.

That’s it.

Yes, many of them did so because they are opposed to same-sex marriage. Yes, there were plenty who chowed down on their waffle fries because they hate gays. But seriously, we’ve got so many other corporations that support us. Why should we get so worked up over one that doesn’t?

They don’t support marriage equality. They donate to a hate group. They donate to a group that tries to “fix gays.” I know these  issues are important. They ARE important. But my dear gay friends and straight allies, we have done a horrible, piss-poor job of getting those points across.

What we DID do — and all too well — was to plaster “tastes like hate” on building walls, harass and bully Chik-Fil-A employees and management, and made complete asses out of ourselves.

What’s worse — and what has completely backfired — is the fact that we have helped to create an even more polarizing environment than we started with. We’ve screamed, shouted, and gotten angry (and I know full well that some of you are getting pissed with me at this very moment).

All of this… over a chicken sandwich.

We are divided. Polarized. Torn apart. And if we continue down this road, there will be no equality — and no unity. There will only be more shredded families, bitter wounds, and ultimately, a nation that’s just as divided as it was in 1860.

Sadly, such division isn’t over deep-seated institutions where human beings were bought and sold. The split didn’t focus on an entire economic system that was central to life in the south.

Nor is this modern polarization over a separate-but-equal society where people were required to use separate doors, restaurants, churches, or even water fountains.

Today’s divided state is over religious doctrines. Ideas. And something that is even more visceral than skin color: Sex. Or perceived sex.

We are so obsessed with the kind of sex someone else has… or think they have that we’ll do anything we can to demonize those who might engage in that form of sex. Or, we’re obsessed with breaking away from religious traditions so that we can flip a bird into the face of a system that we’ve rejected.

This division isn’t over race or slavery. This time, it’s a division of religion. Of ideas. As a country, we’ve become entirely too fat, too lazy, and too obsessed with the personal lives of our neighbors — that all we care about is screwing them over and keeping them from enjoying their basic human rights.

Or, we’re so bitter, so wounded, and so disgusted with a society that cares more about what we do with our penis or vagina than they do about caring for those in need — that we’ll shun everything we hate, and hurl obscenities at our oppressors. The bullied become the bullies. The victims become the abusers.

Hate begets hate. Fear begets fear. Bigotry begets bigotry.

It’s a cycle of self destruction — on both sides. And we must break that cycle.

We — ALL of us — have to find a way to look past our differences and value justice, fairness, and equality — for everyone.

Dr. King’s dream was that people would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I believe that we should continue that today — not to judge people by their religion, their sexual orientation, or their politics, but by the content of their character.

Unfortunately, what we saw this past week — was a display of very poor character — on all sides.

Maybe we all just need to grow up, and stop chickening out when we’re given an opportunity to act like adults and discuss the hard topics, rather than looking for a way to stick it to the other guy. Let’s stop shouting and start talking. Not at each other, but to each other.

In short, how can we be expected to be judged by the content of our character, when we  have all — on both sides — shown so little of it?