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Op-Ed: Chicken Flap and the Real Issue of Equality for All

Op-Ed: Chicken Flap and the Real Issue of Equality for All

Charlene Strong is the co-editor of The Seattle Lesbian, where this piece was originally posted.

Can we please stop making the right of equality on par with the tastiness of a crispy chicken sandwich?? The media’s focus on the CEO of a chicken fast food restaurant speaking against same-sex marriage is the product of a grand corporate PR campaign. The company has always had a conservative stance so the CEO’s comments should not be shocking. What should shock us, however, is that the election is only three months away and we are focusing on chicken and not on the real issue of equality.

The focus of those who believe in equality for all should be on the election and supporting the candidates who have stood up for fairness and what is right. The Democratic Party will include a plank backing gay marriage in its official platform at its convention. President Obama announced his support for marriage equality. And in my home state of Washington, voters are being asked to approve Referendum 74. A failure to approve this would rescind the Marriage Equality Law signed by Governor Christine Gregoire in February, which makes Washington State the 7th state to achieve marriage equality in the country. We should be focused on this, not a fast food chain.

How is this chicken flap different than any other time when those who think they know God’s wrath use their bully pulpits (or PR campaigns) to attempt to scare people into fearful supplication? The Pat Robertsons and Mike Huckabees of the world will always shout and scare because this is how they call attention to themselves. Those who believe civil rights are for all do not need to shout. We need to let our votes speak for us.

Last week I attended a women’s business function and afterward some of us stayed to talk. We discussed Referendum 74, and the idea of empathy. Consider this: hearts and minds are not going to be changed by those who have chosen to stand behind Biblical passages taken out of context and preached with baseless authority by those with little, if any, understanding of the literal message written thousands of years ago. I shared with the group that I believe these hardened hearts would change if they understood the pain I suffered the night my wife died in a tragic flood and I was denied the right to be with her in those last moments of her life. I would not wish that unbearable pain and humiliation on anyone. But I wonder if those who oppose equality would change their minds and soften their hearts if they were denied the right to be with their spouse in a crisis, or in death, as I was.

Empathy is how we will finally realize equality for all. We will not achieve equality by boycotting a chicken restaurant or trying to shout over people. We will not achieve equality by popularity. I don’t need to be liked; I have not dedicated my life to a popularity contest. I have no interest in legislating someone to like me. Empathy, however, is equal to all.

The pain of the horrific death of my wife is not far from my heart and the discrimination that followed this tragedy profoundly changed me. I have learned that my job is not to convince anyone they should like me. Or that I’m just like them. Or that I’m worthy of civil rights. My job is to be the person I am with conviction, and be proud to be a woman in a committed relationship that awaits marriage. I’m a mother who held her daughter just seconds after she came into the world and saw in her eyes a lifetime of hope. I am also a woman who has been tested, tried, and still endures to have empathy for others whether or not I agree with them. It is my hope that empathy will trump chicken, and equality will trump ignorance.

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Charlene Strong