50 Years of Queer Anger: Brunei, Chick-fil-A and queer boycotting

Pallas Gutierrez, Assistant Opinion Editor

This is the eighth column in “50 Years of Queer Anger,” a series examining LGBTQ+ issues in the United States since 1969.

Since Brunei implemented new laws making homosexuality punishable with death by stoning April 3, a campaign to boycott nine hotels owned by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has gone viral. Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Billie Jean King and Elton John have shared an image calling on their followers to join the boycott, and the Twitter accounts for all but one of the hotels (The Hotel Eden in Rome, Italy) have disappeared.

In 2017, Chick-fil-A gave $1.8 million to three groups that have discriminated against queer people: The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Paul Anderson Youth Home and the Salvation Army. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes spreads anti-LGBTQ messages to college athletes and bars their employees from “homosexual acts.” Paul Anderson Youth Home is a home for “troubled youth,” and teaches boys that homosexuality and same-sex marriage are wrong. The Salvation Army has repeatedly opposed legal protections for queer Americans and has a history of turning away trans people, although their website now reflects a national nondiscrimination policy. Over the past few years, people have boycotted Chick-fil-A, and the chain has been banned from two American international airports.

This news has made me consider my position on boycotts and queer protesting. In 2012, the Advocate published an article in which multiple statements were made and actions were planned against Chick-fil-A’s queerphobic policies. Seven years later, the country is again reckoning with the same issue. Does this mean boycotting is pointless?

No is the short answer. Boycotting shows companies what consumers value. However, they should not be the only action taken against companies with harmful policies. In the 1980s, the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) became well-known for their die-ins, when hundreds of people would lie down in front of pharmaceutical centers and FDA buildings to demand better treatment for people living with AIDS. These protests were effective in forcing the government to enact change.

Stonewall and the AIDS crisis show how more confrontational protests can create positive change for the queer community, but I understand why community leaders might be hesitant about the optics of aggressive queer protests. Boycotts like the ones against Chick-fil-A and hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei can be effective if they reach a large enough audience, but do not necessarily have the same immediacy as protests like ACT UP’s die-ins.

The one thing that is clear is how important it is to take a stand. Make your voice heard: whether you never eat Chick-fil-A again, write to your representatives about policy issues or participate in a walkout.

A. Pallas Gutierrez is a Communication freshman. They can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern