Letter to the Editor: Why Is There No Debate On Kicking Chick-Fil-A Off Campus?

To the Senior VP and Dean of Campus Life: My name is Karen McCarthy, and I am a third-year graduate student of philosophy in the Laney Graduate School at Emory University. I have been contemplating for the past week whether or not to write this open letter in response to the ongoing controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A and Emory’s official response. I find that, ultimately, I will not feel settled until I do so.

I am, you see, one of the people who are directly harmed by the actions of Chick-fil-A and its supporters. And Emory University, unfortunately, stands now as one of those supporters. Your letter on August 1st, 2012 was intended, I believe, to assuage concerns and present a message of inclusivity and balance. I do not doubt that you, personally, and Emory University in general, condemn the hateful positions espoused by Dan Cathy or any of the number of hate groups that have been directly enabled in their goals by contributions from his company. It is unfortunate, however, that you and Emory University persist in viewing this matter as a conflict of opinion.

You state that while Emory University does not support Dan Cathy’s “public statements” it does support “freedom of expression and the open exchange of ideas.” This framing grievously misstates the actual issues at play. What concerns those of us who are opposed to the financial support that Emory gives to Chick-fil-A by enabling the franchise to remain a part of the local community is, emphatically, not Cathy’s ability to make such public statements nor his right to hold such beliefs as to the legitimacy of LGBTQ relationships. Cathy’s so-called “freedom of expression” is not the focal point of the debate. The focal point of the debate is whether or not Emory University wishes to support Cathy and Chick-fil-A in denying myself and all other members of the LGBTQ community our position as fully human.

This is not an abstract theoretical point for me. It cannot be. I cannot afford to take as anything other than a direct attack the actions of Cathy, Chick-fil-A and all of those who would contribute support and funds to a campaign to ensure that I can never be counted as a full citizen capable of availing herself of all the protections granted under the law and under the Constitution. While I am offended and deeply hurt to constantly confront the fact that there are many people in my “local and global communities” who would deny me basic civil rights, those beliefs do not harm me in the same manner that I am harmed by the direct actions and exertions of extra-democratic power that are a known causal result of those who not only believe that I am not fully human but work to ensure that my government will not recognize my humanity.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, as a woman in a lesbian relationship, I cannot see your statement with regard to my University’s position on whether or not to continue giving not just financial support but institutional support to Chick-fil-A by allowing them a home within the Emory community as genuinely seeking to promote those “members [who] work collaboratively for positive transformation in the world” nor as support for genuine “diversity of thought.”

My humanity is not an appropriate subject for debate nor diverse opinion. Nor is my love. Nor is my right to have a family.

Emory, as a private institution, does not engage in suppression of “freedom of expression” when it expels those who would cause direct and lasting harm to members of the Emory community. Rather, Emory, as a leader in an ethical world, displays those values it, and you, purport to endorse and encourage when it, and you, refuse to continue a relationship that has been shown beyond doubt to actively cause direct and lasting harm to some of the most politically vulnerable members of the Emory community.

It does not just hurt me that Emory University is permitting Dan Cathy to raise funds directly through the use of Emory’s dining funds. It harms me. It harms me as an individual. I am one of those millions of very vulnerable people that Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A and every person who gives money to that corporation wants to deny the right to have my relationship recognized as equal to a heterosexual relationship, to deny the right to be sure that I will be able to build a legally secure family with the love of my life, to deny, at every turn, the right to feel safe from physical violence based purely on the fact that it is a woman I love and not a man. It damages me, my family, each member of the LGBTQ community and anyone else who cares in the least for someone in that community.

These are only part of the harms that Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy and those that support them are choosing to encourage. Seeing the reports of the lines on Aug. 1, 2012, lines that I’m sure existed even on Emory’s campus, some using dining dollars subsidized by Emory University, not only hurt me, but it was a stark reminder of the harm to me each one of those people wished to do. It brings tears to my eyes, even now.

I hope, genuinely and sincerely, that you will never have cause to see such an outpouring of hate and malice directed against you. It not only hurts, it harms. It makes it more difficult for a genuine freedom of expression to exist, for an actual diversity to take hold. But I would like you to remember, when these so-called differences arise, that it is not a difference of opinion at stake. It is not an abstract idea, nor the musings of theory, for me.

Dan Cathy not only wishes that I will never marry my girlfriend, never feel secure in my right as a parent, nor in my job, nor in my house, nor in my physical safety; Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A, and all of those who provide support for that institution are choosing to act to make sure that I, personally, and everyone like me will never hope for better. I only wish that Emory University did not want to count itself as an institution that would willingly support such a campaign against actual members of this community.

While I do not, after this week, have the energy or emotional grace to hope that Emory University will reconsider throwing its support behind Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A, I can hope that you all spare a moment to remember that there are real individuals who are harmed, actively and at this point in history knowingly and willfully harmed, by any continued support, financial, institutional, de facto or otherwise, for those who would deny myself and people like me our humanity and our place at the political table.

Karen McCarthy is a third year graduate philosophy student. This letter was originally sent to Dr. Ajay Nair (Senior VP and Dean of Campus Life).