Despite Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy's refusal to reconsider his religious-based opposition to marriage equality, there's at least one franchise of his fast-food chain that's committed to supporting LGBT patrons.
The Chick-fil-A franchise on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood hosted a daylong fundraiser Saturday, donating 20 percent of the day's proceeds to LGBT student group Campus Pride, reports Frontiers L.A. news editor Karen Ocamb.
The Hollywood store's owner, Jeremiah Cillpam, reached out to Campus Pride's executive director, Shane Windmeyer, seeking ways to build bridges and trust between LGBT people and Cillpam's franchise. Last year the Hollywood store served as a sponsor for the pro-LGBT faith-based film festival Level Ground, notes Obamb. Hollywood Chick-fil-A manager Josiah Brown confirmed to Ocamb that his store employs LGBT workers and that there have been "no problems" with those employees.
The Saturday event was scheduled to coincide with Chick-fil-A's Spirit Night and benefit a monthlong campaign by Campus Pride that seeks to raise funds for a $10,000 matching grant from an anonymous donor. From 5 to 9 p.m., Campus Pride and the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation hosted tables with pamphlets and antibullying resources directly outside the Hollywood location.
Windmeyer told Ocamb that Saturday's event was the first in which Campus Pride had worked directly with Chick-fil-A, though Windmeyer stressed that his organization "has not received any money from Chick-fil-A." It's currently unclear how much money the event raised, but it seems Windmeyer had larger goals on his mind.
"Campus Pride works with all allies," Windmeyer told Frontiers' Ocamb. "The Hollywood Chick-fil-A store came to us and wanted to do something positive that supports anti-bullying. We partnered with Stand Up Foundation, which is one of our ongoing partners. So this is a good thing. We have to move forward as a community and we have to be willing to do the work that’s necessary and sometimes that work means trying something that maybe not everyone sees as popular. But at the end of the day, this is what winning hearts and minds are all about."
It's an interesting statement from Windmeyer, whose organization once led the charge to boycott Chick-fil-A after Cathy's 2012 comments opposing same-sex marriage and, more important, the revelation that the company had donated millions to certified antigay hate groups, including the Family Research Council. Despite assurances from Cathy and other executives that the company's charitable arm, the Winshape Foundation, ended its support for radical antigay groups, the foundation does still support religious-based organizations that could discriminate based on sexual orientation.
As Ocamb reports, however, last year Windmeyer held a series of meetings with Cathy and built an unlikely friendship, where neither man entirely changed his position, but each "expanded his world without abandoning it."
"Dan and I, in our personal relationship — we stand firm and strong on issues such as antibullying, on issues such as homelessness," Windmeyer told Ocamb last weekend. "And so why not focus on these common ground issues? … Sometimes not everyone takes the same path or journey to create change. I totally respect those who disagree with me — but that doesn’t mean we all have to march in the same line on every issue."
The 26-year-old Rhode Island native spoke apprehensively, but at length, about his sexuality in a new YouTube clip posted on Nov. 20. The singer says he was inspired by fellow country musician Ty Herndon, who came out as gay in interviews with People magazine and Entertainment Tonight the very same day, in his decision to come out.
Discussing his struggles to be taken seriously as an adult country performer by record labels, he says, "It's pretty silly to know that I'm ashamed of doing this knowing that because I'm in an genre and industry that is ashamed of me for being me."
Gilman, who says he's been with a partner for about five months, went on to note, "I want to say that all of the country artists that literally I grew up with -- Keith Urban, Vince Gill, Lee Ann Rimes and all of these wonderful friends of mine have been nothing but supportive. Not that they knew but they've just been such wonderful people."
Before offering fans a sneak peek at a forthcoming music video, he adds, "I've been an advocate for so many things in my life that I thought, why not now be an advocate for me and for the cause that I believe in with my whole heart?"
Not long ago, pasta-maker Barilla was just one more major company that had run afoul of the gay rights movement, a distinction it earned last year when its chairman said he would never feature a same-sex couple in an ad. If gays didn’t like it, he added, they could eat something else.
But in a sign of how toxic it has become for a company to be viewed as unfriendly toward gays, Barilla has made a dramatic turnaround in the space of one year, expanding health benefits for transgender workers and their families, contributing money to gay rights causes, and featuring a lesbian couple on a promotional Web site.
Barilla has journeyed from gay rights pariah to poster child — on Wednesday it received a perfect score from a prominent gay rights group that rates companies on their gay-friendliness. It is an about-face that highlights how companies, which typically shy away from controversy, are increasingly being forced to take sides in the cultural battle over gay rights and same-sex marriage — and how decisively pro-gay forces have gained the upper hand.
Other household-name brands have also found themselves in hot water over actions that were perceived to be anti-gay. Target, for example, strived to make amends after coming under fire in 2010 for political contributions that supported a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate who opposed same-sex marriage. Chick-fil-A stopped giving to certain organizations in 2012 after earning the ire of gay rights groups that accused the fast-food chain of supporting anti-gay causes.
Both companies were subject to boycotts, though there has been a counter effort by socially conservative groups to support and embrace Chick-fil-A.
The peril for companies is not short-term profits, because boycotts rarely affect revenue directly, said Mary-Hunter McDonnell, a professor of strategy at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “Really, boycotts are about threatening a company’s public image and reputation,” she said, and a tarnished brand can ultimately hurt the bottom line.
In the past, companies had to be careful not to offend groups that opposed homosexuality, said Bob Witeck, a corporate crisis consultant who specializes in gay issues. Two decades ago, Witeck helped American Airlines weather criticism over its decision to market to gays. His advice at the time was for the company to explain to the opposition that this was simply a good business decision.
But more recently, opinions have shifted dramatically to the point that it is a positive for some companies to be viewed as supportive of gay rights, particularly among young customers, who might view incidents such as the one articulated a year ago by Barilla as “stupid and backwards,” he said.
Starbucks, Nike and Microsoft, for instance, endorsed legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state in 2012.
In the case of Barilla — a 130-year-old company based in Parma, Italy, that is the world’s largest pasta manufacturer — the blowback was fierce in September 2013 when Guido Barilla told an Italian radio host, “I would never do [a commercial] with a homosexual couple, not for lack of respect, but because we don’t agree with them,” according to reports. “Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role.”
He continued: “If [gays] don’t like it, they can go eat another brand.”
The remarks grabbed headlines around the world and prompted boycotts in the United States, where the firm has 30 percent of the pasta market with $430 million in sales in 2013, and elsewhere. Harvard University dumped Barilla from its cafeterias, gay rights groups promoted names of other brands of pasta, and Barilla’s competitors seized on the opportunity to present themselves as more forward-thinking, with Bertolli Germany posting a comment on its Facebook page promoting “pasta and love for all!”
Guido Barilla issued multiple video apologies in the wake of the scandal. Barilla Group did not make Guido Barilla available for an interview, but in a statement, he apologized again, adding: “I am proud to say that, as a result of these discussions, we have all learned a great deal about the true definition and meaning of family, and over the past year we have worked hard to reflect that throughout our organization.”
Some of the gay advocates who have worked with Guido Barilla since his comments believe his contrition is sincere. “He was horrified at the consequences and his personal beliefs,” said David Mixner, a veteran gay rights activist and author who served as a consultant for Barilla.
He called the recent diversity initiative “the most all-encompassing effort to bounce back from an unfortunate misstatement that I’ve ever been part of.”
Seth Adam, a spokesman for GLAAD, a gay advocacy group that has also met with Barilla, said it is important to acknowledge someone when they have undergone an “evolution” in support of gay rights.
“I’m not giving anyone license to say things that are discriminatory,” he said. “However, I do think it’s okay to learn, and I think we’ve seen that in elected officials to everyday families.”
The company’s 100 rating in the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index, which is based on internal company policies as well as corporate citizenship, is remarkable, said Deena Fidas, director of the workplace program for the Human Rights Campaign. Last year, Barilla did not even ask to be rated. Of the 781 companies that volunteered to be rated this year, fewer than half got a perfect score.
“It is very unusual for a business to take on the full spectrum of CEI criteria in one year,” she said. “Some people may certainly speculate about the motivations here, but at the end of the day it’s irrefutable that at Barilla, you have LGBT-inclusive policies and practices . . . that were not there a year ago.”
Talita Erickson, chief diversity officer for Barilla, said that the company has demonstrated its sincerity with its actions. It has expanded its health benefits to include transgender-related care. It has instituted a thorough diversity training that all 8,000 of its workers will eventually undergo. It has broadened its anti-discrimination policy to cover gay and transgender people.
The company also has donated money to the Tyler Clementi Foundation, an anti-bullying organization founded by the parents of a gay Rutgers University student who committed suicide, and featured a lesbian couple on a Web site devoted to urging families to eat more meals together.
But will same-sex couples be turning up in any television commercials? Not immediately, said Erickson, who explained that the company did not want to be “reactionary” in light of the criticism.
“My understanding is we’re absolutely open to having the LGBT community represented in our ads in the future,” she said. “It’s going to happen gradually.”
Leslie Feinberg, who identified as an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist, died on November 15. She succumbed to complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica, after decades of illness.
She died at home in Syracuse, NY, with her partner and spouse of 22 years, Minnie Bruce Pratt, at her side. Her last words were: “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”
Feinberg was the first theorist to advance a Marxist concept of “transgender liberation,” and her work impacted popular culture, academic research, and political organizing.
Her historical and theoretical writing has been widely anthologized and taught in the U.S. and international academic circles. Her impact on mass culture was primarily through her 1993 first novel, Stone Butch Blues, widely considered in and outside the U.S. as a groundbreaking work about the complexities of gender. Sold by the hundreds of thousands of copies and also passed from hand-to-hand inside prisons, the novel has been translated into Chinese, Dutch, German, Italian, Slovenian, Turkish, and Hebrew (with her earnings from that edition going to ASWAT Palestinian Gay Women).
In a statement at the end of her life, she said she had “never been in search of a common umbrella identity, or even an umbrella term, that brings together people of oppressed sexes, gender expressions, and sexualities” and added that she believed in the right of self-determination of oppressed individuals, communities, groups, and nations.
She preferred to use the pronouns she/zie and her/hir for herself, but also said: “I care which pronoun is used, but people have been disrespectful to me with the wrong pronoun and respectful with the right one. It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect.”
Feinberg was born September 1, 1949, in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Buffalo, NY, in a working-class Jewish family. At age 14, she began supporting herself by working in the display sign shop of a local department store, and eventually stopped going to her high school classes, though officially she received her diploma. It was during this time that she entered the social life of the Buffalo gay bars. She moved out of a biological family hostile to her sexuality and gender expression, and to the end of her life carried legal documents that made clear they were not her family.
Discrimination against her as a transgender person made it impossible for her to get steady work. She earned her living for most of her life through a series of low-wage temp jobs, including working in a PVC pipe factory and a book bindery, cleaning out ship cargo holds and washing dishes, serving as an ASL interpreter, and doing medical data inputting.
Seattle singer-songwriter, poet and spoken word artist Mary Lambert is best known as the female voice singing the chorus on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's gay rights anthem "Same Love." In fact, the first time she came to Toronto on tour with Macklemore, she wasn’t even allowed inside the MuchMusic building with the rapper. Now it's her turn doing interviews in support of her recently released debut full-length album "Heart On My Sleeve."
Between "Same Love" becoming an unexpected mega-hit and recording "Heart On My Sleeve," Lambert released two solo EPs ("Letters Don't Talk" and "Welcome to the Age of My Body"), a book of poetry ("500 Tips For Fat Girls"), and got signed to Capitol, which has helped propel her into settings normally unlikely for a politically-charged, openly gay performer.
Her intensely personal lyrics tackle body image issues, sexual abuse, depression, and her struggles reconciling her sexuality with her Christianity. Despite the heavy themes, in person Lambert is warm, bubbly, and extremely friendly. Similarly, her intimate piano pop confessionals also feel more uplifting than the subject matter might suggest.
Lambert is certainly aware of the struggles she faces moving beyond being "that girl from the Macklemore song," but also acutely aware of the big bump in profile the hit has given her career, not to mention the larger platform for issues that are close to her heart.
Was "Same Love" your first time working within a rap context?
I was really active in the spoken word community, and in Seattle the music community in general is really communal. Spoken word and rap are closely related, so Macklemore and I knew each other through Hollis Wong-Wear, who sings on "White Walls" with him. She and I did poetry together, which was the common thread.
At the time I was writing a lot of songs about being gay and being Christian, and she suggested me to him for the song. Honestly, I think I was the last resort: they tried a lot of other people before me. She called me and told me I had two hours to write a song, and I was like "got it, done."
Did you get the sense they were looking for someone that could sing from more of a first person perspective on this issues?
I think so. I think they really recognized their privilege, and that they were coming from a white, heterosexual, male perspective talking about gay rights. I think they wanted someone that was in the community, which felt like a perfect entrance for me, given that I represent both: I still consider myself a Christian, and I've been straddling both worlds for my whole life.
There have been some queer musicians who've commented that it felt like Macklemore was trying to speak for the gay community as a straight guy. Does those complaints overlook your contribution?
When that first started coming out I had a moment where I felt, like, "Wait guys, what about me? I'm here too, waving in the background!" But I do recognize where that criticism comes from, and I think it's always important to critique any form of pop culture, and especially one talking about a marginalized segment of society.
However, I also believe in the power of intention, and I believe that the intention of the song was good. I don't believe that Ben or Ryan spent any time trying to appropriate someone else’s culture on this song, and I think they came from a point that was very thoughtful.
They very carefully worded their point of view as allies, and gave me the opportunity to speak from my point of view. They credited me on the song and brought me to all the award shows, and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that song.
Whether or not it came from a straight white dude doesn’t matter: the fact is that this song exists and this song has changed a lot of people’s lives.
I feel like in metropolitan areas we get a bit spoiled in terms of what the norm is. We don’t think about what it means to someone in Iowa, or some remote place in Canada. What it's like for someone else who's coming out and doesn't have the luxury of holding hands with their partner and not being persecuted for it.
It’s easy for us to say in big cities that we’re over it and it’s easy to be critical. I think the little victories are really important, and this was a victory for sure.
In your own work, are you trying to speak more to those marginalized people who don’t have the resources that a city like Toronto or Seattle provide?
I think there’s a way to get them both. I do go into specifics with my writing, but it’s nice to say universal truths in each story of the songs. There’s a way to reach people on a superhuman level.
Universal truths aside, is it still fair to say that your songs are mostly first-person based?
Absolutely. I have a really hard time writing outside of my own person. It’s actually something I’d like to work on: writing from someone else’s point of view. I feel like as a writer it’s important to know your own experience and write from your own experience. You’re constantly seeing something in the world and relating it to yourself.
Yeah, in that I don’t conceptually think of a song before I write it. I just sit at a piano, and whatever needs to come out comes out. In that way, songwriting feels more divine to me. This might sound clichéd, but I really do feel like a vessel, in that there’s something that needs to be communicated from God, and I know how to relate it to myself, and hopefully connect to humanity with it.
When I’m writing poetry, it’s a much more calculated thing, and I’m thinking very thoughtfully about language. Which isn’t to say that I don’t think the same way with music - which goes through its own editing process - but with poetry there’s definitely an intention before I start writing. It’s a difference in intention.
Do you get the sense that a lot of the crowds coming to your shows are there mostly for the Macklemore connection?
When I’m headlining, people know my work and are familiar with it. But when I’m opening for other acts, there are lots of people who only know me from "Same Love." It’s an awesome opportunity for me, because I can play "She Keeps Me Warm" and people recognize the chorus, but then here’s also a poem about body image that's really important to me, and then here's my new single that’s about unapologetically being who you are. I think it's an awesome bridge to that.
Do you think there are aspects of your own music that surprise people who only know you through that song?
Yeah, I think it's a lot more intense than they expect. There have been multiple times that I've cried on stage. I think it's really important to have that human connection with people and to be vulnerable. It’s important to cry, and I think that crying is really healthy.
The two EPs were mostly written five years ago when I was going through a really dark time and trying to figure my life out, as well as processing a lot of grief. But over the last two years I’ve had so much joy: I met the woman of my dreams, I'm on this amazing tour, I get to do exactly what I love and get paid for it. It would be silly to not share that joy, too.
People are always confused when they meet me because I’m a really positive person.
A large study of gay brothers adds to evidence that genes influence men's chances of being homosexual, but the results aren't strong enough to prove it.
Some scientists believe several genes might affect sexual orientation. Researchers who led the new study of nearly 800 gay brothers say their results bolster previous evidence pointing to genes on the X chromosome.
They also found evidence of influence from a gene or genes on a different chromosome. But the study doesn't identify which of hundreds of genes located in either place might be involved.
Smaller studies seeking genetic links to homosexuality have had mixed results.
The new evidence "is not proof but it's a pretty good indication" that genes on the two chromosomes have some influence over sexual orientation, said Dr. Alan Sanders, the lead author. He studies behavioral genetics at NorthShore University HealthSystem Research Institute in Evanston, Illinois.
Experts not involved in the study were more skeptical.
Neil Risch, a genetics expert at the University of California, San Francisco, said the data are statistically too weak to demonstrate any genetic link. Risch was involved in a smaller study that found no link between male homosexuality and chromosome X.
Dr. Robert Green, a medical geneticist at Harvard Medical School, called the new study "intriguing but not in any way conclusive."
The work was published Monday by the journal Psychological Medicine. The National Institutes of Health paid for the research.
The researchers say they found potential links to male homosexuality in a portion of chromosome X and on chromosome 8, based on an analysis of genetic material in blood or saliva samples from participants.
The study authors note that animal research suggests a gene located in one region of chromosome X may contribute to some sexual behavior; it's one of the same regions cited in the new study.
Specific causes of homosexuality are unknown. Some scientists think social, cultural, family and biological factors are involved, while some religious groups consider it an immoral choice.
Study participant Dr. Chad Zawitz, a Chicago physician, called the research "a giant step forward" toward answering scientific questions about homosexuality and helping reduce the stigma gays often face.
Being gay "is sort of like having certain eye color or skin color — it's just who you are," Zawitz said. "Most heterosexuals I know didn't choose to be heterosexual. It's puzzling to me why people don't understand."
Sanders' research: www.gaybros.com