Would you boycott a family dinner because your grandfather holds some politically incorrect views about welfare recipients? Or, would you uninvite a neighboring family from attending a block party after learning that they attend an evangelical church that upholds a traditional definition of marriage? Most reasonable people would say “no,” adhering to the old adage that it’s rude to talk politics in polite company.
Unfortunately, this rule of etiquette that has governed civil society for ages seems to be quickly evaporating in the world of commerce, as highlighted by the now notorious case of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. This impolite seed should be quickly uprooted before it sprouts into a world where everything is politicized.
However, Eich is not the only person who has been under fire recently for controversial political views regarding LGBT rights. Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy faced similar protests after making statements opposing same-sex marriage in 2012. Even more recently, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson made controversial comments to GQ in December 2013 on gay marriage and race relations that led to the star being temporarily suspended by the show.
At first glance, such calls to boycott may seem reasonable. After all, freedom of speech and associations are hallmarks of American society. Just as Eich, Cathy, and Robertson had the right to express their opinions on gay marriage, so too do LGBT individuals and allies have the right to express their discontent and the right to not associate with each figure’s product in the marketplace.
After all, boycotts have a rich history of prompting social change. The boycott of Woolworth’s lunch counters in the early 1960s led to the department store desegregating its services free of government action. However, there is a major distinction between these famous examples of historical boycotts and contemporary calls to protest anti-gay views.
Whereas protestors of the past objected to discriminatory policies that private entities like Woolworths enforced, today’s protesters object to the political views held by such entities’ leadership. In fact, both Eich and Cathy have assured the public that their companies will not discriminate against gays. Yet, this assurance has fallen to empty ears because the protests are fundamentally not about policy, but about thought.
Again, a reasonable case can be made for such conscious consumption at first glance. After all, a dollar spent by an LGBT individual or ally at a company whose leadership opposes gay rights is partly a dollar spent against gay rights. Yet, this view is much too simplistic since there are many employees in any given company’s chain of leadership — not to mention the customers they feed and supply chain they purchase from.
It seems unlikely, for instance, that a vast majority of employees or even customers of Chick-Fil-A are homophobic. So, what good would come of a boycott of Chick-Fil-A, especially since the company does not engage in discriminatory practices? Conscious consumerism is nearly impossible since every organization inevitably consists of people with beliefs the consumer agrees and disagrees with.