Chick-fil-A had been in my hometown of Milledgeville, Ga., for several years, but only as an installation on the local college campus. When the freestanding unit in the main part of town opened, it not only became THE spot to work, but a hang-out spot as well. Something about our small-town Friday nights led us to chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, and the staff was a mix of cool college kids, students from the public and private high schools, and kids I’d never seen before.
I applied in early 2000 and was hired near the end of the school year.
Almost everyone who worked at my Chick-fil-A proudly identified as Christian. There were church youth group leaders, praise band members and Christ-committed homeschoolers who wore purity rings long before the Jonas Brothers made them cool. Our boss led us in prayer before every staff meeting and company party.
Looking back on my own styling choices and staunch commitment to the gayest music I could possibly consume, I find it hard to believe that anyone of sound mind could deny that I was gay. But my experience at work wasn’t any better or worse than what went on at school each day. Folks would talk about it behind my back, but rarely said anything hateful to my face.
The greatest source of tension on the job was between me and the kitchen staff. Maybe it was because I was gay, but I think it’s more likely that I never earned their respect. I was a fly-by-night kitchen worker who fussed more than I helped. It’s not like I wanted to be friends off the clock, either.
All this talk about Chick-fil-A being anti-gay, and me being quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about being employed there, brought up a lot of things I haven’t thought about since I worked there.
Things were so much more innocent then. It’s not like my sexuality (or anyone’s for that matter) came up when we were slinging chicken over the counter. We didn’t debate the power of Jesus. Donating sandwiches to the Christian private school was never an issue. No one tried to convince me that I was going to hell unless I learned to like vaginas.
Beyond all that, I met Christians who taught me that despite our differences, however they were perceived, we could work as a team and even be friends. I even went to one of my favorite co-worker’s church performances. She was a sweet person, who may have subscribed to the “love the sinner, hate the sin,” mantra, but she never let any of that interfere with our friendship.
None of this is to say that Chick-fil-A’s corporate policies aren’t pro-Christian. The founder is Christian, their corporate purpose is to glorify God and closing on Sundays isn’t a coincidence.
But as I learned in my uniform so many years ago, pro-Christian doesn’t always mean anti-gay.
Sure, the individual operator who negotiated the sandwich donation to the Pennsylvania Family Institute exposed the politics that come along with modern Christianity, but I’m not so sure his day-to-day decisions — or the company’s corporate policies — are designed to hurt gay people.
Chick-fil-A has the right to operate under a religious corporate purpose and you have the right to boycott them if you disagree with it.
I’m torn between what some are saying is a valuable way to protest LGBT inequality and my own positive experience with the company and the Christians who ran it.
I think in the meantime, I’ll be in the drive-thru line ordering my number one combo with no pickles, add cheese and bacon.