In a shocking Huffington Post op-ed, a vocal gay-rights activist came out in support of Chick-fil-A and its president, Dan Cathy, calling the advocate for traditional families his friend.
Cathy and his fast food chicken chain felt the ire of gay activists last summer after he said, “We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit.” The seemingly innocuous statement led to boycotts, Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, and angry flamewars on the internet.
One of the loudest opponents was Campus Pride’s Shane Windmeyer, whose group protests Chick-fil-A restaurants on college campuses around the country. Windmeyer, who has been "married" to a man for 18 years, also railed against the nearly $5 million in donations Chick-fil-A has given to so-called “anti-LGBT groups” since 2003.
But in August, during the height of the controversy, Windmeyer said he received a call from Cathy and found him surprisingly respectful and courteous. The two began a friendship, getting to know each other on a personal level through phone calls, texts, and in-person meetings. On New Year’s Eve, Cathy invited Windmeyer to the Chick-fil-A Bowl game in Atlanta as his personal guest, even though the event was one Campus Pride had planned to protest.
In his column for the Huffington Post, Windmeyer said that although he and Cathy continued to see differently on the issue of same-sex "marriage," they also found commonality: “We were each entirely ourselves. We both wanted to be respected and for others to understand our views. Neither of us could—or would—change. It was not possible. We were different but in dialogue. That was progress.”
The way Windmeyer viewed the Chick-fil-A president changed as he began to get to know him beyond his policy position. He saw the regret and sadness Cathy felt for the people treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-A. He saw Cathy take an interest in his life and his family, wanting to hear more about his perspective. He said the friendship helped him gain appreciation for Cathy’s commitment to being “a follower of Christ.”
“He had to face the issue of respecting my viewpoints and life even while not being able to reconcile them with his belief system,” Windmeyer wrote. “He defined this to me as ‘the blessing of growth.’ He expanded his world without abandoning it. I did, as well.”
Windmeyer also claimed Cathy showed him the company’s 2011 IRS 990 form, which has not yet been made public, and its 2012 financials. Windmeyer said Chick-fil-A had not contributed to groups like Family Research Council, Eagle Forum, and Exodus International in the past two years.
In a press release, Chick-fil-A said it focuses its giving on youth and education, leadership and family enrichment, and serving local communities, while staying away from “political or social agendas.” Chick-fil-A did not return calls for this story.
At the end of his column, Windmeyer announced he has decided to suspend Campus Pride’s campaign against Chick-fil-A.
Many gay activists are upset with Windmeyer for reversing his position. LGBT activist Justin Adkins wrote in the Huffington Post that Windmeyer had turned his back on what Campus Pride believed in. While discussions with “people who hate us” should happen, Adkins said, “that does not mean we should stand up for them and defend their hatred.”
The story of Windmeyer's and Cathy’s friendship showed a side of the same-sex "marriage" debate often lost in sound bites, comment wars, and angry protests—the power of friendship and dialogue.
“It is not often that people with deeply held and completely opposing viewpoints actually risk sitting down and listening to one another,” Windmeyer said. “We see this failure to listen and learn in our government, in our communities and in our own families. Dan Cathy and I would, together, try to do better than each of us had experienced before.”