Editor's Note: Steve McDonagh owns and operates Hearty Restaurant and The Hearty Boys Caterers with his partner, Dan Smith. In addition to winning the first season of Food Network's hit series "Food Network Star," Smith and McDonagh live in Chicago with their son, Nate.
I am not a Dan Cathy basher. I respect Chick-fil-A's Chief Operating Officer for taking an honest stand and putting his business in the line of fire by clarifying the company’s stance on gay marriage.
It takes guts to be responsible for your words. It takes a person of conviction who is willing to bear the repercussions from those who dislike what he has to say. And in a political climate where our politicians are afraid to say anything off-prompter, lest it be twisted and dissected for hidden meaning, the responsible are difficult to find.
I’ve been vocal about my political and social convictions for years. My guess is that Cathy would be surprised at how much he and I have in common.
Like Cathy, we are a family-run business. We cherish the remembered moments of covering our son in a fresh tablecloth when meetings and naptime collided, know the exhaustion of late night pillow talk being business-related, and the pride we felt when Nate first said he wants to someday run the business (be warned, he wants to make it a combo Chinese takeout and veterinary clinic).
Like Cathy, we use the power of our brand to back up our beliefs - and this is where the tricky part of responsibility starts. Unlike the nameless Internet ninjas, what we say not only reflects on us as individuals but onto our businesses. And by “business,” I don't mean just our bottom line but the people who work for us and those that do business with us. How does what Steve McDonagh says reflect on someone who holds a position in The Hearty Boys? How does what Dan Cathy says make his gay and lesbian employees feel? Or gay and lesbian franchise owners? Or gay and lesbian stockholders?
Like Cathy, “we want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families." But when Dan Cathy says “strengthen families,” he’s excluding my family: Dan, Steve and Nate. He means except Abby, Julie and Carly, or Brad, John, Max and Jack-Jack. We obviously don’t fall under the “families” heading and we must be marginalized.
So, when Mike Huckabee called for August 1 to be Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, we decided to make August 1 Chick-fil-Gay Appreciation Day at Hearty Restaurant in Chicago. When a guest purchases a fried chicken sandwich with pickles on a toasted buttered bun, the proceeds will go directly to Equality Illinois to help families that some feel don’t deserve strengthening.
And here the similarities completely end. Unlike Cathy, I have no interest in alienating my client base or offending my guests. I run on a business plan of inclusion. A Chick-fil-A statement stressed that the chain is inclusive as well. Its more than 1,600 stores are committed to treating gay and lesbian employees and guests with the same “honor, dignity and respect” that they give everyone else, but my community knows better. There’s no honor, dignity and respect in thanking a client for a purchase and using LGBT dollars to fund programs aimed at destroying our families.
Finally, we stand on different sides of history. Sadly, Dan Cathy is on the wrong side. Cathy can refer to us a “prideful and arrogant,” but I think those words are well-suited to those who sit in judgment and speak for their version of God. Sixty years of civil rights history teach us that basic human rights will always win out. You can’t stop equal rights anymore than you can take back that seat on the bus. This is our new reality. You can’t stop progress, as the man says.
The tide has changed, and the escalating shouts we hear are the cries of the self-righteous who never imagined they’d be the ones fighting the current.
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