Setting aside anger for something that I hope is a little more kind. (Or: when I break my own law)

A few days ago, I Twittered: "I can't stop laughing at the bigots who celebrated their solidarity with each other by gorging themselves on shitty fast food. Bravo, jerks."

I still think it's silly that eating at a fast food restaurant is considered political activism today, but that's not what this is about. What I said clearly struck a nerve with people who were really angry with me for saying that, so I did what my friend Tom Merrit advised me to do: remove the charged language, and see what's left behind. After a couple of days, it became clear that a number of people genuinely did not see themselves that way, and they were hurt by the language I used to describe them. I've thought about this a lot, and this is what I have to say:

It’s all too easy to forget that there’s a human being on the other end of the Internet. That human being has a name. That human being has friends and family; hopes, fears, and dreams. The person behind those words and that avatar is loved by people, and that person loves them in return.

It’s far too easy to lose our basic humanity and compassion for each other when we forget this. In my recent righteous anger, I’ve forgotten that, and though the people I’ve recently disagreed with have infuriated me, when my white hot anger fades, all that remains is sadness that we can’t speak to each other in a civil way.

So today I am setting aside my anger, and trading my recent mocking derision for something I hope is more kind.

To the people who are so angry at me: Whoever you are, whatever you believe, I hope that you’ll find someone you love and who loves you, and share a quiet, peaceful moment together. I hope you’ll appreciate the love you share, and if you’re a heterosexual couple, be very grateful that tens of thousands of people didn’t get together in the last few days to tell you that the love you feel is not just wrong, but it’s evil. It should be marginalized, and you should be a second-class citizen because of it.

If you can imagine that feeling — I mean, viscerally imagine it and think how it would make you feel — you may understand why I’ll fight with my dying breath to ensure that no two people ever have to feel that. I believe that it’s fundamentally wrong to prevent two people who love each other as much as Anne and I do the right to marry and be treated the same way in the eyes of the law and society as we are, simply because they are a same-sex couple.

Now, I’ve learned something in the last couple of days: I saw a clear statement of solidarity with a man who has spent millions of dollars supporting hate organizations that work tirelessly to restrict the rights of same-sex couples. But what I saw was viewed by a not-insignificant number of participants as a statement against censorship, an affirmative statement for the rights of an individual to express an unpopular opinion. They fully support the rights of same-sex couples to marry, but feel even more passionate about freedom of expression; they weren’t there to support this man’s goals and beliefs, they were simply there to support his right to have them.

On the one hand, I believe that requires a willingness to ignore a simple equation: You buy fast food -> fast food profits go to CEO -> CEO gives money to hate group -> hate group lobbies for laws that hurt same-sex couples. Therefore, your participation in an event organized and promoted by people who support those laws gives your support to them and the laws they hope to pass.

On the other hand, I have to believe that — even though it’s clear from interviews with many of the participants that they did view this as solidarity with the owner, and was not about the Constitution — at least some of the people who ate what I called “shitty fast food” did so because they genuinely believed they were standing up for someone’s right to express an unpopular opinion.

To those people who viewed this not as a statement of solidarity with that man’s opinion, but his right to express it – and those people alone – I apologize for labeling you as a bigot. You were shoulder to shoulder with a lot of them that day, but if you genuinely believed that you were standing up for someone’s right to express an unpopular opinion, and you weren’t there because you were supporting that same person’s efforts to deny same-sex couples the rights heterosexual couples take for granted by spending the money you gave him on that day, I sincerely apologize for putting a label on you that was hurtful. I imagine there are some same-sex couples who watched lines stretch down the block outside a chicken restaurant that day who can relate to that feeling.

For what it’s worth, I never supported mayors telling a restaurant it couldn’t open in their cities for political reasons — that’s unconstitutional, stupid, and wrong. I believe very strongly in the rights of individuals to express unpopular opinions, but I also believe even more strongly that people who love each other have the fundamental right to marry, and in this case, especially considering the millions and millions of dollars this man has spent trying to deny same-sex couples that right, I hope his unpopular opinion has negative consequences for him and his company. I hope that the incredible number of people who turned out to give him time and money will give an equal amount of time and money at a homeless shelter, or some other organization that desperately needs that time and money to help people who are suffering.

But I’ve veered slightly off track. My goal today is to clarify in more than 140 characters why I feel the way I do, and sincerely apologize to people who were certainly with a lot of bigots, but don’t believe they are bigots themselves. Words can be hurtful; ask anyone who’s been called a faggot or a dyke or worse for holding hands with the person they love.

But for now, Person Who Is Angry With Me, I’m going to step away and spend the day with my wife and our sons, and be grateful that there isn’t a very wealthy man spending the money he earns with his very profitable and popular fast food restaurant trying to make us less of a family.

148 thoughts on “Setting aside anger for something that I hope is a little more kind. (Or: when I break my own law)”

  1. Beautifully put, Mr. Wheaton. Thank you. This is one of the best expressions of understanding the people who supported the event but disagree with Cathy’s position, something I truly hadn’t considered until today. Like you, I fight to control my rage on this issue. As a bisexual man married to a wonderful woman, I find this is the one issue that truly trips my trigger, and I descend from a thoughtful professional into a spitting, raving lunatic ready to tear the other side into nice, manageable chunks.

  2. I have to say, I actually couldn’t bring myself to see any validity to the folks who claimed to be showing support for “free speech”.
    It’s not a matter of my not agreeing that everyone should be allowed to state any opinion they like without fear of legal persecution, I don’t feel like any intelligent, rational human being could argue about that. It’s his constitutional right to think and say whatever he likes.
    Thing is, the first amendment protects you from legal persecution, NOT from the sociological consequences of what you say. The people playing “I know you are but what am I” with terms like bigot, hater, etc against those who cried out against Chik-fil-A seem to forget that, much like nobody is allowed to censor someone having a horrifying opinion, neither should those who disagree be censored.
    We’re obligated to respect the rights of others to have an opinion we disagree with, we’re NOT obligated to agree with or respect the opinion itself, and are equally allowed to show our outrage over it.
    Freedom of speech is a door that swings both ways, folks.

  3. I have to agree—free speech includes the right to disagree with someone else’s free speech without being called a bigot. Treating this as a free speech issue is disingenuous at best, and blatant misdirection at worst.
    The legitimacy and logic of an argument are of course something else entirely—for what it’s worth, I heartily endorse the spirit of your original statement :)

  4. Wil, I share in your anger, and in your belief that we can be better.
    Seeing you try to be better gives me all kinds of hope that the internet need not be inherently hostile. As long as there is one person willing to pull themselves above their knee-jerk response, as long as one person is trying to forge peaceful connections with people who oppose them, it makes me believe that I can aim for the same heights. So thank you.

  5. “I hope that the incredible number of people who turned out to give him time and money will give an equal amount of time and money at a homeless shelter, or some other organization that desperately needs that time and money to help people who are suffering.”
    Don’t fret, they likely do.

  6. Shortly after hearing Mr. Huckabee’s stance on same sex marriage I announced to my family that I would never eat at Chik-Fil-A again. My nine year old daughter gave me a questioning look and asked, “Why?” I told her it was because the CEO supports denying rights to people based on his religious beliefs. “But you always say people have the right to believe in whatever they want.” This is true; I have always believed any individual has the right to follow whatever spiritual faith they wish.
    On this point I clarified, “Even though he has the right to his beliefs and the right to express those beliefs, I do not think it is right to dehumanize a group of people and use religion as an excuse. I do not feel it is right to force ones beliefs on to another. I disagree with any governmental or business decisions based on religious beliefs, and furthermore, to deny one employment based on their sexual preferences is discrimination, plain and simple.” This is a summarized version, I’m sure I went on a rant about how we have organized religion to thank for the Crusades, World War II, 9/11, the Spanish Inquisition, Salem Witch Burnings, and a number of other historical massacres in the name of someone’s God.
    “Why don’t they just close his store?” she asks.
    “As much as that might advance the progress of equal rights, we live in a country where he has the right to express his thoughts and opinions. We live in a country where he can believe in whichever of the thousands of interpretations there are for the Bible. Most importantly we live in a country where we have the right not to ever patronize a business that financially supports hate mongers.”
    I’m not sure how much of what I said sunk into her still young and naive mind, but all I can do is continue to try my best at raising an open minded and compassionate person.
    On a totally unrelated subject. During the Olympics opening ceremony, near the end when the Olympic flag was carried out by people who have dedicated their lives to the advancement of human rights and equality (some of whom I’m sure won the Nobel Prize for their work) the commercial break right afterwards had a Chik-fil-a ad. NBC Fail.

  7. You’re awesome, Wil, but you were right the first time. They are bigots. The free speech thing is a smokescreen. They are fully aware that they’re bigots and they’re proud of it. Bigotry seems to confer a twisted kind of social status among teabaggers. They’re far more offended at being called jerks.

  8. Mr. Wheaton, thank you for your apology. I was not one of the ones who went to CFA that day but I do stand with Mr. Cathey’s right to free speech. I will eat at CFA, but then I eat shitty fast food from other shitty fast food places. Places whose values I do not share, whose values are clearly known. I firmly believe in free speech and the free expression of ideas and belief’s. I will probably not take a picture of me eating at CFA because, well, I don’t do that as a general rule for any other company. But specifically I will not show pictures of their food for a while if at all because I do not want to hurt anyone. But I will be eating there.
    I consider myself a slightly off-kilter conservative woman. This off-kilter conservative did take a picture of herself standing in front of JC Penney and wrote, “Guess where I’m shopping? And NO I am not going to tell anyone to fire anyone else.” I buy Revlon, I shop at Target. I do not call for boycott’s. I use AT&T, and have loans through a company that openly supports same-sex and life-partnerships through insurance and benefits.
    I’m not angry at the same sex couples who chose to do a kiss-in or whatever they called it. It is their right, as long as they aren’t making out and don’t need to get a hotel room. Opinion’s are like assholes, everyone has one and many of them stink.
    So again, thank you for your apology. And thank you for the reminder that on the other side of this fabulous thing called the Internet are people who truly care, aren’t always wise, but are always humans in need of genuine care.
    Ciao.

  9. I definitely agree with your statement regarding the rights of same sex couples. Couldn’t agree more really. Some people are way too sensitive about this and it gets into a bit of a “thou doth protest too much” situation.
    But you did get one thing wrong….Chick-Fil-A is definitely not shitty fast food. that stuff is delicious. Pressure-fried chicken? Yes please!
    Not going back until they stop donating money to hate groups, but damn I love that chicken.

  10. Personally I don’t think that them supporting his free speech is seen as such from the CEO’s standpoint; instead he only sees people spending money that he can then use to propagate his bile. Therefore those people are supporting his bigotry whether they want to or not.

  11. It’s very easy to be forgiving to bigots when you’re not the one being hated. People who ate there in solidarity of anything are bigots. They entire “eat in” exists because some people hate homosexuals. Confusing “freedome of speech” with “freedom of social consequences” does no one any favors but the bigots.

  12. Yes, as a teacher of high school philosophy, I think that we have taken the idea of “free speech” to places it was never meant to go. One of the hardest things to teach my students is that “That’s my opinion, so it’s not wrong”… is not a valid argument for anything. We have to stop hiding behind the cloak of “free speech” and start better open discussions about contentious issues so that we can arrive at well-reasoned, well-considered attempts at solution.

  13. To be honest, this is unsurprising. ChikFilA has been closed on Sundays since they first opened and done things like overtly christian books in kids’ meals, due to the fundamentalist stances of its founder. Cathy is a private citizen, owns a private company, and has long had these views. It’s like the whole world just got a news flash about this, but it has been there the whole time. I was not surprised, nor incensed by this. It was an expected turn of events, using a political hot potato to drive business during an election year.
    I was only surprised that people flocked to support what was said for ‘first amendment rights’. If someone was there for the rights Mr. Cathy has to say whatever he wants (regardless of how some of the public feels about it), they should have carried a sign that said;
    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” attributed to Voltaire.

  14. I haven’t eaten in a Chik-Fil-A in over three years. Not because I don’t like their food but because I don’t like their business decisions.
    If a person donates money to causes that I don’t agree with, that’s their free speech right. If a business donates money to causes I don’t believe in, that is not a free speech right. That is a bad business decision.
    I don’t support places with bad food, bad service or bad business plans.

  15. 1) This isn’t about free speech. The COO is allowed to espouse any opinion he likes (even if I think it’s moronic). If this were just about free speech, I would have been in line with everyone else.
    2) This isn’t even about him donating money to anti-gay causes. As wrong-headed and hateful as I think that is, these are legal charities and he has every right to donate his money.
    3) The fact that he earns his money from my eating at his restaurant still wouldn’t be enough for me to alter my behavior. It would be impossible to meaningfully interact in any sort of economy if everyone you bought stuff from had to have your exact same views (in this case, in terms of what charities they donate their money to).
    4) The real problem is that Chik-Fil-A is donating COMPANY profits to these anti-gay causes. Where’s the business justification in that?! This is why I can no longer eat there. I don’t want to directly contribute to a company that is funneling part of the profits to what I consider to be a hateful cause. (To be fair, I don’t think companies should be donating to any non-business related political causes.)
    5) Finally, it really isn’t ‘shitty fast food’. It’s quite good and the staff are all really, really friendly. It sucks that my personal protest (as small as it is) might be affecting these individuals. But until Chik-Fil-A stops donating to these hateful groups, I won’t be giving them any of my money. If they stop (even if they still publicly espouse anti-gay opinions), I’ll eat there again.

  16. My problem with this tweet was not its subject, but its tone. You didn’t simply express an opinion. You didn’t simply disagree with those showing support for Chik-fil-a. You sneered at them.
    Trolling on the internet has very little to do with whether or not you are right. It has to do with whether or not you are picking a fight, particularly with ad hominem attacks. And make no mistake, “Bravo, jerks” is classic, grade-A trolling.
    I happen to agree with you. I happen to strongly support same-sex marriage. I happen to be extremely disappointed that “Christian” is now equated with “bigot”. But, I also happen to believe that you were in the wrong here. You were insulting. You were demonizing. You were dismissive.
    In short, Mr. Wheaton, you were a dick.

  17. I really wish that more people thought the same way as you Wil. You are an amazing person, and I think everyone you know and all the people you stand up for are very lucky. Thanks for continuing to not be a dick. You inspire me to be a better person! As a young person (I’m getting off your lawn, don’t worry!!) it is hard to find role models, but you are one of mine!

  18. Fantastically written as always. Thank you for standing up for minority rights in such a public way- hopefully this has changed the way at least one person views gay marriage.

  19. And all people who do not vote for Obama are racists, right? Please! I give to a Catholic-based charity because they help in Haiti. That is my intent; however, the Catholic Church is against LGBT. Does that make me a bigot? Like I told Wil, I guess that free speech is only for, and supported only by, liberals. I’ll tell you what, make a list of corporations and groups that you think suppresses and is against your causes. I’ll make sure that I don’t interact with them, because, you know, we’re all here to support your opinion. Oh, and I like the generalization that you’ve stated. Real classy!

  20. Like I’ve asked before: where were the LGBT protesters at when the modern incarnation of Chcik-fila-A was founded in 1967? Or where were they in 1970, 1980, 1990, last month, etc. Everybody is reactionary, on both sides of the issue.

  21. 1. Why were most of them in line Wednesday? Regardless of reason, it’s because some self-serving political pundit directly or indirectly told or influenced them to do so. It is about free speech, though. I’ll give you an example. For years I had not eaten at CFA because of their stance (and because of Panera Bread and a few sushi places in the immediate area); however, I felt compelled to fork my $6.75 ONCE because of those mayors threatening to deny CFA existence in “their” cities. I don’t plan on making CFA a habit. Just that one time.
    2. Couldn’t agree with you more on this point.
    3. Ditto.
    4. COMPANY net profits are his and his family’s money since it is a privately held company.
    5. The food is good. And your patronage, or lack thereof, is your right.

  22. You’re wrong in one way. Although business is not afforded personal protection and liberties, once the overhead and taxes are taken care of the profits from a privately-held business become the personal assets of the owner. Hence, it becomes an “individual’s” money. The point is moot, however, as businesses may donate to whatever causes they deem fit (within the law). Nobody is taking companies that donate to LGBT causes to task, are they?

  23. Wil,
    Why apologize? Apologies mean nothing. The fact that you understand the consequences of what you stated is a step in the right direction. I was highly pissed off at you about your earlier remarks because they smacked of judgmental self-righteous generalized assumptions. But, ya know, I didn’t let it bother me because the world is not about me. To call people like me a bigot is a bit fictional since you don’t know me and the way I operate. I did go to CFA to support free speech because to just say I support Cathey’s freedom of speech is not enough. Words are worthless. Deeds, not words. I didn’t go to CFA that Wednesday because I do not subscribe to the herd mentality. Also, I patronize Starbuck’s (pro-LGBT) at least FIFTY TIMES more than I’d ever patronize Chick-fil-A. I go to Facebook (pro-LGBT) at least once a day. If there was an attack on a pro-LGBT company or group by a government official or officials that I learned of I would support that company or group at least once…just like CFA…..all in the name of freedom of speech.
    Wil, next time you want to go off like you did just remember that you affect not just your opponents. You affect your friends, your supporters, moderate people like me, and, yes, your opponents who just might like to do nothing but have a rational debate with you.
    Thanks for reading.

  24. That was real reactionary of me. Please disregard the second half of my reply starting with “I’ll tell you what,” The first half stands, though.
    Thanks.

  25. Oh, but it is a matter of freedom of speech when the matter entails mayors (government officials) of at least three major American cities threatening to deny Chick-fil-A operating permits in “their” cities based on their reaction to Dan Cathey’s opinion. As a high school instructor, you should very well know that the issue of freedom of speech is not person to person, group to person, or group to group, but government to person. Those mayors were threatening to use the power of government to harm the interests of Chick-fil-A based on what the COO said, thus penalizing his freedom of speech.

  26. Uh oh, it looks like Wil Wheaton’s freedom of speech is being threatened. I propose we all stand in solidarity with him by showing up at his place for lunch tomorrow.

  27. Wil,
    In case I don’t run into you at GenCon, I want to make sure I let you know how much it means to me that you support equality for us GLBT folks. Having straight allies speaking out publicly about their support for this issue is vital, and I wanted to thank you for being vocal.
    (PS, loving Table Top!)

  28. The CEO had every right to express his opinion … and his customers have every right to buy their chicken sandwiches somewhere that doesn’t support such things. Freedom of speech is not without its repercussions — you can’t say whatever you want and expect everyone to get along with you. This free speech defense malarky is a poor excuse for Chick-Fil-A. :(

  29. Hello Wil,
    I hope that you will blog about Curiosity later in the week. I love everything about it, especially the name – it fills me with hope and joy and a sense that we, as a species, can reach beyond the petty behaviour and lack of curiosity and imagination exhibited by these Chick-Fil-A patrons.
    As Oscar Wilde said, “We are all lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

  30. I love you Will Wheaton. It’s hard for me to separate the bigots from those who stood in solidarity on the principle of free-speech. What would we say if the owner of Chick-Fil-A donated money to groups who fought against blacks or women? And then, what would we say about those people who then supported Chick-Fil-A on the principle of free speech? I’m not sure that we would be qualifying our disgust. The simple fact is that the proceeds from this record setting day are going to hate groups so each and every person, no matter the reason they went to the restaurant, donated money to hate and discrimination–which seems counterintuitive to the principles and limits of free speech. There’s no way around that.
    I can’t thank you enough for being a champion of equal rights. I’m just not as diplomatic in my views.

  31. Wil,
    I hope you enjoyed your time away with your family. I feel that you actually did not, and still do not owe anyone an apology. Anyone who stood in those lines, declaring their fervor for “Free Speech” were simply siding passively with what that man said. It would be no different from a person standing by while Hitler espoused his hate.
    But I think a world renowned Civil Rights leader said it best: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it.” Martin Luther King Jr.

  32. But Wil, you were right.
    Defending themselves with a “free speech” excuse is either missing the point of the boycott, or just trying to split hairs because they like the product too much.
    It was never about free speech. Free speech only protects your right to SAY THINGS, it doesn’t protect you from repercussions of saying it.
    Those of us boycotting are not doing it because they SAID something we disagree with, but that they fund organizations that work tirelessly to deny rights to a part of society they consider, in their words, “Evil” and “Abborant”.
    If it were about free speech, I’d have been there eating chikn.

  33. Wil – thanks for the clarification of your tweet. I was one of those who was disappointed by what I perceived as name-calling and intolerance of others by you. I think your clarification upholds your values. However, we must always be vigilant against feelings of intolerance, since we can fall victim to these feelings, and seek to confront and overcome hate when it’s expressed by ourselves and others. A life-time of effort and daily habit, and I salute you for raising the bar for online communication!

  34. If the people claiming that they support GLBT rights but are buying food at Chick-Fil-A to support free speech wouldn’t also donate money to the KKK to support their free speech, it’s a crap argument. You can support an organization’s right to free speech without supporting the organization financially (and thereby giving them more money to use in their crusades for the oppression of minorities, women, or the GLBT community). The hard truth is, Chick-Fil-A’s freedom of speech was never in danger. Two minor politicians spoke out of anger about preventing the company from opening locations in their cities, but they have no legal ground and have since backed down. That’s it. The free speech argument is a cognitively dissonant one that people who want to consider themselves progressive use to rationalize their own, deep-seated prejudices – and to help convince themselves that Christianity is being oppressed all over the place (which is blatantly not true, but so many people think that having their rights to oppress taken away is actually oppression). Don’t want Christianity being associated with homophobia? Don’t support homophobic Christians. If your church is homophobic, find another one. Be vocal about how Christianity doesn’t have to mean “God Hates Fags” – the religion has been used to oppress nearly everyone at one point or another, and has updated its beliefs on almost everything else. Don’t justify your support of bigoted people and organizations as “free speech” unless you’re also willing to donate the same amount of money to racist, sexist, and xenophobic groups across the country. And then see how that flies. “I’m not racist, I totally support black people being able to drink at the same water fountain and all, but I give the KKK money because I totally believe in their right to free speech because they’re an organization rooted in Protestantism.” And yes, it is completely analogous, because some of that Chick-Fil-A cash is going to recognized hate groups, all using religion to maintain the status quo for heterosexual white men.

  35. Can you not find a non-Catholic charity that helps in Haiti? Random Acts does a lot of hands-on work, and is not associated with any religion. Donating to the charity doesn’t make you a bigot, but there are other ways to help people than by donating to blatantly homophobic organizations. For example, I’ll drive out of my way to donate to Goodwill before I’ll donate to the Salvation Army. If Goodwill is anti-gay, racist, sexist, etc., I haven’t been able to dig it up yet, and SA is incredibly anti-gay.

  36. At least through the 1980s, and to some extent even today, many were in hiding, afraid of being outed, because of hate-mongering and the threat of violence. The threat of violence, specifically in 1967 and in the South, was very real. Also, pre-Internet and instant information, it was very difficult for the average citizen to find out information like what company donated money to what hate group. I was actually glad when Dan Cathy opened his mouth – people have been trying to spread the word about Chick-Fil-A’s donations for a while now, and he went and made it mainstream for us.

  37. I currently live in Arizona, a state where a citizen, Adam Smith, was fired a few days ago after criticizing Chick-fil-a.
    Arizona is also the home of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She’s introduced an on-line program to teach people about Civics, since as she points out, most schools no longer teach Americans how the American system works. http://www.icivics.org/
    This is one of the reasons many people who stood in line to show their support of “free speech” weren’t actually doing so–they have been taught by jingoism to misunderstand what freedom of speech is all about.
    For example, both Mr. Cathy and Adam Smith had the option of expressing their opinions in a public forum. And Mr. Smith’s former employer had every “right” to fire him for doing so, since Arizona is a “right to work” state.
    It might also be useful to check with Jesus, in terms of what He actually is quoted saying–(i.e., try to find a single quote where Jesus himself says anything about sexual orientation): Jesus even tells us in John 16:2-3 that there will be some who, in their error, commit atrocities and murder in the name of God: “the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” However, He informs us that these are not true believers: “And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.”

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