On Saturday, October 3rd, we at Collectively Free (CF) held a protest against Chick-fil-A at the grand opening of their flagship NYC location. Chick-fil-A is a business which profits off the murdered bodies of imprisoned chickens and other animals. Chick-fil-A has also for years now been known as a contributor to anti-LGBTQ+ groups (via their affiliate nonprofits the Winshape Foundation and the Chick-fil-A Foundation), and their CEO has on multiple occasions spoken against same-sex marriage. As a pro-intersectional, animal rights community, founded by two queer women, we at CF saw the opening of the company's NYC location as a perfect opportunity to call out Chick-fil-A's participation in both injustices: the one against animals and the one against LGBTQ+ humans.
The protest began when our group entered the store, cutting the line of people that went halfway up the block around the corner, and began chanting the classic, "We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!" while two of us, a queer couple, kissed demonstratively. As the venue was packed and as Chick-fil-A surely expected protesters, plenty of police officers were present both inside and outside the store who quickly lead the group outside but not before we projected our speak-out on behalf of the animal victims. Upon exiting, the leading chant was, "Sexist, speciesist, anti-gay! Take your store and go away!"
Once outside, we lined up along the sidewalk, and continued speak-outs and chants for the next hour, addressing both areas of Chick-fil-A's oppressive practices. A small cluster of self-proclaimed "Born Again" Christians began their own counter-protesting speak-outs and chants--full of hateful words towards our LGBTQ+ members. They began almost instantly as soon as our chants started, and ended as soon as we were done. Upon ending the protest, one of our participants overheard one of the born agains say, "Oh, thank God, we can finally stop," after which their group was seen speaking with a Chickfil-A manager.
Is it possible that Chick-fil-A hired them to "counter-protest" any possible protesters?
Customers, lining up around the block, all had similar looks on their faces when they saw us. Some were interviewed by the many reporters present and explained their positions. "I'm gay and I’m obsessed with Chick-fil-A," said one person quoted by the Gothamist. “I disagree with the company’s values, but I’m just here for the chicken,” said another, quoted by The NY Post.
Passersby had even more intriguing reactions. Since we were both animal rights and LGBTQ+ rights activists, people tended to assume we were one or the other. Those who assumed we were only LGBTQ+ activists would high-five or give us a “thumbs up.” Those who assumed we were only animal rights activists gave us an all-too-familiar look: a mix of dismissal and disgust, sometimes with an added touch of mockery. And then there were those who initially thought we were one but then saw we were both. Theirs were the most precious expressions as they went through momentary phases of all of the above.
Why were people so puzzled by seeing one protest against two issues? We'd like to think it's because it doesn't really happen. And, arguably, animal rights activists are not seen as the kinds of people you'd expect to hear advocating for human rights. Fortunately, the newest “wave” of the animal rights movement that CF belongs to does recognize the importance of human rights alongside animal rights in the collective struggle towards equality and justice for all beings by adopting a pro-intersectional approach.
The term intersectionality was coined by black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw who, together with others, developed a theory and practice in response to the women’s rights and civil rights movements of the 1970s. Back then, the feminist movement wasn’t talking about race, and the civil rights movement wasn’t addressing gender. Crenshaw and her colleagues argued that the oppressions that these two movements seek to dismantle do overlap, and that this overlap must be considered in order for there to be successful dialogue and action on either front.
Applying Crenshaw's framework of intersection to other systemic oppressions, we can no longer see discrimination based on gender, race, species, class, ability, sexual orientation, etc. as separate and independent from one another, and they cannot be placed in a hierarchal order. Sexism is no “worse” than heterosexism or ableism, and speciesism is no “worse” than ageism or xenophobia.
This does not mean that as activists, we should attempt to dismantle all forms of oppression: that would be simply unrealistic. It’s perfectly fine (and most effective) to have a focus--ours being animal rights. But it’s also crucial that we remain supportive and inclusive of other social justice causes because it’s the right thing to do and because movements can only benefit from building bridges between one another.
The Chick-fil-A protest is only the beginning. CF will continue to push a strong antispeciest message, underlined by messages against other types of injustices. Ultimately, oppression stems from the idea that some lives matter more than others. And this is precisely what we seek to disprove.