Shane L. Windmeyer, a nationally recognized LGBT leader in higher education, recently ‘came out’ as a friend of Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s president and COO, who found himself embroiled in a PR battle after making anti-gay marriage statements. In Windmeyer's article published in the HuffPost Gay Voices, Shane explains the unusual turn of events that led to his sitting alongside Dan Cathy at college football’s Chick-fil-A Bowl and going public with their friendship.
As the executive director of Campus Pride, the leading national organization for LGBT and ally college students that launched a national campaign against Chick-fil-A, Shane hesitantly took a phone call from Dan last fall. As the two continued their conversation in the months to come, Dan learned more about Shane, the LGBT community, and their perspective of Chick-fil-A’s controversial actions. Shane, too, learned of Dan’s genuinely held beliefs and important details regarding Chick-fil-A’s giving practices.
I find the significance of this article summed up in Shane’s words:
"It is not often that people with deeply held and completely opposing viewpoints actually risk sitting down and listening to one another. We see this failure to listen and learn in our government, in our communities and in our own families."
What is just as remarkable as the fact that these two men in seemingly polar opposition to one another decided to pursue a direct dialogue, is the fact that their relationship was not motivated by an agenda, but by the desire to learn from one another and share personal stories. Shane explains that neither was willing to change their worldviews, but that they instead aimed at being understood and respected. “That was progress,” Shane decided.
This isn’t about whether Chick-fil-A is has been in the right or in the wrong. While that discussion is incredibly important for our generation and for the church, this is about discussion itself. It’s about our approach in advocating for the issues we feel called to stand for. Discussion with the ‘other side’ increases our understanding, our respect, and challenges us to either justify or disown our tightly held assumptions. This learning from one another is not possible, or certainly not as successful, when opposing sides instead dialogue through indirect propaganda and campaigns that insult the intentions, character, and intelligence of people we’ve never met.
Still, we often resort to these methods because one or both sides cannot agree to talk. We fear confrontation with those that hold drastically different worldviews from our own. We wrongly assume that a conversation with the ‘other side’ equates compromise. I don’t think it does. Shane and Dan are one example of that. When we choose to have a conversation, we choose to recognize the other’s humanity and to allow their experiences and perspectives into our world. We choose to humble ourselves and admit that we just might not know it all. We choose to tell our stories despite our skepticism.
Does Shane and Dan’s new friendship make everything better? Certainly not. A quick glance at the comments section of Shane’s article shows that members of the LGBT community are still not okay with Dan’s stances and feel mistreated by his company’s policies. Likewise, Dan probably hasn’t changed the fundamentals of his convictions nor drastically reformed his company’s practices.
But something holy has happened. A conversation based on trust and respect has endured despite unlikely circumstances. Conversations like these, should we choose to pursue them, move us and our world from ignorance to understanding, from violence to peace, from pride to humility, from skepticism to trust, from hate to respect.
Thank you, Shane and Dan, for modeling this rare, risky and world-changing practice.
Kelly Dunlap is Advertising Assistant at Sojourners.