While I hadn’t had time to consider it earlier in the day, I suddenly realized I felt the same way. In the days following, I heard from dozens of other LGBT Oklahomans who had similar feelings.
I shared this with a straight friend who simply couldn’t understand these feelings. “Why?” she asked. “This is just about free speech. It’s nothing personal.”
She was wrong. On both counts. This was never about Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s freedom of speech being stifled by the gay community. And it was incredibly personal.
When a corporation spends in excess of $5 million to support organizations whose sole purpose is pinned on preventing equality for me and the people I care about, it is personal.
When state Rep. Sally Kern calls for all Oklahomans to eat fast food in a show of support for “traditional family values,” it denigrates my family and it is personal.
When U.S. Rep. James Lankford gloats childishly on his Facebook page about eating bigotry-infused chicken sandwiches, he is clearly not representing me or the other 365,000 gay Oklahomans and it is personal.
When people who pride themselves on having gay friends enjoy deep-fried foods more than they value equal rights for those same friends, it is personal.
When parents who are cordial to same-gender partners at the Thanksgiving table stand in the hot Oklahoma sun to indirectly fund hate, it is personal.
To try to pass this off as an issue of free speech and deny that it is personal is akin to smacking someone in the head, kicking them in the gut, and declaring it freedom of expression and nothing personal.
The effect of this whole episode has been felt deeply and personally by LGBT Oklahomans. We have spent so much energy celebrating our little victories that we had been lulled into a false sense of acceptance. Now we find that not only are we largely not accepted, we are, in many circles, not even tolerated.
It will be a long time before we fully realize the impact on young people just coming to terms with their own sexual orientation and on older LGBT people who had mistakenly allowed themselves to believe that we had finally turned a corner.
How many parents will now force their kids into already-discredited “ex-gay” therapy and how many seniors will feel forced back into the closet? All because of the bigotry built on the foundation of a chicken sandwich.
While this event may fade quickly in the minds of many people, it will serve as a lasting reminder of how very far LGBT Oklahomans have yet to go in our quest for equality.
And, I can only hope, as the fuel to fortify us on that journey.
Hamilton is executive director of Cimarron Alliance, a Central Oklahoma LGBT advocacy and education organization.