On Sept. 8, two groups with wildly divergent ideas about whether gay couples should be granted the same rights as their heterosexual peers held a fast-food cook-off of sorts in downtown Billings.
"We actually raised about twice as much as we planned on raising," says Montana Family Foundation president Jeff Laszloffy, who helped organize the fundraiser, which was first called "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day 2.0."
The Family Foundation planned on trucking meals from Chick-fil-A into Montana to show support of the Georgia-based fast food chain. Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy's very public remarks triggered a firestorm in July when he told radio host Ken Coleman that same sex marriage invites "God's judgment."
Despite the Family Foundation's initial show of solidarity with Chick-fil-A, Laszloffy says the company "had quality concerns" about shipping the chicken from Idaho. So the Foundation hired a local caterer who served chicken nuggets, coleslaw and chocolate chip cookies.
"We were very pleased," Laszloffy says.
About a mile from Appreciation Day, LGBT rights supporters made their own statement. They snacked on "Equality Chicken Pitas" near Manny's Bar. "The whole point of it really was to support all families," says the ACLU of Montana's Liz Welch, who helped organize the event.
Welch says the mood between the groups was cordial, even pleasant. "(The Family Foundation) actually came out and generously offered chicken to protesters."
The respect contrasts with the fierce emotion that sometimes surrounds gay rights debates, Laszloffy says. He points to the Aug. 15 shooting at a Christian lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. A 28-year-old gay-rights proponent toting 15 Chik-fil-A sandwiches in his backpack shot a guard at the Family Research Council. He reportedly said, "I don't like your policies."
"We have got to ratchet back emotion," Laszloffy says.
Montana Human Rights Network gay rights activist Jamee Greer agrees that violence is never appropriate. However, he finds it ironic that Laszloffy, a man who has consistently branded gays as perverts, sinners and criminals, now wants to tone down the rhetoric. "He's made his living off of demonizing, scapegoating and harassing LGBT community members," Greer says.
As for who won the cook-off, Laszloffy wouldn't disclose how much the Family Foundation made. The "Fairness for ALL Families" event reaped about $550.