Late in 2012, local LGBT community leader and advocate Shane Windmeyer, executive director of the Charlotte-based national non-profit Campus Pride, made waves when he announced that he and his organization was suspending its boycott of Chick-fil-A. The national fast food chain had been embroiled in a bitter controversy over CEO Dan Cathy’s publicly-stated anti-gay marriage positions and the company’s spending, through its non-profit foundation, supporting far-right, anti-LGBT groups.

At the time and thereafter, Windmeyer said the boycott’s suspension would aid in his personal conversations and dialogue with Cathy. The two men had struck up a friendship which Windmeyer said had allowed Cathy to get to know more gay people and learn more about LGBT equality issues. Later, Windmeyer said he had seen new IRS filings which showed a dramatic decrease in the level of funding from Chick-fil-A given to anti-gay groups.

I had several months prior left a short-term employment with Campus Pride when Windmeyer suspended the organization’s boycott of Chick-fil-A. Windmeyer, whom I consider both a personal friend as well as a colleague, had gotten to know me well over the past few years and I had shared with him my own religious views and background. We kept in touch about his growing relationship with Cathy as I encouraged him to keep up the dialogue.

From everything Windmeyer told me about those conversations, it became crystal clear to me that Cathy was a bit like many of my own family members and friends. Christians, like all people, come in all shapes and sizes, understandings and, yes, ideological variation. Though many had painted Cathy an unchangeable bigot, I had the impression Cathy was simply like the majority of anti-LGBT Christians I have personally known. Ignorance, not hatred, is the bedrock upon which most prejudices are built, even if the result is often hateful or discriminatory action. Hatred can’t often be changed, but ignorance most definitely can, and when it does, so do beliefs and understandings — but only if otherwise well-meaning Christians, as I’m certain Cathy is, open their hearts and minds.

I believe Windmeyer was able to do just that with Cathy. I don’t think Windmeyer or any other advocate would claim Cathy is an LGBT ally; indeed, I believe he’s far from it. But, Cathy has proven, both in action and word, that he is listening, he is learning and he is growing. In early March, new IRS documents were finally released, showing Chick-fil-A putting a stop to nearly all the funding previously going to radically anti-LGBT organizations. Later in the month, in an interview in The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Cathy publicly credited Windmeyer for his growing understanding and Cathy said he never should have inserted himself or his company into such a controversial social debate. Cathy still has miles and miles to go on a journey toward full inclusion and affirmation of LGBT people, but he’s headed in the right direction.

I firmly believe that religion-based bigotry is the primary cause of anti-LGBT discrimination and the continued suffering of LGBT people in this nation and across the world. Bigotry rooted in religion must be confronted with passion and spirit. True bigots must be called out; their actions held strongly against the light of truth. And, all of us, both LGBT people and straight allies, must do more, as Windmeyer did with Cathy, to reach out to those Christians and others of varying faith traditions who simply need room to learn, room to understand and room to grow.

I watched as bloggers and LGBT activists blasted Windmeyer for his relationship with Cathy. Perhaps there are faults there; none of us are perfect. Even if so, Windmeyer and his decision to engage in conversation — instead of continued conflict — has been vindicated.

We each have our own paths to walk. Some of us get to the destination sooner than others. If we want a truly just world, those who finish first should reach back and help even those who’ve yet to move off the starting line. : :

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.