Shane L. Windmeyer, a prominent LGBT activist and leader, "nervously" revealed to the public that he developed a friendship with Dan Cathy, the president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, despite their strongly opposing views on same-sex marriage.
"I spent New Year's Eve at the red-blooded, all-American epicenter of college football: at the Chick-fil-A Bowl, next to Dan Cathy, as his personal guest. It was among the most unexpected moments of my life," Windmeyer begins in a blog for The Huffington Post published earlier this week.
Windmeyer, the co-founder and executive director of Campus Pride, a leading national organization for student leaders and campus organizations working to create a safer college environment for LGBT students, had campaigned against Chick-fil-A for its donations to "anti-LGBT" groups.
Chick-fil-A became the target of more protests last summer when Cathy made comments to a Baptist publication that he supports the "biblical definition of the family unit" and that America is "inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage."
Windmeyer and his Campus Pride group could not have been more opposed to such remarks. The 40-year-old gay man has been married to his husband, Tommy, for 18 years, and admits that he spent a long time "being angry at and deeply distrustful of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A."
"Why was I now standing next to him at one of the most popular football showdowns? How could I dare think to have a relationship with a man and a company that have advocated against who I am; who would take apart my family in the name of 'traditional marriage'; whose voice and views represented exactly the opposite of those of the students for whom I advocate every day? Dan is the problem, and Chick-fil-A is the enemy, right?" Windmeyer wrote.
He admitted that he initially had an overly hostile view of Cathy, which he said was "flawed."
The LGBT activist revealed that he first got a phone call from Cathy on Aug. 10, 2012, in the heat of the controversy last year. What he expected to be a heated conversation, however, turned out to be a respectful dialogue where both sides explained their views regarding LGBT issues. What followed were more phone calls and text messages between the two for weeks, which eventually led to a number of in-person meetings.
"It was awkward at times but always genuine and kind," the LGBT activist said of the conversations. "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. Dan Cathy and I would, together, try to do better than each of us had experienced before."
In his blo, Windmeyer detailed how the friendship between the two continued developing, and even though they had great mutual respect for each other, neither side backed down from their firmly-held position on homosexuality.
"And in that we had great commonality: We were each entirely ourselves. We both wanted to be respected and for others to understand our views. Neither of us could -- or would -- change. It was not possible. We were different but in dialogue. That was progress," Windmeyer explained.
The activist also revealed that when Chick-fil-A shared with them their tax returns for the year, the $6 million they gave in outside grant funding focused on youth, education, marriage enrichment and local community groups. "The funding reflects Chick-fil-A's promised commitment not to engage in 'political or social debates,' and the most divisive anti-LGBT groups are no longer listed."
Windmeyer insisted that at the end, what he and Cathy accomplished was "sitting down at a table together and sharing our views as human beings, engaged in real, respectful, civil dialogue" – something the rest of society has failed at.
"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," he wrote.
"Dan would probably call this act the biblical definition of hospitality. I would call it human decency. So long as we are all at the same table and talking, does it matter what we call it or what we eat?"
The Huffington Post piece has already stirred debate in the article's comments section, with many praising the friendship that the two have managed to form despite their differences, and others criticizing Windmeyer for befriending Cathy.
"Even slave owners befriended individual blacks; that doesn't change the nature of their larger stand against human rights. Dan Cathy is no different and a gay man of public prominence supporting him does not help the cause to reduce discrimination," wrote one user.
"I love this because so many people have different beliefs! Just agree to disagree and move on," replied another.