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Art Smith says his birds are of a different feather

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Updated: September 2, 2012 6:10AM



Growing up in my Southern home, everyone was invited to the dinner table regardless of color or gender. Feeding people was the way folks showed their love. I’ve continued that tradition in my career as a personal chef and now as the owner of five restaurants around the country.

When the Chick-fil-A story broke last week, so many people asked my opinion; I’m a Southern gay man who had a big wedding on Capitol Hill two years ago (where we served, you guessed it, fried chicken). More than 700 guests — including congressmen, senators and other well-regarded people — watched me wed my beloved partner of 13 years, Jesus Ramon Salgueiro, after running with us that morning on our marry-thon. (I always say, “I found health and married Jesus…”)

Jesus and I have led an amazing blessed life, cooking for many — from President Bush to President Clinton and President Obama, along with Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We have always been welcome as a married couple, and a star dish of many of these meals has been fried chicken. When we cook for people our intention is to nourish them, not to give them our opinions or judge them. As I always say, “Fried chicken takes no sides.”

That’s why I found the Chick-fil-A CEO’s comments so upsetting and so hateful — and beyond his voicing of hate, his company’s foundation has funded hate, donating money to non-profits whose sole purpose is to defeat same-sex marriage legislation and harass the LGBT community. It’s a franchised company and I know many of the owners are good people who do not necessarily share the CEO’s views. But why would I want to eat their food and listen to them preach their poison? We live in a free country, and as U.S. citizens we have the right to believe whatever we wish, but as Jesus often says (and so many people have echoed), “Hate has no home in my Chicago.”

Everyone must have the right to love whomever they wish. Living in this world and being able to share it in both good times and hard times is what life is about, whether you’re gay or straight. Together, Jesus and I battled his cancer three times. In those early years, if I had not been the chef of a highly regarded woman, I would have never been allowed to be near Jesus in ICU since I wasn’t his “family.” Thank goodness with new legislation that has now changed.

On Sunday, at our home in Kenwood, Jesus and I hosted a “Flick the Hate” party for Equality Illinois, an organization that defends and protects the rights of our community. Fried chicken was once again the star of the event, but it was kind chicken; my Southern Baptist mother Addie Mae Smith taught me a long time ago to be kind. Today, as Mike Huckabee encourages his followers to participate in Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, I’ve been encouraging my friends and fans across the country to have their own Kind Chicken parties, and to raise money to help erase the hate in the world.

Let’s not forget why we cook, but lets do it with kind hearts.

Art Smith donated his fee for writing this column to his foundation, Common Threads (commonthreads.org).



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