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Cracker Barrel, local HIV awareness advocate respond to ‘Duck Dynasty’ controversy

Jared Felkins jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:39 PM

Lebanon-based Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. and a Lebanon man who is an advocate and online contributor for HIV/AIDS awareness each responded Sunday to “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson’s recent comments in a GQ magazine article.

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” Robertson said in GQ. “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus – whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”

The comments prompted the A&E network, which produces “Duck Dynasty,” to release a statement.

"We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty," A&E said in a statement, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely."

Robertson will likely appear in season four, which bows Jan. 15, since production is largely wrapped, The Hollywood Reporter said.

In August, Duck Dynasty shattered records with 11.8 million viewers to become the No. 1 nonfiction series telecast in cable history with its season four premiere. Both Robertson’s comments and A&E’s actions that followed created a flurry of response online from both “Duck Dynasty” supporters and those offended by the show’s father and his comments. The #DuckDynasty hashtag has since been among Twitter’s top trending. A petition started Thursday at change.org asking for A&E to reconsider Robertson’s ban garnered more than 100,000 signatures as of Sunday evening.

On Friday, Cracker Barrel said it pulled some Duck Dynasty merchandise from its stores over concerns it might offend guests.

“Cracker Barrel’s mission is Pleasing People,” the company said on its Facebook page. “We operate within the ideals of fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment of all people. These ideals are the core of our corporate culture. We continue to offer Duck Commander products in our stores. We removed selected products which we were concerned might offend some of our guests while we evaluate the situation. We continually evaluate the products we offer and will continue to do so.”

On Sunday morning, however, Cracker Barrel recanted its plans, and “Duck Dynasty” products returned to its shelves.

“We made a mistake, we listened to you, and we apologize. “#DuckDynasty products are back in our stores,” Cracker Barrel tweeted with a link to its Facebook page.

It was retweeted 2,448 times as of Sunday evening. 

“You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren't shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong,” Cracker Barrel said on its Facebook page Sunday. “We listened. Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores. And, we apologize for offending you. We respect all individuals right to express their beliefs. We certainly did not mean to have anyone think different. We sincerely hope you will continue to be part of our Cracker Barrel family.”

Harold “Scottie” Scott, who has lived in Lebanon since 2010, is gay man and HIV/AIDS advocate who writes as a contributor for the San Francisco-based company, Healthline. Scott was diagnosed with HIV on Oct. 24, 1991 and went public with his status Dec. 1, also known as World AIDS Day, in 1994.

“I have been keeping up with the Duck Dynasty story via Facebook, as well as reading other comments/opinions from both sides,” Scott said. “And, let me say, I have never watched an episode of Duck Dynasty simply because it has never been of interest to me, as are a number of other shows for that matter.

“With that being said, it is the choice of everyone, including supporters, non-supporters, A&E, Cracker Barrel or others, to decide how to react.  I do think it has gotten a bit on the silly side, but hey, just my opinion and, like everyone, to that I have a right.

“I do wonder, however, had Mr. Robertson's comments been in support of homosexuality and/or any of the other comments, would the reaction have been the same, or would he have been the target of a ‘good ol scolding,’ and would the supporters have voiced their opinions in such a way?”

Scott said he wonders if Robertson’s comments will cause a moral movement.

“Robertson referred to drunkards and other sins,” Scott said. “Will we now see people boycotting places that sell beer and liquor, lottery tickets, etc.? Will we stop going to see movies that show all kinds of ‘immoral’ scenes? If we are to voice our disgust about all the 'sins’ mentioned in the GQ interview by Mr. Robertson, there will likely be a huge move to clean up our acts, if we are to truly show that we are going to defend our religious beliefs regarding all the places we support that offer these things. If we are going to speak out about one sin, we can't leave out all the others, can we?” 

Scott said the issue surrounding Robertson’s comments to GQ regards homosexuality.

“Having grown up in a Church of Christ belief, I know the stance on homosexuality,” Scott said. “Not that this was the only thing he talked about, but it seems to be the common theme and many people are all bent out of shape over, for the most part. 

“I feel Mr. Robertson gave his honest answer to the question posed to him, and therefore exercised his freedom of speech, as am I, and all the others who are weighing in on the subject.”

But Scott said he wasn’t offended by what Robertson said or believes.

“Did he offend me? No, for that is what he believes and, as humans, we are all entitled to our beliefs,” Scott said. “That is not to say I agree with his beliefs, however.

“I believe we are all born who we are. As for making a choice to be gay, I do not feel there is ever a time when any of us decide to be homosexual, or heterosexual, for that matter. If we are all to really be honest, could we ever truly say there was a point in our lives when we decided one way or the other? Would someone choose to be gay, so that they could be the target of the hateful words and actions made?

“It has been said one’s environment, or perhaps the lack of a father figure in our young and developing years, causes one to ‘become gay.’ I do not believe this to be the case either, in that in many cases a ‘normal’ upbringing and family environment are what so many of us had.”

Scott was born and raised on his family’s farm in Jackson County. He lived in Cookeville for 16 years before moving to Lebanon. He is also the former co-chair of the Upper Cumberland Regional Ryan White HIV/AIDS Education and Awareness Committee. According to the Tennessee Department of Public Health, more than 28,000 people are living with either HIV or AIDS in Tennessee.

“Unfortunately, I feel many people only see gay people as some type of ‘sexual perverts,’ and while sex is a part of who homosexuals are, like heterosexuals, it is not what the whole person is about,” Scott said. “I suppose if we really looked into the lives of both groups of people, we would be more shocked as a people with what we would find.

“As someone who lives with HIV/AIDS, my eyes have been opened to many issues of others beliefs, regarding the disease, and it has been suggested I need to ‘get right with God,” Scott said. “Personally, I have a relationship with God. I know that it may not be what others think it should be, but it works for me in that I have come to understand that it is between God and myself. I, like everyone else, am responsible for my own salvation. I have come to realize we, as a human race, have our own beliefs regarding so many things, including our religious beliefs. That is obvious by the large number of religious organizations who view the Bible and various scriptures as different from that of another person or group.”

Scott said the controversy created by Robertson’s comments is likely far from over, and he expects more dialogue to come from it.

“The comments made by Mr. Robertson have obviously offended many and caused many who agree with his words to start petitions, boycotts, etc.,” Scott said. “Companies like Cracker Barrel made ‘knee jerk’ decisions, which seem to have backfired. Possibly the bottom line was the revenue lost. It seemed a bit silly to remove the items. My thinking is, if you don't want to buy it, they are not going to force you to do so.

“I suspect this subject will continue to be of great debate. I do not expect everyone to agree with my views regarding this or any other for that matter. I do know that many hurtful things have been said, via Facebook posts and other media outlets, all in the name of free speech.”

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