Tribune: A French TV ad featuring a gay teen and his father has stirred some controversy -- not there, but here. Can you talk about that?
Thompson: It is an example that markets, cultures are very different around the world. (For instance), I've never shied away from the fact that I'm a Christian. I have my own personal beliefs and I don't impose those on anybody else. I've been in countries where the majority of the people in the country don't believe in a deity or they may be atheist. Or the majority of the country is Muslim. Or it may be the majority is much younger skewed. So when you look at all these differences, it's not that I'm to be the judge or the jury relative to right or wrong. Having said that, at McDonald's, there are core values we stand for and the world is getting much closer. So we have a lot of conversations. We're going to make some mistakes at times. (We talk) about things that may have an implication in one part of the world and may be the cultural norm in another part of the world. And those are things that, yes, we're going to learn from. But, you're right, that commercial won't show in the United States.
The NGLCC made the same assumption, that France is just so much more gay-friendly than the US and so McDonald's had to run a gay ad out here. But is that really the reason for the difference?
I hear plenty of Americans talking about how progressive and liberal Europe is compared to America, especially on social issues. But it isn't true - Europe's a mixed bag with some countries brutally cracking down on Pride while others legalize gay sex in parks. Even within countries, like France, it really depends on where you live. Urban areas are less homophobic, generally, and rural areas more so. Just like in the US.
I can't find any polling in France on LGBT issues, to see how they measure up, but I'd be surprised if the difference was huge. When it comes to the issues, they don't allow same-sex couples to adopt, they don't allow lesbians to use artificial insemination or gay men to hire surrogate mothers, they don't have same-sex marriage but do have national civil unions, cops play capture-the-fag still, people still don't come out to their families, hate crimes still happen all the time, same-sex PDA is uncommon outside the gayborhoods, and while employment discrimination is banned, that's more because they have strong labor unions and don't have at-will employment (even an attempt several years ago to allow employers to fire people under 25 in their first six months on the job resulted in massive protests that shut down the country for weeks).
There may be a difference at the population level, and that would mostly be because France is a more urban country than the US. But it's still the old world with old ideas that aren't going anywhere fast, especially since the worry here is that the youth are becoming less tolerant of gays, not more.
But the bigger difference when it comes to homophobia is that the French don't much care about protecting "religious freedom" and don't feel as much a need to defer to the opinions of the Church or various churches as Americans do. Their version of the separation of church and state - known as laïcité, which is more accurately translated as "secularism" - has a different justification narrative.
Americans learn about governments that kept people from worshipping as they wanted so they crossed the Atlantic to be free to practice their religion, so we have a separation of church and state to maintain the free practice (or non-practice) of religion. The French Revolution, by contrast, was a people's revolution against various institutions of power, mostly the monarchy but also the nobility and other supporters, including the Catholic Church. So freedom of religion, here, is about protecting people from religious power so that they're free to live their lives as they want.
This is how they get to a place where they pass a law banning religious objects - the veil, crosses, yarmulkes - in school. The school is a government building, and religion doesn't have a place in a government building. It's also why a more recent bill to ban the veil everywhere had trouble getting support from anyone outside the racist right.
The attitude is pervasive - Christian conservatives getting upset with something isn't any reason for everyone else to bend over backwards and accommodate them. They already know where that leads.
While I don't personally care about getting the McDonald's ad in America - anything that could possibly make gay people go and eat their poison made from compressed and processed misery is inherently bad - the COO's excuses are idiotic. Really, they're looking for a no-pain way to portray their brand as part of everyday people's lives (an ever-present symbol in all of your fond memories), and the American rightwing is a lot crazier and a lot more entitled than the French rightwing. That's it. Normal human beings in either country don't care.
For fun, here's another McDonald's ad from that series. The mother tells her daughter that it's the second time - one, two - she forgot her backpack at school, and if she does it again she loses her video games (not McDonald's?) for a month. In the restaurant, the mother says she forgot her wallet and the daughter gets all insolent: One....
Can you imagine the outcry if, instead of going into McDonalds, they went into a bar and the mother put a cigarette in her 7-year-old daughter's mouth and said, "I think I left my lighter at home!" Same joke, both practices terribly unhealthy, and yet people don't have much to say about the commercial up there telling parents to give McDonald's filth to their children.