Chick-fil-A is an American fast food restaurant chain specializing in chicken sandwiches. S. Truett Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A in 1967, and now there are more than 2,100 Chick-fil-A restaurants in 46 states, according to the Chick-fil-A website. Business Insider reported that Chick-fil-A is credited for inventing the boneless chicken sandwich, which now is available at many fast food locations. All Chick-fil-A locations are closed on Sundays so that “employees could set aside one day to rest and worship if they choose,” according to the company website. Dan Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A and son of S. Truett Cathy, drew backlash in 2012 with his public comments about same-sex marriage. The company has also been criticized for donations to groups that oppose same-sex marriage and support conversion therapy.
I vaguely remember the same-sex marriage comments from 2012. Can you remind me?
As reported by The Washington Post, Dan Cathy appeared on a radio show in the summer of 2012 and said, among other things, that “we’re 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. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”
After backlash from those comments, Cathy told The Baptist Press that he was “guilty as charged” and was “supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.” ABC News reported that those comments to the Baptist Press prompted the calls for a boycott and that actor Ed Helms was one of the first actors to denounce the chain. The New York Times reported in 2012 that this also inspired The Jim Henson Company to cut ties with Chick-fil-A:
The Jim Henson Company, which created toys for the chain, will not offer any more Muppets. On Friday, it said Lisa Henson, the chief executive officer, supported same-sex marriage and would donate money that the company had received from Chick-fil-A to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Chick-fil-A had searching for a possible site in Boston, Politico reported, leading Boston’s then-mayor Thomas M. Menino wrote Dan Cathy letter to say that a Chick-fil-A location across from City Hall “would be an insult” as “there is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”
And weren’t there protests and some sort of counter-protests, too?
Yes. From the New York Times article:
Carly McGehee, a New Yorker, decided to stage a same-sex kiss-in on Aug. 3, urging gays and lesbians to show up at [Chick-fil-A locations] around the country in protest.
That moved Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, to declare Aug. 1 as Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. His call to action, which he posted on Facebook last week, garnered such a response that it tripped the site’s spam filters, and the page was taken down briefly on Tuesday.
Huckabee’s call for a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” drew support from other politicians who had opposed LGBTQ+ rights. Don Redman, a city councilman in Jacksonville, Fla., was among the people who visited Chick-fil-A to show support. The kicker is that Redman had been a vegetarian for decades chose to eat a chicken sandwich. He told The Florida-Times Union that it took him an hour to eat. He could have ordered a salad or something that that didn’t include meat but that “wouldn’t have proved his point so pointedly,” he told the Times-Union.
So what did Chick-fil-A do after that same-sex marriage controversy?
Chick-fil-A tried to distance itself from Cathy’s comments and the topic of same-sex marriage. The company’s Facebook page posted that in the future, Chick-fil-A would stay silent on such topics:
The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect—regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 Restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.
Tell me more about the donations.
S. Truett Cathy started the WinShape Foundation in 1984. It’s often referred to as Chick-fil-A’s charity, as it has been run by the Cathy family and has received millions of dollars from from Chick-fil-A. Around the time that Dan Cathy’s comments were drawing criticism and praise, people had begun publicizing the beneficiaries of WinShape’s donations.
To what organizations was WinShape donating money?
Equality Matters reported that in 2010, WinShape donated to:
- Marriage & Family Foundation, which opposes same-sex marriage
- Fellowship Of Christian Athletes, which as denounced “homosexual misconduct”
- National Christian Foundation, which has donated to groups opposing same-sex marriage
- Exodus International, a now-defunct group that tried to “cure” people of homosexuality through various methods, including conversion therapy
- Family Research Council, which opposes homosexuality and has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center
- Georgia Family Council, which opposes same-sex marriage
In 2012, BuzzFeed News reported that in a correspondence with Chicago Alderman Proco Moreno, Chick-fil-A said, “The WinShape Foundations is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas.”
Did WinShape stop donating money to those groups?
Shane Windmeyer, a gay activist for LGBTQ+ rights and the executive director of Campus Pride, wrote an essay for Huffington Post in 2013 explaining how he formed an unlikely relationship with Dan Cathy. Part of that relationship, Windmeyer said, included getting to see IRS forms:
This past week Chick-fil-A shared with me the 2011 IRS Form 990, filed in November for the WinShape Foundation, along with 2012 financials. The IRS has not released the 990 to the public yet, but the financials affirm Chick-fil-A’s values a year prior to the controversy this past July. The nearly $6 million in outside grant funding focuses on youth, education, marriage enrichment and local communities. 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. Even as Campus Pride and so many in the community protested Chick-fil-A and its funding of groups like Family Research Council, Eagle Forum and Exodus International, the funding of these groups had already stopped.
So does this mean Chick-fil-A money stopped going to organizations opposed to homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and LGBTQ+ rights?
Not necessarily, no. In 2012, the Chick-fil-A Foundation was established as the “philanthropic arm” of Chick-fil-A. In 2017, ThinkProgress reported on tax filings from 2015. Those records show that the Chick-fil-A Foundation gave money to:
- The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which has a strict purity statement denouncing homosexuality and any gender identity that is not cisgender
- The Paul Anderson Youth Home, which once argued “the sexual, physical, and mental abuse of children, mostly in the alleged ‘safety’ of their own homes has produced all kinds of evil throughout the culture to include the explosion of homosexuality in the last century”
- The Salvation Army, which has been criticized by LGBTQ+ activists and organizations for years for its history of stances, policies, and public comments
Then, in March of 2019, ThinkProgress reported on newly released tax filings from 2017. Those records show that the Chick-fil-A Foundation gave $1.8 million to those same organizations.
What does Chick-fil-A say about this?
Chick-fil-A issued a press release of sorts on its Chicken Wire to state that coverage on Chick-fil-A Foundation donations has been “misleading” and “inaccurate”:
The 140,000 people who serve customers on a daily basis represent and embrace all people, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. The story singles out three organizations the Foundation has given to in the past. To suggest that our efforts in supporting these organizations was focused on suppressing a group of people is misleading and inaccurate.
“Has given to in the past,” as in within the last two fiscal years?
In its Chicken Wire post, Chick-fil-A seemingly shrugged off the Paul Anderson Youth Home’s stance as old news, saying:
In 2017, a decision was made by the Chick-fil-A Foundation to no longer donate to the group after a blog post surfaced that does not meet Chick-fil-A’s commitment to creating a welcoming environment to all.
But the fact that the contributions had happened multiple times and as recently as 2017 did not go unnoticed by LGBTQ+ activists or news outlets, including LGBTQ Nation.
What does this mean for Chick-fil-A?
It means that Chick-fil-A still inspires skepticism about how it views and treats LGBTQ+ people, to put it mildly. And if people are skeptical about Chick-fil-A, cities will be skeptical about doing business with the company.
In March of 2019, the San Antonio City Council approved a plan to bring new vendors to city’s airport with the caveat that Chick-fil-A must be replaced, The San Antonio Express-News reported. Councilman Roberto Treviño cited Chick-fil-A’s donations and history when voting against the company opening a location in the airport, but Mayor Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the issue was more economic: The city would lose money on a business that’s not open seven days a week. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said this move was “discriminatory” and he was going to investigate whether this violated religious liberty laws, The Washington Post reported.
Similarly, a plan to bring Chick-fil-A to Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Buffalo, N.Y., was also scrubbed, The Buffalo News reported. Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan expressed confidence that the spot could go to “another vendor who better represents the values of the Western New York community will replace Chick-fil-A as a part of this project in the very near future.”
The funding of those groups has had long-lasting consequences for Chick-fil-A, eh?
Yes. In a Facebook post, LGBTQ Nation called for Chick-fil-A “to stop giving money to groups that denigrates LGBTQ people and work to make our lives harder.” The post was referring to recent comments from Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind. Buttigieg, who is out and married to a man, has been making the rounds on radio and TV shows to discuss a possible run for president. NBC News reported that during an appearance on the syndicated radio show, “The Breakfast Club,” was asked about Chick-fil-A. He said he does not approve of Chick-fil-A’s politics, but “kind of” approves of its chicken. He went on to say, “Maybe if nothing else, I can build that bridge… Maybe I’ll become in a position to broker that peace deal.” Buttigieg didn’t elaborate on what that “peace deal” would look like.
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