Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A is signaling that it may back away from donating to groups that oppose gay marriage, but stopped short of adding a non-discrimination statement to its corporate policies.
Is that enough for LGBT activists who spent the summer protesting the chicken chain to once again enjoy a sandwich and a side of those tasty waffle fries? Maybe, according to Anthony Martinez, executive director of the Civil Rights Agenda. The Illinois-based LGBT group helped call attention to the company’s apparent backtracking.
“I think the most important part of this outcome is that Chick-fil-A has ceased their donations to anti-gay groups in 2011 and going forward,” Martinez says in a prepared statement issued Tuesday. “With some of the groups that they were donating to being classified as hate groups, and others actively trying to halt the movement toward full civil rights for LGBT people, Chick-fil-A has taken a big step forward. We are encouraged by their willingness to serve all people and ensure their profits are not used to fight against a minority community that is still trying to gain full and equal civil rights.”
Chick-fil-A has not confirmed the report, but did not contest its accuracy in a statement released Wednesday to Buzzfeed.
“We have no agenda, policy or position against anyone. We have a 65-year history of providing hospitality for all people and, as a dedicated family business, serving and valuing everyone regardless of their beliefs or opinions,” he said in a general press statement emailed to BuzzFeed by another Chick-fil-A spokesman, Jerry Johnston, who said the company’s press statement is not new. “The genuine, historical intent of our WinShape Foundation and corporate giving has been to support youth, family and educational programs.”
The apparent retreat for the company comes two months after Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy (photo), in two interviews, proudly embraced the company’s anti-gay antics, its donations to anti-gay groups through its WinShape Foundation in north Georgia and called LGBT activists “arrogant” for their marriage equality efforts. The company, through WinShape, has donated millions to anti-gay groups.
Cathy’s comments touched off a firestorm of controversy, igniting protests for and against the company, prompting students at Emory and Kennesaw to call for the company’s ouster from their campuses and pushing gay and gay-friendly restaurants in Atlanta to find creative responses. Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan, who is gay, said he’d fight any Chick-fil-A expansion plans in the city and a lesbian couple sang their Chick-fil-A blues.
The controversy also started to focus on the Chick-fil-A restaurant at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Last week, a writer for LGBT travel magazine Passport criticized the airport for including Chick-fil-A among its eateries.
One of our readers who frequently travels through Atlanta’s airport wrote that seeing the fast-food chain was a “slap in the face,” and we have to agree.
For its part – and despite Wan’s opposition—Chick-fil-A announced on Sept. 6 that it would expand its one temporary location at Atlanta’s airport into two permanent restaurants.
What prompted Chick-fil-A’s apparent change of heart? The pledge to drop donations to groups that oppose gay marriage came in discussions with Chicago Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno, who quite publicly said he would oppose Chick-fil-A’s efforts to open a restaurant in his district. Moreno said the company has agreed to include a statement of respect for all sexual orientations in a memo called “Chick-fil-A: Who We Are” to be distributed to corporate employees and restaurant operators.
The alderman said the memo will state the company’s commitment to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.” It also would state that it is the company’s “intent ... not to engage in political or social debates.”
Moreno said he achieved his goal of getting Chick-fil-A to “affirm that they do not have discriminatory policies.”
“It’s one thing to say that’s the way you feel — it’s another thing to put it into a company policy and an official company statement,” Moreno said.
Chick-fil-A hinted at a possible change of course in early September when Cathy quietly met with a group of college students in Atlanta to discuss LGBT issues and ways to find common ground.
But the company fell short of adopting an LGBT-inclusive clause to any corporate non-discrimination policies, according to the Civil Rights Agenda. Chick-fil-A also did not address whether Winshape, which refuses gay couples, will begin accepting LGBT couples into its marriage retreats and other programs.
“Although we are encouraged by their internal statement, we still would like for the company to adopt an anti-discrimination policy at the corporate level,” Rick Garcia, policy advisor for the group, says in a prepared statement.
“It is one thing for a company to say they respect everyone they serve and employ, it is quite another for them to put that into their policies and demand that all employees adhere to that behavior. As we have heard from gay employees that work for Chick-fil-A, there is a culture of discrimination within the company and we would like to ensure that employees can speak out and call attention to those practices without fear of reprisal. It takes time to change the culture of any institution and steps like a corporate policy ensure that progress is made,” he adds.