Anti-gay flap doesn’t nick Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A

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imageHas Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based company that’s the second largest chicken chain in the U.S., been hurt by the flap over its anti-gay approach? Some $3.58 billion in sales says no.

The privately-owned, conservatively-run chicken empire notched a more than 11 percent jump in sales, to $3.58 billion, and same-store sales growth of nearly 6 percent last year. Take that, you fussy gays with your Change.org petitions.

Faith – the conservative, gays-don’t-marry kind – is ever-present at the company, which found itself in a vat of controversy in January when gay bloggers latched onto ties between Chick-fil-A and groups that fight against marriage equality. The company didn’t help itself when its president, Dan Cathy (top photo), responded by saying that the company welcomes everyone despite its WinShape Foundation in North Georgia rejecting gay couples. Cathy continues to say same-sex couples are not banned from WinShape, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

imageAnti-gay supporters of Chick-fil-A then weighed in, taking a Sarah Palin approach and blaming the entire controversy on the media. They also pointed to Kim Severson (third photo), an Atlanta-based reporter for the New York Times and a lesbian, and blamed her for ginning up the controversy.

On Sunday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution took another stab at covering the controversy, highlighting Chick-fil-A’s humble beginnings and the role faith has played as the company grew from a few outlets in Atlanta to more than 1,500 in 39 states.

Faith is never far from the front lines at Chick-fil-A, which has become the country’s highest-profile business that touts the Bible as an operating manual. Chick-fil-A’s creed of “second-mile service” is a reference to Matthew 5:41, in which Jesus tells his followers that if someone forces them to go one mile, they should go two instead.

But as Chick-fil-A grows, it is trying to pull off a balancing act: selling chicken and milkshakes while not exactly selling Christianity.

“It’s not a Christian company,” said Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s president. “It’s a company that operates on biblical principles. … They really work.”

imageThe AJC piece, by business reporter Jeremiah McWilliams, breaks some new ground, reporting that Chick-fil-A’s nondiscrimination policy covers sexual orientation but only in states with laws requiring them to do so. It’s the same for offering domestic partner health benefits – they only do it when they are mandated to do so.

Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality’s executive director, tells the AJC that the company should do more.

Chick-fil-A should codify what it has said publicly, said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. “They say they don’t discriminate against anybody,” he said. “If they really mean that, why not put it into policy?”

The company, which opened 80 new restaurants last year, continues to expand and has set its sights on San Francisco among its new markets. The anti-gay chicken king stepping into what’s an iconic place for many LGBT folks? We’ll see.

Chick-fil-A’s controversy is getting noticed by college students on at least nine campuses where they are demanding the chain be banned for its support of anti-gay groups. But some students are pushing back. Even gay folks are conflicted about what to do, according to the AJC.

Bo Shell, art director at gay publication Georgia Voice, got a job at a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Milledgeville while in high school. The prayers before Christmas and Halloween parties weren’t his thing, but his boss didn’t pressure him.

“It seems so strange that someone as gay as me worked for Chick-fil-A,” said Shell, 27. “Of course there were Christian overtones, but I didn’t have a problem working for them if they didn’t have a problem with me. I worked with a lot of people who were really cool Christian people, and they were really supportive. I don’t regret working for them.”

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