July 30th, 2012
The national debate over gay marriage, fried chicken and LGBT-rights came home to roost last week when Chicago Alderman “Proco” Joe Moreno put a stop to a proposed Chick-fil-A restaurant in Logan Square. Moreno’s move was in response to the fast food chicken restaurant’s controversial association with anti-gay rights and anti-gay marriage institutions. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Moreno stated, “If you are discriminating against a segment of the community, I don’t want you in the 1st Ward.” The proposed restaurant on the 2500 block of North Elston had already obtained zoning but still required City Council approval. According to the Tribune, Moreno is exercising a rarely used power known as “aldermanic privilege,” which allows an Alderman to sway City Council decisions in deference to local concerns.
Chick-fil-A, a southern fast food staple with over 1,600 restaurants, mostly located around the company’s base in Georgia, opened their first Chicago restaurant last year in River North under a chorus of protests from LGBT advocacy groups. Protestors were responding to a 2011 report from Equality Matters that found Chick-fil-A’s charity program, WinShape Foundation, had donated $1.1 million between 2003-2008 to a variety of organizations that oppose gay marriage. These organizations include Alliance Defense Fund, Focus on the Family, and Family Research Council – which received designation as a “hate group” from the Southern Poverty Law Center for their anti-LGBT efforts.
Until recently Chick-fil-A took no official stance on LGBT issues. Yet in an article on Baptist Press published in mid-July, Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy was asked about the company’s “support of the traditional family,” to which he replied, “guilty as charged… We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”
These comments ignited a firestorm of criticism from LGBT rights organizations. A string of protests and oppositions have sprung up across the country. Earlier this month the Jim Henson Company severed their promotional ties to Chick-fil-A. The company posted the following message to their Facebook wall, “The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years and we have notified Chick-fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors. Lisa Henson, our CEO is personally a strong supporter of gay marriage and has directed us to donate the payment we received from Chick-fil-A to GLAAD.”
The move by Jim Henson Company followed the response of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino who vowed to block any attempts by Chick-fil-A to build a restaurant in the city. Menino told the Boston Herald, “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”
“Proco” Joe Moreno’s stance against Chick-fil-A also garnered heavy-hitting political support at home when Mayor Rahm Emmanuel released a statement to the Chicago Tribune saying “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values. They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty.”
Chick-fil-A released an official statement denying a corporate anti-LGBT stance, “(we) treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.” Their other responses to the controversy have earned further criticism. In response to the removal of Jim Henson Company themed toys at their stores, they posted this sign, which rather boldly lies about the circumstances under discussion. Despite evidence to the contrary, Chick-fil-A is also vehemently denying that they created a fake Facebook profile to drum up support.
Despite earning the ire of liberal and gay rights groups, the conservative right has risen up in support of the chain. Former Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has sponsored a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” scheduled for August 1st. This effort has earned support from over 115,000 respondents. Alderman Moreno also earned an attack from Chicago-based Christian group Illinois Family Institute. According to the Tribune, the organization, which opposes gay marriage, stated “Here’s the alderman turning around and being intolerant and discriminatory because somebody has a different view than he does. Would he do that to a Muslim company?”
The fight rages to rage on twitter, Facebook and via media outlets as customers, politicians and celebrities take turns expressing support and disdain. Despite growing criticism, Chick-fil-A posted record sales totaling over $4 billion in 2011. Increasing profits seem to have continued to fuel Chick-fil-A’s support of anti-LGBT groups, which EqualityMatters found had increased to nearly $2 million in 2010 alone. However, if the trend established by politicians in Chicago and Boston continues, the company may face difficulties expanding outside the Bible Belt.