- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2012

Saying its corporate giving policies have been consistently “mischaracterized,” national franchise restaurant Chick-fil-A said Thursday that, while it remained committed to an active corporate giving program, “our intent is not to support political or social agendas.”

The company issued the statement after lawmakers and gay activists in Chicago contended this week that the family-owned fast-food chain had agreed to stop funding traditional marriage groups opposed to same-sex marriages such as Focus on the Family. Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno said he had received the commitment from the company as it sought community support to enter the Chicago market.

Without denying Mr. Moreno’s claim, the company — which originally did not comment on the Chicago pledge — said in its statement Thursday that it was simply reaffirming its corporate statement issued in August on its charity guidelines. That memo outlined charity giving in three areas: educational programs for young employees; food donations for charity and disaster relief; and youth, community and “marriage enrichment” programs.

Chick-fil-A’s “giving heritage is focused on programs that educate youth, strengthen families and enrich marriages, and support communities,” the company said Thursday. “We will continue to focus our giving in those areas. Our intent is not to support political or social agendas.”

The company statement did not address Mr. Moreno’s claim that he had been told the the family-owned firm’s WinShape Foundation charity arm, while supporting marriage “enrichment” programs, would shift money that went to anti-gay marriage groups to other educational and food donation programs.

Anthony Martinez, executive director for the Civil Rights Agenda, the Illinois lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender group that negotiated with both Chick-fil-A and the alderman, said the company’s pledge came in the form of a letter to Mr. Moreno about WinShape’s giving patterns.

“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,” Chick-fil-A wrote in the letter that, activists said, the company originally tried to keep private.

Chick-fil-A also sent an internal memo called “Chick-fil-A: Who We Are” stating the company will “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect-regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation and gender.”

“There was concern from them,” said Anthony Martinez,  to stop funding for so-called anti-gay groups. “They really didn’t want to announce it, really, but, of course, the alderman needed to clarify why he was changing his stance on them opening a restaurant within his ward.”

The company found itself at the center of a national culture war earlier this summer when President Dan Cathy told a Christian news outlet that top company officials supported traditional marriage. Gay advocacy groups took that to mean that he was anti-gay. They also pointed to the company’s funding for groups that oppose same-sex marriage. Many called for a Chick-fil-A boycott, while others joined in a gay “kiss-in” at the restaurants. Some politicians, including Mr. Moreno, said the restaurant was not welcome in their communities.

That sparked a strong counterreaction, however, as traditional marriage groups and conservative activists flocked to the restaurants for a “Chick-fil-Appreciation Day,” which happened to be the most successful day of business in company history.

Mr. Moreno, insisted his dealings with the company constituted a major victory for gay rights.

“Prior to today, Chick-fil-A had a poor record when it came to acknowledging equal rights for all of our citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation,” he said. “But today, we have a new path: For the first time, Chick-fil-A has changed their practices and promised the workplace protections that all of our citizens deserve. Instead of being a company that openly promotes discrimination, Chick-fil-A has vowed to move forward.”

This could also help in other areas, such as Boston and San Francisco, where politicians vowed to oppose new Chick-fil-A restaurants.

The Civil Rights Agenda was also happy with the move, but said more needs to be done.

“We’re very pleased with this move,” Mr. Martinez said. “We think it is a big step forward.”

The group would also like to see Chick-fil-A include an anti-discrimination policy in the company’s employee handbook. He said companies in many states are still allowed to discriminate against gay and transgender people, so a company policy would help prevent that.

“In the state of Illinois, it is part of the law,” Mr. Martinez said. “But in many parts of the South, sexual orientation is not protected. There are over 20 states still that you can be fired for being gay, and there are over 30 states that you can be fired for being transgender. A lot of people don’t know that.”

For its part, Chick-fil-A said in its statement its “sincere intent” was to “remain out of this political and social debate.”

“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 resaurants run by [our] independent owner/operators.”

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