Chick-fil-A stopped funding traditional-marriage groups in an effort to open a new Chicago restaurant, but the company initially kept quiet about the decision, prompting gay rights groups to speculate that the company feared a backlash from conservative customers.
The Christian-rooted fast food restaurant agreed to stop funding groups such as Focus on the Family that oppose same-sex marriage in a meeting with the Chicago politician who had been blocking the company’s move there. Chick-fil-A wrote a letter to Alderman Joe Moreno affirming this, according to his spokesman, Matt Bailey, but the company initially wouldn’t allow his office to release the letter to the public. Three weeks later they relented.
“There was concern from them,” said 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 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.”
Chick-fil-A did not returns requests for comment, and has previously said it will not discuss the issue with the media.
Mr. Martinez said Chick-fil-A told the alderman they will no longer fund groups that support traditional marriage through their charity arm, the WinShape Foundation, and will instead use that money toward educational programs and food donations.
“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.
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.”
Mr. Moreno called it a win 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.”
The restaurant’s decision comes less than two months after Chick-fil-A sparked a nationwide controversy when President Dan Cathy told a Christian news outlet that he 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.
But religious supporters fought back, turning out for “Chick-fil-Appreciation Day,” which happened to be the most successful day of business in company history.