Ally Agenda: Playing chicken

By : Jamie Hyman
Comments: 1

JamieHymanHeadshottI don’t even like Chick-fil-A that much.

I mean, obviously I have some issues with their politics. But even before I knew that was a thing, I couldn’t figure out what the fuss was about. Chick-fil-A offers a mediocre chicken sandwich with waffle fries that are fine, but give me Beefy King tater tots any day.

My husband, on the other hand, loves Chick-fil-A. I remember when Dan Cathy made his anti-gay comments in 2012, my husband looked at me sadly and said, “I can’t eat it any more, can I?”

I told him it’s up to him, but Chick-fil-A makes charitable donations to a bunch of anti-gay organizations and he needs to know that if he’s spending money there, he’s helping to fund those organizations.

He’s an ally, too, and he loves our LGBT friends so my husband decided to give up the chicken.

Now, we’re talking about Chick-fil-A again, but for a change, it’s not because of any actions from the corporate level—it’s because organizers of Come Out With Pride, Orlando’s annual Pride event slated for Oct. 11—have accepted a donation of Chick-fil-A food for COWP volunteers.

What that information came out, Rick Claggett, Watermark’s publisher, sidled up to my desk and asked, “Is it okay to eat Chick-fil-A again?”

I told him I’d look into the current state of Chick-fil-A’s donations, but it made me think. Even though accepting a donation doesn’t directly fund the haters, it does tacitly demonstrate some level of approval, to publicly eat their food at a Pride event.

“So what should I do if someone walks up to me and hands me a sandwich?” Rick asked.

“Throw it to the ground!” I joked.

“And stomp on it!” Rick laughed.

Clearly, we were kidding and grinding chicken sandwiches into the cobblestones isn’t productive. But this sponsorship has raised the question for many—if Chick-fil-A continues to be anti-gay at the national level, but supports local Pride events, is it okay to eat there again?

Thinking it would be useful to find out how the sponsorship came about, I called Mikael Audebert, the executive director of COWP. Audebert told me that they reach out to Chick-fil-A every year, and this year, their district marketing manager was open to participating. According to Audebert, they’re limiting their participation to the food donation because one, the local employees are committed to a 5K event already that day and two, he suggested Chick-fil-A to ease into Pride, given their checkered anti-gay past.

“I recommended that they come to Pride and support and sponsor in a more subtle manner so that we could gage the interest and start the conversation with them,” Audebert said. “Next year will probably be easier for them to participate fully in Pride.”

So why the sudden change of heart from Chick-fil-A in 2014?

I reached out to the regional marketing director, Cindy Coffman, to try to find out. Unfortunately, she is out of town and was unable to speak to me, but she did tell me in an email that they were “happy to accommodate” the COWP food request.

“As you can imagine, we receive hundreds of food donation requests in any given year due to the fact our restaurant operators are so active in the Orlando community,” Coffman wrote. “While we can’t accommodate every request that comes in, we fortunately were able to do the COWP food donation when [COWP] reached out to us. We were glad to be able to help!”

That doesn’t shed much light on why this donation is happening, and without that light, it’s hard to make a judgment call on where to go from here.

Here is what we do know. Since 2003, Chick-fil-A has given more than $8 million to anti-gay groups, with a focus on organizations fighting marriage equality. In 2012, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy made several comments essentially stating that he and his company support hetero-only marriage, which put those donations in the forefront and sparked outrage and boycotts among LGBT supporters. Right after that, hundreds of thousands of super gross people lined up outside of Chick-fil-As across the nation to purchase chicken sandwiches and shove them down their gullets in the name of anti-gay solidarity.

Despite that show of support for their chosen brand of bigotry, Chick-fil-A has backed off of its anti-LGBT acts. It’s a little complicated because they’ve created two foundations for charitable donations, but based on tax filings from 2012, it appears Chick-fil-A has ceased funding to all anti-gay organizations.

If news breaks that Chick-fil-A used a sub-group to make a donation to an anti-equality cause, I won’t exactly die from shock, but based on the information publicly available right now, it looks like the company has mostly mended their ways.

That does not, however, change the past. Earlier this month, a California high school principal rejected a similar donation from Chick-fil-A based on their politics. She has a point—even though the chain no longer backs it up with cash, it’s easy to assume that the company’s leadership still only believes in the biblical definition of family.

Is Chick-fil-A a symbol? Kind of like how the Confederate flag doesn’t indicate that the person displaying it is racist, but it certainly is a symbol of the South’s racist past.

Audebert thinks we should forgive and move forward.

“If nothing comes out of it, you know what? The best we can do is try,” he said.

It’s a clear conclusion for me—I don’t like their food, so I wouldn’t eat it either way.

The rest of you Chick-fil-A fans, however, have a tougher decision to make.

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