Protesters flock to both sides of Chicago Chick-fil-A debate

About 50 people demonstrated in front of the Chicago Chick-fil-A restaurant Wednesday, following the controversy surrounding the company COO’s anti-gay remarks and the resulting fallout in local politics — but not all of the protesters were picketing the fast-food chain or holding rainbow flags.

A dozen or so of the protesters assembled there came to defend the company and protect the notion of religious freedom. Some of them, including Peter LaBarbera, represented the Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center deemed as an anti-gay hate group. The other protesters, however, were organized by the Gay Liberation Network, a longtime direct action gay rights group.

While GLN and pro-gay rights protesters chanted “Hey, hey, Chick-fil-A, take your hate and go away,” the small group of religious protesters read from the Rosary and stood against the window of the restaurant.

“I’m standing here to support Chick-fil-A because it isn’t in a movement against gay people,” said Alexis McCormick, 28, of Mundelein. “Some are alleging that we are bullying gay people — we don’t know about that. Our beliefs only make sense in the context of our religion.”

The protest, originally called on by GLN at the city’s only Chick-fil-A location, 30 E. Chicago Ave., was created to launch the group’s campaign to boycott Chick-fil-A and mobilize the LGBT community around establishing the company as a bigoted corporation, said Andy Thayer, GLN’s co-founder. The group will begin distributing thousands of posters and fliers about the boycott at the upcoming Northalsted Market Days street fair this weekend, he said.

It’s the third protest in a week that has taken place outside the restaurant. On Friday, other LGBT activists staged a kiss-in during the evening rush hour.

“It’s important that Chicago is getting organized behind a boycotting Chick-fil-A,” Thayer said. “They’ve given over $5 million to anti-gay groups and in all likelihood, they could be violating state law. This is a corporation that has already had 12 lawsuits filed against it.”

Thayer, however, did not stand behind Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno’s (1 Ward) recent announcement to block the company from opening a new location in Logan Square portion of his ward, no did he praise the Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s initial statements supporting Moreno’s ban, which he quickly backtracked on as the fallout continued.

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Another LGBT rights group, The Civil Rights Agenda, filed formal complaints with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, alleging that the company violates state law and makes LGBT customers feel “unwelcome and unacceptable.” The Chicago Republican Party also filed a complaint, but targeted Moreno and Emanuel for allegedly violating the company’s right to free speech.

Thayer’s goal is much simpler.

“We are simply urging our fellow Chicagoans to boycott Chick-fil-A,” he said. “Boycotts are a freedom tool that our community needs to employ — not just saying don’t go there, but getting out in the streets. This needs to be a community driven thing to be successful. We are not just clicking the ‘Like’ button here.”

The demonstration, however, was not without tension between the opposing groups. One of the GLN protesters, Veronica Drantz, repeatedly yelled at Sulaiman Khwaja of Wauconda, saying that he was on the wrong side of the line. Kwaja said he thinks this is due to his androgynous way of dressing and appearance, and said that he was taken aback by the yelling directed at him.

“There is a difference between hate and disagreeing,” he said.

At another point, a priest broke the protest line, designated by police, and was quickly surrounded by the LGBT protesters, who pointed and yelled in his face.

LaBarbera responded to the tension by photographing the activists who lashed out, saying the action is “a fiasco for the gay movement.”

“There’s a whole lot of people who think there is intolerance on both sides,” he said. “This is exposing the intolerant gay left.”