Days after a local LGBT rights advocacy group and a Chicago alderman announced that Chick-fil-A had agreed to end donations to anti-gay organizations and end discrimination based on sexual orientation throughout the company, conservative former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee announced on his website Friday that those claims are not true.
In July, Huckabee called for national “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” after a firestorm of criticism and controversy erupted following the company president comments denouncing same-sex marriage and public affirmation of the company’s opposition to marriage equality. The day drew thousands of Chick-fil-A supporters to locations across the country and resulted in its most successful day.
On his website, Huckabee said that he spoke to Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy early Friday about claims that the company had “caved” to support same-sex marriage rights. Cathy denied the claims and gave Huckabee the following statement:
“There continues to be erroneous implications in the media that Chick-fil-A changed our practices and priorities in order to obtain permission for a new restaurant in Chicago. That is incorrect. Chick-fil-A made no such concessions, and we remain true to who we are and who we have been.”
In the statement, Cathy is referring to Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno’s (1st) and The Civil Rights Agenda’s announcement that they had successfully negotiated with senior-level executives at Chick-fil-A to end its donations to anti-gay groups and institute internal directives to treat everyone fairly, including on the basis of sexual orientation. Moreno made national headlines in July when he said he would block the company from opening a new location in his ward, which includes Logan Square.
“I would like clarification from Mr. Cathy and Ald. Moreno on this matter,” said TCRA Executive Director Anthony Martinez, who worked with Moreno on the matter in an advisory capacity in the best interests of the LGBT community. “Chick-fil-A either lied or they are being very stealth about how they characterize this matter with their base.”
A request for the company to confirm the authenticity of the statement and comment has received no response.
After the initial story broke, Chick-fil-A remained mum, refusing to confirm the details of the announcement, which was hailed as a victory by many LGBT rights supporters. The silence from the company as well as a report in The Advocate on a questionable fundraiser sponsored by Chick-fil-A and it’s non-profit, WinShape Foundation, sparked doubts among several observers, including the Human Rights Campaign.
“Chick-fil-A can’t claim to be turning over a new leaf while simultaneously funneling thousands of dollars towards a group that does not acknowledge the dignity and respect of LGBT people,” said HRC Vice President of Communications Fred Sainz. “Chick-fil-A and the WinShape Foundation are at a turning point and face a fundamental question: will they continue actively using customer dollars to support groups that demonize LGBT people, or will they once and for all act like a responsible business and stop supporting discrimination?”
By the middle of the week, some declared Chick-fil-A simply had not changed, adding to widespread doubt. Popular LGBT blog site Joe.My.God. posted the statement with the headline, “Chick-fil-A: We Haven’t Changed A Thing.”
Shortly after the HRC statement was picked up in other media outlets, the company broke its silence.
On Thursday afternoon, Chick-fil-A released a statement saying that the company’s giving — historically to organizations that have been seen as anti-gay like Focus on the Family and the Alliance Defense Fund — has been “mischaracterized” and that its intention is to stay out of political debates by refraining from donating to organizations with agendas. It pledged to treat all customers and employees with dignity and respect in an internal document that was released with the statement.
But activists noted part of the statement, in which the company continues to plan giving to religious causes that focus on family and marriage, which they suspect do not include same-sex marriages. The statement in question reads, “A part of our corporate commitment is to be responsible stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Because of this commitment, Chick-fil-A’s giving heritage is focused on programs that educate youth, strengthen families and enrich marriages, and support communities. We will continue to focus our giving in those areas.”
The Thursday statement only fueled the skepticism from LGBT rights advocates, community members and even the religious right wing due to the fact that it again made no mention of the agreement made with Moreno and TCRA. Equality Illinois, another local LGBT rights group, said there was no evidence to believe Chick-fil-A had agreed to any change in policy and that it would continue its “homophobic policies.”
While Moreno could not be reached for further comment Thursday, TCRA Executive Director Anthony Martinez explained that Chick-fil-A is not about to publicly come out in support of LGBT rights and equality.
“They can’t say that we are going to stop that because they are going to get attacked,” he told Chicago Phoenix on Thursday. “If you look at their Facebook page, people on the right have already told them that they’re going to hell for this. From a business standpoint, they can’t. Of course, I would like that, but I don’t think they’re going to do that publicly.”
Indeed, the company received responses on its Facebook timeline, some raging against the company’s willingness to cave to gay causes and few in support of the company’s apparent ability to change its tune.
Chicago Phoenix will update as more information becomes available.