Chick-fil-A announcement ruffles activists’ feathers

Courtney L'Ecuyer

Chick-fil-A is known for its waffle fries and buttery chicken sandwiches, but after owner Dan T. Cathy released a statement opposing same-sex marriage, consumers across the country and college campuses are choosing not to “eat more chikin.”

It’s no surprise that the Georgia-based company stands for conservative Christian values. The popular fast food chain is closed on Sundays, trains employees based on a Biblical model and has donated millions of dollars to religious organizations since it was founded in Hapeville, Ga. in 1946. In other words, most consumers know they are eating “Jesus chicken.”

However, a recent uproar of complaints have surfaced after the Baptist Press quoted Cathy on July 16 saying Chick-fil-A opposes same-sex marriage and that the generation that supports it has an ‘arrogant attitude.’

This was the first time Cathy publically announced his opposition to gay marriage, as he had previously refused to reveal a firm stance on the issue.

When confronted with the company’s bold statements on marriage, Cathy responded, “guilty as charged.”

Chick-fil-A is valued at $4.5 billion according to PrivCo, a research firm. Founder Samuel Truett Cathy and son Dan Cathy each own a third, making them worth $1.5 billion each. In 2011, researchers estimate the southern-style meals brought in $1.12 billion in revenue. In 2009 alone, the chain donated $7,814,788 to WinShape, an organization that funds seven conservative anti-same-sex marriage groups including the Marriage and Family Legacy Fund, Exodus International, Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.

Private companies have the right to run their businesses as they see fit and everyone has their right to an opinion, no matter your sexual orientation or religious background. In reality, Cathy can finance, support and state anything he believes. It’s his company after all, and it’s up to consumers to choose what they want to eat.

But the stark reality is that by making polarizing political statements Cathy has sacrificed much more than his reputation. He has pushed his multi-billion dollar company to stand for controversial ideals that are unrelated to the product the company sells. Franchise holders, which include 97 percent of chains, who might not share his same views on marriage are now placed in a predicament. Employees at the more than 1,300 chains are burdened with the notion that the company they work for may not approve of their sexual status or marital choices. And it has caused many members of the LGBTQ community, as well as straight allies, activists and students across the country to consider boycotting America’s tastiest chicken and waffle fries.

Recent Arizona graduate Matthew McCahill, who graduated in August with a degree in regional development and a minor in religious studies, expressed his discontent with the recent events saying that even though the company has the right to make its own financial choices, taking such a controversial stance hurts both consumers and the company’s business.

“There is a large LGBTQ population here at the University of Arizona and Tucson is an open and creative town. They’re selling a product, why do they feel the need to start talking about religious values?”

McCahill said that he, along with his family and friends, have boycotted the company for more than a year now and will continue to do so.

McCahill also expressed his frustration that a typically liberal and open-minded school such as the UA would continue to house Chick-fil-A in its union. The Arizona Student Union’s office was not available to comment on the issue, but after Cathy’s recent announcement, it is entirely possible that UA students will follow in the footsteps of cities such as Boston, Chicago and San Francisco and ban the company.

Local LGBTQ advocacy groups such as Wingspan, one of Southern Arizona’s oldest non-profit organizations did not release a particular stance on the Chick-fil-A events, but commented on the unsafe environment it could potentially create.

“Any time leaders, be it at restaurants, organizations or individuals, communities or families take a strong stance on opposing the LBTGQ community, it causes the normalization of discrimination that can create a very unsafe environment for those people,” said Casey Chimneystar Condit, the acting director of programs.

The reactions of unhappy consumers and activists vary from boycotting the restaurant entirely, to frequenting the restaurant more often in an attempt to promote a diverse demographic rather than a purely conservative one, according to Condit.

But whatever repercussions Chick-fil-A encounters, let it be an example that although Americans have the Constitutional right of freedom of expression, we should be careful how we use it. Companies can negatively affect businesses and consumers alike by imposing political agendas that aren’t related to the products they sell.

—Courtney L’Ecuyer is the perspectives editor. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions .