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Chick-fil-A claims to cease anti-gay donations, clarifies policies
Later information suggests little real change
by Melissa Wasserman
2012-09-19

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See Sept. 21 coverage at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Reports-of-Chick-fil-A-victory-called-into-question/39632.html .

Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno has struck a deal with Chick-fil-A that will allow the chain to open in his ward, after months of controversy that started with anti-gay comments made by the restaurant's chief operating officer, Dan Cathy.

According to Moreno and The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA), the company will no longer donate money to anti-gay organizations and has issued a memo about respectful treatment of LGBT employees and customers.

In a statement released Sept. 18, Moreno said he met with Chick-fil-A executives last week for the second time this month. The meetings concluded 10 months of negotiations with the company focused on concerns about fair and equal hiring and serving practices within the company.

"This is a win for the LGBT community," said Moreno. "This is a win for everyone who works for the cause of equal rights, and a win for Chick- fil-A. This is a win for all."

The controversy began this summer after Cathy told Christian-news organization the Baptist Press that he was "guilty as charged" of opposing same-sex marriage. Cathy's comments came after years of reports that the restaurant's WinShape Foundation gives millions to vehemently anti-gay organizations.

Moreno subsequently announced he would block Chick-fil-A from opening in Logan Square. Mayor Emanuel backed Moreno, setting off a firestorm from critics who alleged Moreno was retaliating in violation of Chick-fil-A's right to free speech.

According to TCRA, which has been working with Moreno on the Chick-fil-A negotiations, anti-gay donations were among the key issues in the controversy, but the group also wanted the corporation to adopt an anti-discrimination policy at the corporate level.

"I think it's really an important step forward for the company," said Anthony Martinez, executive director of TCRA. "I think also it's a positive step for the LGBT community. The fact that they're no longer donating to anti-gay organizations really, from what they've had in the past, I think shows they are trying to make a significant step forward in terms of serving all of their customers equally, not using their profits to work against the fight for civil rights for the LGBT community."

A letter signed by Chick-fil-A's senior director of real estate to Moreno states, "The WinShape Foundation 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."

Donations will now go toward foster-care agencies and community-service groups, among other organizations—as opposed to anti-gay organizations such as Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage.

According to Moreno, it is also the first time the company has written an internal memo to franchisees and stakeholders stating that the company will "treat every person with honor, dignity and respect-regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation and gender," and that their "intent is not to engage in political or social debates." The statement is listed in an official company document titled "Chick-fil-A: Who We Are."

"My sole interest in this fight was to make substantive progress on the vital civil-rights issue of our day," said Moreno. "With this action, I believe that real progress has been made to address the very legitimate concerns of the LGBT community regarding Chick-fil-A."

Martinez says the goal is to ensure employees feel comfortable in their working environment and if there is overt discrimination, they will be now be able to call attention to it without fear of retribution from the company.

"Of course here in Illinois we're very lucky to have very stringent anti-discrimination laws specific to sexual orientation and gender identity as it relates to employment," he said. "However, that's not the case necessarily for everyone across the country. We do feel the company needs to adopt an anti-discrimination policy."

Still, many questioned claims that Chick-fil-A had adopted a new policy and had given up anti-gay donations, noting that the language of the memo is the same that was used in a Chick-fil-A Facebook post when the controversy first broke in July.

In a follow-up interview, Martinez agreed that the policy was not new.

"With regard to policy, there really isn't that much of a change," he said.

The change, he said, was in the fact that Chick-fil-A sent the anti-discrimination statement to franchisees for the first time. Still, Martinez said he and Moreno had hoped the chain would adopt anti-discrimination language in its corporate policies.

Matt Bailey, a spokesperson for Moreno's office, said that effort was complicated by the fact that Chick-fil-A handbooks differ between franchises.

Bailey confirmed, however, that Chick-fil-A had promised to stop giving to anti-gay organizations. He said his office was most concerned with six or seven specific organizations known to be intensely anti-gay, which the company vowed to cut off financially.

"They showed [Moreno] and confirmed they wouldn't … but they also asked us not to show the details of that, and we agreed."

Bailey called the agreement "a start" and said his office would be watching to make sure the new Chick-fil-A did not discriminate once it opened.

Still, a day later The Advocate reported that WinShape held a fundraiser for traditionally anti-gay group the Marriage and Family Foundation, avoiding donating to the group by instructing donors to send money directly to the foundation itself.

Critics of the fast food chain have also noted that the company refuses to confirm or deny Moreno and TCRA's statements that the company has had a change of heart.

In response to a Windy City Times inquiry that questioned whether or not the company had in fact changed policy or defunded anti-gay initiatives, Chick-fil-A replied with the same media statement it has used since the controversy broke over the summer.

"Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena," the statement reads.

Further confusing matters was another statement put out two days after Moreno's announcement from Chick-fil-A, that appeared to suggest the company's giving practices may not have changed.

"A part of our corporate commitment is to be responsible stewards of all that God has entrusted to us," the statement reads. "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. Our intent is not to support political or social agendas."

And the latest claim that the company has changed course may not satisfy all. In the wake of the controversy earlier this year, TCRA Board President and attorney Jacob Meister filed a complaint of discrimination against Chick-fil-A on behalf of a gay couple. The complaint alleged that Cathy's anti-gay comments, on behalf of the company, violated the Illinois Human Rights Act by making the restaurant inaccessible to gay people.

Meister said they will forge ahead with the complaint, although it remains unclear if the battle will continue to be supported by TCRA or will be taken on by Meister and the complainants alone.

"What [Chick-fil-A does] today moving forward doesn't necessarily take care of the past problem," said Meister.

—Contributing reporter: Kate Sosin


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