Chick-fil-A or Nay?

Melissa Brand, Staff Writer


Photos by Melissa Brand

Up until recently, most people in the Chicago area may not have known much about Chick-fil-A. The Georgia-based restaurant chain has 12 stores in Illinois with one location downtown that opened June 16, 2011. It is not surprising that most people had not heard about them until their President and Chief Operating Officer, Dan Cathy made headlines because of his comments related to marriage and family.

In an interview for The Baptist Press, Cathy stated, “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” Cathy said. “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.” Although he never clearly stated that he was “against same-sex marriage” or that he was “anti-gay,” his words hit the nerve of many people, starting with the LGBTQ community and their allies.

Prior to this issue, Chick-fil-A had been in the news for allegations of donating money to anti-gay charities and corporations. These corporations have not stated they are against same-sex marriage either, but are known for their over-the-top Christian beliefs and values. Chick-fil-A has always been vocal about their religious and family beliefs and even closes on Sundays. This goes back to 1946 when Truett Cathy, founder and CEO of Chick-fil-A, opened his first restaurant. According to the Chick-fil-A website, “The Closed-on-Sunday policy is reflected in the company’s Corporate Purpose: To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”

The line that separates topics like religion and personal beliefs, or freedom of speech and hatred toward a group has become dangerously thin. Just because someone is of a certain religious group, does not mean they are anti-gay, they just don’t practice the same beliefs as that group. Just because someone is LGBTQ, doesn’t mean they don’t believe in religion or god. Somehow though, someone wrote a book and made it okay that a man marries a woman, but not okay for same-sex partners to marry. People can believe and speak about family units the way Cathy does; however, they need to understand that their words may be perceived as anti-gay and so must be prepared for the consequences, such as further debates and boycotts.

In Chicago, first ward alderman, Joe Moreno voiced his concerns and originally wanted to stop the opening of a new store in the Logan Square neighborhood. “If you are discriminating against a segment of the community, I don’t want you in the First Ward,” Moreno said in a statement to the Chicago Tribune on July 25 earlier this year. “You have the right to say what you want to say, but zoning is not a right.” A similar situation took place in Boston, but that mayor, Thomas Menino, backed down a bit. Rahm Emanuel offered his support to Moreno. “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values,” Mayor Emanuel said in a statement to the Chicago Tribune. “They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents.” The problem with these statements is that: 1) The Mayor doesn’t speak for everyone in Chicago and 2) The city does not have the right to block zoning applications. Sadly, any group has the right to open a business without being discriminated against. The city can’t deny permits because it disapproves of the owner’s use of his First Amendment rights. However, if a company is making a minority population feel “unwelcome, objectionable or unacceptable, they are in violation of The Illinois Human Rights Act under Section 5-102(B). Again, where is the line drawn? Cathy can have those First Amendment rights, but to what extent, without it becoming hate and discrimination? Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) Justice Studies Major and Senior Erin Hamilton agrees. “I was really happy that Moreno and Emanuel came out and let their views be known! They said they don’t want that kind of prejudice coming into their city. I really appreciate that,” Hamilton said. “It helps to have allies everywhere, especially in government. But I do believe it would be wrong to specifically deny – in fact, it would be illegal to deny people business rights just because of their beliefs. More specifically, one person in their corporation’s beliefs. It’s a very slippery slope.”

After the initial statements were released, boycotts were planned as well as a national “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” On Aug. 1, 2012 supporters of Chick-fil-A filled their restaurants to show their love for the company. Locally, some restaurants ran out of food and had lines around the building. The company reported record setting sales on this day, but would not release the total revenue amounts. Later that week, pro-same-sex marriage groups staged “kiss-ins” where gay couples went to Chick-fil-A restaurants and had make-out sessions in protest of Cathy’s comments. NEIU junior, Erica S. says she loves all of her gay friends. “On a personal level, I am conflicted as to what I believe is right and wrong about this. I am a bible believing Christian and I think that my friends know that about me. I won’t be boycotting Chick-fil-A because I love their food. I think it’s terrible that the alderman is trying to block it. It’s a very good business. They always have high revenue and they always have happy employees.”


Lauren Silich, Owner/Operator of the Chicago area location, Chick-fil-A Loyola Watertower, 30 E. Chicago Avenue, released a statement in response to Mayor Emanuel’s comments. Not only did she invite the Mayor to come into the restaurant to meet her husband and staff, but she invited everyone to come in to see the type of people they are. Silich stated, “We are not a corporation – we are real people and taxpayers as each Chick- fil‐A franchise is independently owned and operated. We are Chicagoans who are dedicated to serving our community. We hold fundraisers for hospitals, schools, fallen police and we donate to a wide variety of causes, including everything from churches to gay and lesbian organizations.” In a phone call with Silich, she added, “Even with all of the negative press and protests toward Chick-fil-A, business continues to be steady.”

Since his initial statement, Alderman Moreno has spoken with Chick-fil-A numerous times. Matt Bailey, a spokesperson for Moreno’s office said, “We had a meeting with them a few weeks ago. We think it’s in their interest to do some PR (public relations) damage control on their end. If they’re willing to make some changes, we’ll see where they’re at.” If Chick-fil-A makes changes, the damage is done and the negative opinion that many people have about Chick-fil-A will likely not change. Hamilton said she still won’t give them her money. “I think there’s also a safety thing too. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going into Chick-fil-A; just like I wouldn’t be comfortable going into a Catholic church. Being who I am, and knowing not just what their beliefs are, but also because of the escalation on the political scale, the people who might be in there, what they really believe and I don’t know what their actions are going to be.”

In a canned response to the public, Chick-fil-A said the “culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 restaurants run by independent owner/operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.” Perhaps Cathy should lay off the chicken and have crow for his next meal.