The Chick-fil-A Controversy, Explained
As of 2023, there are close to 3,000 Chick-fil-A restaurants across the United States. The fast-food chain doesn’t have anywhere near the level of prominence as other chains like McDonald’s or Taco Bell, but it’s a strong contender against smaller growing chains like Chipotle and Five Guys. However, even though millions of residents in the U.S. may have never eaten at or seen a Chick-fil-A restaurant, chances are they’ve heard about it. The fast-food chain has risen as a topic of national discussion multiple times over the years due to its controversial and harmful stances on public issues, especially those regarding the LGBTQIA+ community.
Both the franchise and its founders/owners are known for being openly, even aggressively anti-LGBTQ. For years the business donated millions to notoriously anti-LGBTQ organizations, and the restaurant’s current Chairman, Dan Cathy, has voiced his anti-LGBTQ opinions openly and also personally donates to anti-LGBTQ groups. As a result, even though the company has made efforts to stop donating to certain organizations after the extreme public backlash, the billionaire chairman of the company remains an issue.
Additionally, there is evidence that Chick-fil-A may have indirectly funded an American religious organization called the Fellowship, which has been accused of proposing and advocating for the passage of one of the world’s worst anti-LGBTQ bills in Uganda, which was passed in 2014 before being struck down, but was recently revived and passed in the Ugandan parliament on March 21st, 2023. Hence, the Chick-fil-A controversy remains deeply troubling and is having far-reaching consequences even today.
What is the Chick-fil-A controversy?
Ever since its founding, Chick-fil-A has been rooted in Christian beliefs and values. Its founders, S. Truett Cathy and his wife, Jeannette, were Southern baptists, and, to this day, Chick-fil-A restaurants close on Sundays in observance of the Sabbath. However, where the problem arose was with the Christian non-profit organization that Truett and Jeannette founded called the WinShape Foundation. As early as 2003, this organization began donating millions to notoriously anti-LGBTQ organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family.
Given that Truett founded WinShape, it isn’t surprising that his fast-food chain become one of the biggest funders of his charity. Prior to 2012, Chick-fil-A donated over $5 million to the WinShape organization. Meanwhile, in 2010 alone, WinShape donated $2 million of the funds they received from Chick-fil-A to seven anti-LGBTQ groups. The news sparked backlash across the nation, with many calling for a boycott of the franchise and groups protesting the opening of new restaurants.
Meanwhile, instead of apologizing amidst the backlash, Cathy doubled down on his anti-LGBTQ stance. While appearing on The Ken Coleman Show, he warned viewers that those advocating for LGBTQ rights would be subjected to “God’s judgment.” He stated:
I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about. We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that … We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,
The response to the Chick-fil-A controversy
As said above, many LBGTQ groups and activists responded to Cathy’s statements and Chick-fil-A’s donation history with boycotts and protests. However, not all of these efforts were successful. Upon learning of Chick-fil-A’s controversy, many Americans went out of their way to visit the restaurant for the mere sake of showing off their bigotry. On August 1, 2012, Republican politician Mike Huckabee declared an unofficial Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day to counter the restaurant’s boycott. In a nauseating display of America’s anti-LGBTQ bigotry, thousands flocked to Chick-fil-A restaurants across the nation, with lines reaching parking lots and stores reporting unprecedented rises in traffic and sales.
However, just a day before Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, the franchise issued a statement responding to the controversy. Despite Cathy’s statements and the counter-boycott, the restaurant stated it would no longer be taking a public stance on same-sex marriage. The statement read, “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.” Additionally, the franchise did begin making an effort to decrease its funding of anti-LGBTQ organizations and allocate those resources to non-profit housing and education organizations instead.
The franchise’s tax filings in 2012 showed that the company had stopped funding most of the anti-LGBTQ organizations they had previously funded through WinShape. The only two alleged anti-LBGTQ organizations they continued to donate to were the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Salvation Army until 2019. Chick-fil-A has not appeared to have donated to any questionable organizations in recent years. However, Cathy is an entirely different story.
The ongoing Chick-fil-A controversy
Despite Chick-fil-A dropping its funding of anti-LGBTQ organizations, Cathy has continued donating to these same organizations since the controversy first began. In fact, he is one of the major donors to one of the most notorious anti-LGBTQ organizations, the National Christian Charitable Foundation (NCF). The NCF is one of the biggest non-profit organizations in the world and has granted billions to various organizations since 1982. In fact, from just 2015 to 2017 alone, the NCF was accused of donating $56.1 million to organizations that were identified as hate groups.
As mentioned above, the NCF funded the Fellowship, which, in turn, used these funds to send Americans to Uganda to urge the passing of a bill that would make homosexuality punishable with the death penalty. Meanwhile, as recently as 2021, it was reported that the NCF was funding opposition to The Equality Act. If passed, the Equality Act will provide greater protection to the LGBTQ community by making discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity illegal at the federal level. However, according to The Daily Beast, several Christian billionaires, including Cathy, were involved in a “dark money operation” via the NCF to dismantle and derail the Equality Act.
Hence, Cathy has made it very clear where he stands on LGBTQ issues and has continued using the fortune he gained from Chick-fil-A to fund hate groups and attempt to block LBGTQ rights and protection. So, even if customers are telling themselves that they can eat at Chick-fil-A because the franchise changed, they may still very well be funding anti-LGBTQ groups by doing so and contributing to the millions that Cathy rakes in each year.
(featured image: Chick-fil-A)
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