A Chicago alderman announced he will allow a Chick-fil-A in his ward, after the company change course on LGBT issues, but evasion on the issue from the restaurant and continued anti-gay fundraising has called in the question the sincerity of that deal.
In a statement released Sept. 18, Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno said he will not block the chain from opening as he had planned because he negotiated the adoption of a non-discrimination statement from the company and convinced them to cease funding vehemently anti-gay organizations nationally.
See first day coverage at www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Chick-fil-A-claims-to-cease-anti-gay-donations-clarifies-policies/39564.html .
But Mike Huckabee wrote on his blog that the restaurant's Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy personally told him the story was false.
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 anti-gay groups.
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.
On Sept. 18, Moreno and LGBT organization The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) announced victory on the Chick-fil-A issue. The story has made national headlines since.
"This is a win for the LGBT community," said Moreno in a statement. "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."
"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."
Still, many questioned claims that Chick-fil-A had adopted a new policy and gave up anti-gay donations, noting that the language of the company memo is the same 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 said, 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 said.
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.
According to TCRA, a letter signed by Chick-fil-A's senior director of real estate to Moreno had stated, "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."
In addition, the company released the anti-discrimination memo.
Martinez said the goal was to ensure employees feel comfortable at work and that they are able to report discrimination without fear of retribution.
"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."
Moreno said the agreement was 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, in a statement. "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."
But just days after the story broke, many called into question what progress had been made, if any.
Equality Illinois, which has been known to stand at odds with TCRA, put out a press release condemning Chick-fil-A's perceived continuation of anti-gay policies and calling the latest flap a missed opportunity for the company.
"Chick-Fil-A's charitable giving to programs that supposedly 'strengthen families and enrich marriages' do not include in their vision same-sex couples and the families they are building," said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois. "And we're dismayed that in order to 'strengthen families and enrich marriages,' Chick-Fil-A chooses to fund organizations that marginalize LGBT families, oppose marriages of gay and lesbian couples and disrespect LGBT people."
TCRA also responded to the news with disappointment in a press release. But Martinez argued that it is too soon to tell if Chick-fil-A has changed course.
"The agreement was that Chick-fil-A and the Winshape Foundation would no longer give to these groups directly, so we are going to have to take some time to look into this action and whether there is a violation to that agreement, but at this time it does not look as if they have," said Martinez, in the statement. "In the past, the Marriage and Family Foundation's practices have definitely been against the marriage equality movement, so the concern going forward would be what they are using that money for. Supporting family and marriage is definitely a good thing, but if they are working against marriage equality, obviously that is something that needs to be addressed."
But conservative politician Mike Huckabee said he knew firsthand from Cathy that the story is untrue.
Huckabee released the following statement and attributed it to Cathy:
"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."
Some have suggested that Moreno announced the shaky compromise in order to justify allowing Chick-fil-A into his ward, a move some argued he was legally required to do anyway.
Bailey did not immediately respond to a request for follow-up comment.
Rick Garcia, policy advisor for TCRA and a veteran LGBT activist, said he has spent more time on the phone trying to convince reporters of the veracity of the story than he has talking about the issue itself.
The sticking point, he said, is in Moreno's agreement with Chick-fil-A not to release the purported written statement from the company, affirming it had ceased anti-gay donations.
Garcia said he took exception with that agreement.
"Chick-fil-A wants to have their chicken and it, too," he said, arguing that Chick-fil-A had attempted to manipulate support from Moreno without alienating many of its anti-gay customers.
Garcia stood by Moreno and by TCRA's version of events, stating that Chick-fil-A deceived the alderman.
"Everything that the alderman has said, he got from senior executives at Chick-fil-A," he said. "I really don't think he was massaging or distorting what happened."
Asked if TCRA or Moreno had received approval to release statements on behalf of Chick-fil-A, Garcia said that Chick-fil-A had asked that neither announce the agreement publicly.