Business » Corporate

Huck-a-Bee Fumes as Chick-fil-A Retreats from Funneling Cash to Anti-LGBTQ Groups

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Nov 20, 2019
Mike Huckabee
Mike Huckabee  (Source:Associated Press)

Since 2012, when Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathey - son of original Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathey - slammed marriage equality and said that it was "arrogant" for human beings to set the definition of the legal contract known as wedlock, the fast-food company known for its chicken sandwiches has found itself at the front lines of the culture wars - and not, if the chain's PR is to be believed, entirely to its satisfaction.

In recent years, the chain has seen LGBTQ equality advocates call for boycotts while those clinging to faith-based prejudices have defended the brand. The result has been lost business opportunities and showboating politicians making Chick-fil-A's supposed anti-LGBTQ stance a cause célèbre in order to throw their base a little red... or, this case, white... meat.

But the business cost has been steep, with Chick-fil-A losing concessions on college campuses, in airports, and even seeing its flagship store in England subjected to protests. (The company announced only nine days after the English location opened that it would shutter when its current six-month lease expires.)

Indeed, while statements from the chain deny that the company is homophobic, tax records showing its recent donations to anti-LGBTQ groups came to light earlier this year, triggering a whole new round of controversy.

It seemed that the company had finally had enough of business-unfriendly rhetorical brawling when, earlier this week, it announced that it was not planning on giving any more cash to several anti-gay groups it had supported in the past, including the Salvation Army (which, like Chik-fil-A, denies that it is anti-LGBTQ), and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Said the chain in a release:

"This decision was made to create more clarity — and to better address three critical needs facing children across the communities Chick-fil-A serves."

That's when the reliably anti-gay right ignited in fury, with longtime equality foe, former governor of Arkansas, and onetime Fox News talk show host Mike Huckabee leading the charge - and beating his own drum while he was at it. Tweeted Huckabee:

"In Aug 2012 I coordinated a national @ChickfiA Appreciation Day after they were being bullied by militant hate groups. Millions showed up."

The "militant hate groups" in question had encouraged boycotts of the brand, which - considering that dollars spent by LGBTQ and allied customers were being funneled to causes actively working to attack the rights and protections of LGBTQ people and their families - doesn't seem especially bullying. Similar boycotts have been called for when the CEO of Barilla pasta publicly stated that gay customers were welcome to buy another brand and, more recently, an executive for Nivea was reported to have declared on a conference call that the company does not "do gay."

Huckabee continued his tweet with a slam at the company he once championed, declaring that:

Today @ChikfilA betrayed loyal customers for $$.

Huckabee did not address the phenomenon of anti-gay religious groups calling for boycotts against companies they perceive to be too gay-friendly, with the intention of hurting their bottom line. Nor did he take the time to outline his alternative for free-market capitalism in which suppliers craft their marketing, branding, and outreach decisions with at least some consideration for profit margins.

Huckabee concluded his tweet with: "I regret believing they would stay true to convictions of founder Truett Cathey. Sad."

Fox News was quick to report that Huckabee was not a lone voice in expressing his displeasure at the company's pragmatism. The conservative news outlet quoted Christian film producer Billy Hallowell, who pointed out that the business move

"...does little to appease those who have long loathed the company. Meanwhile, it does everything to alienate those who have backed the company endlessly against attacks."

Meanwhile, those true believers who for years praised the chain's menu indicated in their own social media responses that they were now cool to those tasty chicken sandwiches and much-lauded fries.

If so, that might simply be an extension of the way that Popeye's has recently carved into Chick-fil-A's domain, offering its own highly celebrated crispy chicken sandwiches to hungry customers.

But anti-gay religious lunchtime crowds needn't despair quite yet, as it turns out; the chain quickly adjusted course when social media exploded with righteous rage, reported Vice.

Tim Tassopoulos, the COO and president of the chain, offered a cryptic take on the company's plans when he told Vice that:

"No organization will be excluded from future consideration—faith-based or non-faith-based."

That's a considerably more nuanced response than Texas state lawmakers gave to the issue of whether to Chick or not to Chick with the passage of a so-called last summer. That law was a direct response to the city of San Antonio refusing the chain an airport concession, and a means of overriding the city's local representation on the issue.

Conservatives in other parts of the country used the restaurant as a shorthand to signal their own hostility for LGBTQ equality. In Montana, the state attorney general - with an eye on the governor's mansion, which he has announced he will ruin for in next year's election - invited the fast-food franchise to throw a few more of its company doors open beneath the Montana's much-marketed "big sky," despite the state's reliance on cattle ranching.

This is not the first time anti-gay religious conservatives have forgotten their adoration of the company in a fit of rage that Chick-fil-A might be offering its support - or at least not actively contributing to attacks on - the LGBTQ community. In 2015, a Change.org petition went after the chain for its purported underwriting of several equality-advocating organizations.

Meantime, the company has said that it will focus on several non-marriage-equality-related areas when giving in the future - those areas being homelessness, hunger, and education.

Those trouble spots seem laudable for civic-minded companies to address, or even for Christians determined to live their faith, all of which leaves the question open: When it comes to the hard religious right, is it the anti-gay way or the highway?

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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