Chick-fil-A, the Georgia-based fast-food chain known for its juicy chicken sandwiches — and for its executives’ conservative strain of Christianity — has continued donating to anti-LGBTQ charities through its foundation despite claiming it had no political affiliation, ThinkProgress reports.
The Chick-fil-A Foundation donated more than $1.8 million to three groups with a history of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in 2017, according to recently released tax filings analyzed by ThinkProgress. That year, Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm gave $1,653,416 to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a religious organization that requires its employees to refrain from “homosexual acts”; $150,000 to the Salvation Army, which has been accused of anti-LGBTQ discrimination and advocacy for years and whose media relations director once claimed gay people “deserve death”; and $6,000 to the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a Christian residential home that teaches young boys that same-sex marriage is a “rage against Jesus Christ and His values.”
These donations were made five years after Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy said the US was “inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and we say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.” Cathy’s comments prompted a nationwide boycott — as well as a counter-boycott, called “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” created by then-Fox News host Mike Huckabee — and an eventual apology from the company, which claimed it would “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and the political arena.”
People weren’t just upset about Cathy’s comments; they were angry that the WinShape Foundation, a charitable organization founded in 1984 by Truett Cathy, Cathy’s father and the founder of Chick-fil-A, donated money to a number of anti-gay charities like the Marriage & Family Foundation, the Georgia Family Council, and Exodus International, a group that promotes conversion therapy.
In response to the inevitable PR crisis caused by Cathy’s comments, the fast-food chain even promised to stop donating to anti-gay organizations, the Chicago-based advocacy group Civil Rights Agenda claimed.
But as ThinkProgress’s report shows, the company kept donating to anti-LGBTQ causes and charities. This news may not be surprising to those who are familiar with Chick-fil-A’s contentious history with the LGBTQ community.
In 2012, after the Civil Rights Agenda claimed Chick-fil-A had said it would no longer give money to anti-gay causes, the company declined to confirm whether that was true. “We have no agenda, policy, or position against anyone,” a spokesperson told BuzzFeed at the time. “We have a 65-year history of providing hospitality for all people and, as a dedicated family business, serving and valuing everyone regardless of their beliefs or opinions.” Not present in that statement was any clarification on whether Chick-fil-A would keep donating to anti-gay causes.
Still, the about-face seems to have worked. Chick-fil-A is on track to become the third-largest fast-food brand in the United States. In 2018, the International Development Council asked Cathy to give a keynote speech at a conference focused on “equality,” according to the ThinkProgress report. At the time, the council’s president, Jeff Finkle, told ThinkProgress that Chick-fil-A was no longer donating to anti-gay causes. “They said, after this year, there’s only gonna be one group left that some people in the LGBTQ community will object to — that’s the Salvation Army,” Finkle reportedly said, referring to the company’s 2016 donations. “They told us from now forward they are ceasing all other contributions that have been deemed offensive.”
In a statement to ThinkProgress, Chick-fil-A claimed the 2017 donations were used to fund sports camps and children’s programs, not to further an anti-gay agenda. “[S]ince the Chick-fil-A Foundation was created in 2012, our giving has always focused on youth and education,” the company said. “We have never donated with the purpose of supporting a social or political agenda. There are 140,000 people — black, white; gay, straight; Christian, non-Christian — who represent Chick-fil-A. We are the sum of many experiences, but what we all have in common is a commitment to providing great food, genuine hospitality, and a welcoming environment to all of our guests.”
This latest news has reignited opposition to Chick-fil-A. On Thursday, the San Antonio City Council voted to remove a planned Chick-fil-A location from an airport concession agreement, ThinkProgress reported. The location would have operated for seven years at the San Antonio International Airport as part of the airport’s contract with the travel retail company Paradies Lagardère. Roberto Treviño, the city council member who advocated for Chick-fil-A’s removal from the plan, cited the company’s anti-LGBTQ donations as the reason for his disapproval.
A Chick-fil-A spokesperson told Vox that the “sole focus of our donations was to support causes focused on youth and education. We are proud of the positive impact we are making in communities across America and have been transparent about our giving on our website. To suggest our giving was done to support a political or non-inclusive agenda is inaccurate and misleading.”
But the problem Chick-fil-A’s critics have isn’t what those organizations do with that money — it’s the values those groups promote, as well as the fact that Chick-fil-A continued to donate to anti-gay groups despite claiming it would remain apolitical.
Want more stories from The Goods by Vox? Sign up for our newsletter here.