Protesters take photos while Jason Arca, left, kisses James Mays as gay-rights… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)
Chick-fil-A will no longer donate money to anti-gay groups or discuss hot-button political issues after an executive's controversial comments this summer landed the fast-food chain in the middle of the gay marriage debate.
Executives agreed in recent meetings to stop funding groups opposed to same-sex unions, including Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage, according to Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno.
Earlier this summer, Moreno became a key critic of Chick-fil-A after the Atlanta company's president, Dan Cathy, said in an interview that his business was "guilty as charged" of supporting "the biblical definition of the family unit."
Moreno, who runs Chicago's trendy Northwest Side ward, said he and other city officials had been concerned about the company's donations to anti-gay groups and had been negotiating with executives for the last 10 months as Chick-fil-A sought approval to expand in the city.
The agreement, announced Wednesday, could pave the way for the company to continue to grow not only in Chicago but in other metropolitan areas as well.
"For the first time, Chick-fil-A has provided a way to ensure that their employees know that discrimination will not be tolerated," Moreno said Wednesday. "It sends an important message and is a very positive step for Chick-fil-A as it looks to expand into urban markets."
He said he now will give Chick-fil-A the support it needs to open shop.
In July, as Cathy's comments inflamed passions nationwide, Moreno threatened to block a new Chick-fil-A restaurant planned for his area. He said that the company "had a poor record when it came to acknowledging equal rights for all our citizens" and that it discriminated against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender job seekers and workers.
In short order, mayors from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and elsewhere weighed in on the issue, joined by other politicians, celebrities and hundreds of thousands of consumers.
Supporters swarmed restaurants around the country in early August, as protesters gathered outside, for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, launched by former presidential candidate and conservative Mike Huckabee.
A report from LGBT advocacy group Equality Matters found that from 2003 to 2009, Chick-fil-A donated more than $3 million to Christian groups that oppose homosexuality. In 2010, the fast-food company gave nearly $2 million to such causes, according to the report.
But on Wednesday, Moreno said the chain sent him a letter saying that its nonprofit WinShape Foundations arm "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." Moreno wouldn't release the full contents of the letter.
Chick-fil-A also agreed to amend an official company document to reflect that its "intent is not to engage in political or social debates," Moreno said.
The company document, called "Chick-fil-A: Who We Are," also will state that the chain will "treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation and gender."
The restaurant chain said as much this summer, as it tried to tamp down fallout from Cathy's incendiary comments. Outside of its July comments, Chick-fil-A spokesman Jerry Johnston said Wednesday that the company is "not offering any response" to Moreno's statement.
The chain has more than 1,600 locations. The company is family-run; 91-year-old founder S. Truett Cathy was named the 89th wealthiest American by Forbes with a net worth of $4.2 billion. Sons Dan and Donald are estimated to be worth $1.5 billion each, according to research firm PrivCo.
LGBT advocacy groups, such as the Civil Rights Agenda in Illinois, said they were "encouraged" by the company's latest decision. Campus Pride, a national group for gay college students, decided to suspend its "5 Simple Facts About Chick-fil-A" campaign, which highlighted the chain's anti-LGBT links.
"Campus Pride is pleased with our meetings and discussions with Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A executives about the future direction of Chick-fil-A in upholding their values of 'dignity and respect for all,'" Executive Director Shane Windmeyer said Wednesday.
Branding experts, such as Jeff Lotman, said the change was a smart one by Chick-fil-A.
"I guarantee you it's already brought in more traffic, and sales are up because of this," said Lotman, who founded brand licensing agency Global Icons.
"The amount of time their name has been in various forms of media has been more valuable than any advertising they'd spend on in a year," he said. "It raises awareness of Chick-fil-A to the top of people's minds."
On social media, reaction was split.
"Yes, Chick-Fil-A was wrong but they've changed their policy and I think they should be thanked for that," wrote user DoubtcastFletch.
But Twitter user Glam_Star77 accused the company of trying "to play neutral."
"I feel like I've been betrayed," the user wrote. "No integrity or ethics!"
Matthew Bailey, a spokesman in Moreno's office, acknowledged that the changes are "obviously not ideal for everyone involved."
"But we think we've achieved something positive for the community, for us and for Chick-fil-A," he said. "We'd rather achieve something rather than beat our chest."