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Chick-fil-A's 2011 tax forms show no donations to anti-gay groups

A gay rights group says it sees no sign of 2011 gifts to organizations that advocate against privileges for LGBT people. 'Gays are now able to exert some sort of market pressure,' an analyst says.

January 29, 2013|By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times
  • Gay rights and same-sex marriage supporters protest in front of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Hollywood last summer after Chick-fil-A's president said his company was "very much supportive" of the "biblical definition of the family unit."
Gay rights and same-sex marriage supporters protest in front of a Chick-fil-A… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

Chick-fil-A Inc.'s most recent tax documents show no donations to groups that oppose gay rights, according to an advocacy group.

The chicken chain last summer was caught up in the debate over gay marriage amid claims that the Atlanta company had donated money to anti-gay groups as recently as 2010 and controversial remarks by Chick-fil-A's president.

But according to gay rights group Campus Pride, the 2011 IRS 990 filings for Chick-fil-A's charity arm WinShape Foundation show no sign of gifts to organizations such as Family Research Council or Exodus International, which advocate against same-sex unions and other privileges for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The documents, filed Nov. 15, instead exhibit nearly $6 million in funding to beneficiaries supporting youth, education, local communities and what Campus Pride called "marriage enrichment."

Quiz: How well do you remember 2012?

The forms may demonstrate a shift in corporate America's attitude toward gay rights — or at least how to address the issue, analysts said.

Even though LGBT customers probably make up a small segment of Chick-fil-A's clientele, there's probably also "a substantial segment of patrons who are sympathetic" to equal rights and same-sex marriage efforts, said Jason Snyder, an assistant professor at UCLA Anderson School of Management.

"Gays are now able to exert some sort of market pressure," he said. "That's the reason Chick-fil-A is probably responding, because in some ways the market is pushing them this way. This is indicative that there's a tangible threat to the bottom line."

On Monday, LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said major companies including Marriott International Inc., Aetna Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and EBay Inc. were backing a repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

It said the businesses formed a coalition to oppose the law, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.

In a statement, Chick-fil-A continued to maintain — as it has for months — that its "intent is to not support political or social agendas." Campus Pride said it believes the company's tax filings now "accurately reflect" that goal.

The fast-food chain said it has contributed more than $68 million over the last three years to more than 700 educational and charitable groups nationwide, focusing on youth and education outfits, leadership and family enrichment organizations and local community support.

"This has been the case for more than 60 years," the company said. "The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect and to serve great food with genuine hospitality."

The chain has also steadily denied accusations that it supports an anti-gay marriage agenda by donating to Christian groups hoping to ban homosexual unions.

A report last year from LGBT advocacy group Equality Matters concluded that Chick-fil-A gave more than $3 million from 2003 to 2009 to such organizations. In 2010, the company donated nearly $2 million to similar groups, according to the report.

But it wasn't until Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy said in July that his company was "very much supportive" of the "biblical definition of the family unit" that the company's name rose to prominence in the gay marriage debate.

The comments sparked months of discussion and demonstrations on both sides of the issue. Gay rights supporters demanded a boycott of the chain. Some politicians threatened to try to ban Chick-fil-A from their cities. Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee launched a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day that drew long lines of customers to the company's locations nationwide.

In September, Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno said in a statement that extended negotiations with Chick-fil-A had resulted in a promise from company executives to stop funding organizations that oppose same-sex marriage.

A day later, Chick-fil-A issued its own statement, saying that its corporate donations had "been mischaracterized" for "many months now."

That may change, according to Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer, who believes that Chick-fil-A is trying to draw back the curtain and interact with its detractors.

In addition to being given "access to internal documents," Windmeyer said in an piece on Huffington Post Gay Voices that he has exchanged "months of personal phone calls, text messages and in-person meetings" with Cathy. The piece is titled "Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A."

Windmeyer said he was Cathy's guest at the Chick-fil-A Bowl football game in Atlanta last month and met with company representatives as recently as last week.

"Our mutual hope was to find common ground if possible, and to build respect no matter what," he wrote. "We learned about each other as people with opposing views, not as opposing people."

tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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