For most Americans, Chick-fil-A will be more synonymous with sandwiches than political controversy. However, the events of the last few weeks have seen the business’ conservatism come under intense scrutiny, after two airports elected to drop the chain from their restaurant roster. The reason cited, in both cases, was Chick-fil-A’s perceived attitude towards LGBT rights.
Officials from New York State revealed this week that plans to open a Chick-fil-A in the new food court at Buffalo International Airport have been shelved, due to the franchise’s long history of donating to anti-LGBT groups and perceived bias against members of the LGBT community. In a statement shared on Twitter, New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan wrote that “A publicly financed facility like the Buffalo Niagara International Airport is not the appropriate venue for a Chick-fil-A restaurant,” and that he “applaud(ed) the decision that has been made to remove Chick-fil-A from the plans for this project.”
This news followed a similar decision from San Antonio City Council to stop plans for a Chick-fil-A in their own airport. In a move almost identical to their New York colleagues, the council explained that “San Antonio is a city full of compassion, and we do not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior,” adding, “Everyone has a place here, and everyone should feel welcome when they walk through our airport.”
Chick-fil-A’s conservatism has long been a cornerstone of the brand. Seven years ago, the chain found themselves under scrutiny after it emerged that a subsidiary of The WinShape Foundation, a major beneficiary of restaurant donations, had itself been donating to several anti-LGBT and gay conversion groups.
While business leaders at the time professed to the media that Chick-fil-A had “no agenda, policy, or position against anyone,” it has subsequently emerged that the chain has made donations of over $1.5 million to groups such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes - an organisation with a “sexual purity” policy, banning employees from engaging in “homosexual acts.” Several other organisations with similar records have also been beneficiaries.
In a statement released after getting dropped by the two airports, Chick-fil-A declared that “Recent coverage about Chick-fil-A continues to drive an inaccurate narrative about our brand. We do not have a political or social agenda or discriminate against any group. More than 145,000 people from different backgrounds and beliefs represent the Chick-fil-A brand. We embrace all people, regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Despite the criticism, Chick-fil-A remains one of America’s most successful fast food chains. In 2018, the business announced plans for expansion beyond the United States, opening its first international franchise in Toronto. What effect these new developments may have on the company’s ambitions are unclear. However, they certainly set a precedent that other locations may choose to follow.