It has long debated whether Chick-fil-A should be boycotted for its longstanding support of nonprofits with a history of discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community. Of course, the debate begs the question: Do we as consumers have the power to force companies to change their practices? Well, now we have proof that we do. Within a month of opening the first U.K. Chick-fil-A, pressure from local citizens through demonstration and boycott forced the landlord to announce that they will not renew the fast-food restaurant’s lease because it is the “right thing to do.”
Coupled with competitor Popeyes’ (delicious!) entrance into the fried chicken sandwich category with a brilliant campaign about opening on Sundays (Chick-fil-A closes on Sundays for religious observance), Chick-fil-A is now in a bind. It seems the brand is unable to ignore the longstanding controversy of its faith-based affiliations. The business is now at risk.
Following the failure of its U.K. location, Chick-fil-A has announced that it will halt all donations to anti-LGBTQ+ nonprofits. But within 24 hours of that statement, the brand is already unclear about its commitment. They’ve also pretended to change their practices before, so we should not be fooled.
Criticism of Chick-fil-A’s past actions and statements against the LGBTQ+ community are well-founded. According to Out, in 2017, Chick-fil-A gave $21.3 million to the WinShape Foundation, which was founded by a creator of Chick-fil-A to help fund anti-LGBTQ+ causes worldwide, including the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda, notorious for its call to “kill the gays.”
In 2012, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy said of gay marriage rights: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”
For Chick-fil-A to pretend that it has stopped supporting these organizations implies that the brand perceives the LGBTQ+ community as stupid. After donating millions over decades, the brand cannot simply undo the damage with a statement, especially when their assurances come with no backing.
The Chick-fil-A debate is about much more than where to buy your chicken sandwich. It’s a conversation about brands choosing religious affiliation and supporting conservative faith-based organizations and how these choices impact consumers and, in turn, their shopping habits.
This situation should serve as a cautionary tale for brands. Indeed, we have freedom of speech and religion, but when those religious beliefs or opinions directly discriminate against one of our communities, organizations that support those beliefs must be prepared for backlash. If you say something hateful, be prepared to deal with the consequences; it’s part of that same freedom.
If a brand in this situation wants to reverse decades of public intolerance, it needs to do more. Chick-fil-A should have set up an external task force to review and evaluate all nonprofit beneficiaries on their positions and involvement in LGBTQ+ issues before approving donations. If the brand was sincere, they would have voiced plans to donate millions to an LGBTQ+ focused nonprofit, like the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. If this shift was to provoke real change, they would need to launch a crisis management campaign to publicly correct Chick-fil-A’s historical stances. And, most importantly, the brand would need to find new leadership.
But I don’t believe that Chick-fil-A will do any of these things because the foundation of the brand is built on discrimination. It is baked so deeply into the fabric of the organization that it is near impossible to shift consumer opinion.
So, as I savor my second Popeyes’ spicy fried chicken sandwich, let it be known that the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t buy into Chick-fil-A’s backtracking and will continue to avoid the brand. I will continue to donate to LGBTQ+ nonprofits, especially those that support the trans and gender nonconforming (TGNC) community. And I hope you will, too.