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Chick-fil-A Anti-Gay Controversy: The Whole Story

by Gideon Grudo
Friday Aug 3, 2012

Stefan Bringas opened the tinted front door of a West Palm Beach Chick-fil-A and stepped outside into the 89-degree weather.

It was 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 28, and a little over a dozen protesters were outside. They stood next to the marquee that asked patrons to try CFA's new desserts. Some held rainbow flags. Others held signs, with marker-written messages like "Got Rights? I Don't" and "My $$$$$$ Won't Support Your Hate."

But Bringas wasn't there to stop the protesters - the executive director of the store just wanted to offer them free water and lemonade.

"We want to protect you guys' ability to protest," he told an SFGN reporter. After letting the protesters know they could freely use the store's restrooms, too, he bid them a good day and headed back inside.

Sixteen people showed up to the protest that Eric Harazi organized. He was diagnosed with HIV last summer and decided thenceforth to become an LGBT activist. When friends on Facebook egged him on to run this protest, he agreed to do it. And even though only sixteen people came, he felt it was a success. On one hand, a black woman approached him during the protest to tell him he had no rights. But another woman stopped her car and asked the group what it was all about - she had no idea.

"It wasn't the turnout I was hoping for," Harazi said. "Afterwards, I felt like it didn't go well, but a friend told me that if just one person read about it, it worked. That's true."

And if people haven't read about this protest, chances are they at least know about the dramatic coverage that has been awarded to CFA recently. The controversy came down hard when CFA's COO Dan Cathy said publicly that he and his company oppose gay marriage. When asked about opposition to CFA's support of the traditional marriage, Cathy told the Baptist Press on July 16 that he's "guilty as charged," adding that CFA is "very much supportive of the family - the biblical definition of the family unity. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that." He finished up by emphasizing that the company is "very much committed" to "do anything [CFA] possibly can to strengthen families." But the really juicy anti-gay remarks came almost a week after, on air.

"We're 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," Cathy said during a radio interview. "And I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about."

Since then, it's been a journalistic hodge podge of stories from all different angles. From mayors snuffing out potential new CFA locations to famous toy companies pulling their contracts with the company, it's been a field day on the Internet.

Even Twitter got in on the action, with celebrities and politicians tweeting their discontent with the Atlanta, GA-based chicken franchise. Nancy Pelosi tweeted she preferred KFC. Perez Hilton tweeted that the restaurant gives patrons diarrhea. Then there was a counterattack. Pastor Rick Warren tweeted, "Political Correctness is the #NewMcCarthyism. Dare to say what the Bible says &be bullied back into conformity #Chick-Fil-A." Pastor Billy Graham tweeted a link to a press release that stated he planned on eating more chicken and supporting the restaurant by visiting it. Mayors in Chicago and Washington, D.C. told CFA not to bother opening shop in their cities. A petition on is asking people to demand an apology and resignation from Dan Cathy. It goes on and on.

But Dan Cathy isn't the only reason people are mad. CFA's charitable arm, WinShape, has made contributions that total about $1.7 million to anti-gay groups in 2009 and $1.9 million to similar groups in 2010. Since 2003, these anti-gay contributions total about $5 million, according to Equality Matters.

This move, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), cost it dearly in approval rates in the past few months. CFA's donations went to organizations like the Marriage & Family Legacy Fund and Exodus International .

As for CFA, the company has stayed resilient and stood firm by Dan Cathy's remarks. Most local stores have tried to stay out of the mess, not commenting on it or not making a display either way. A Chicago owner, however, sounded off to the Sun-Times after Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported a measure to keep CFA from opening a new restaurant in his city.

Claiming that she hires and serves gays "with honor, dignity and respect," Lauren Silich told the Sun-Times that her and her husband are "real people." She invited the mayor to come eat at her restaurant and emphasized that Dan Cathy's views were just that - Dan Cathy's views.

Unlike the Chicagoan Silich, South Florida CFA owners were much less willing to talk to media. SFGN reached out to the eleven CFA locations closest to its Wilton Manors, Fla. offices. There are 23 total locations in South Florida.

Rob Rabenecker, owner of a Wellington CFA, told SFGN that he wouldn't feel comfortable commenting on an issue that involves the corporate office, even though SFGN's questions were specific to his store. He then followed up with a stock answer about treating everyone equally, and then offered up some insight.

"The corporate office has told its 1,600 independent owner/operators that 'going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.'"

Rabenecker's wife, Chandra Bill-Rabenecker, who quit her job, as a local TV anchor, to help her husband run the Wellington CFA, happens to be on the board of directors of Palm Beach Atlantic University - PBA does not allow homosexual behavior, according to their handbook.

Only one other owner responded to SFGN with something other than the phone number and email of the national headquarters. Mauricio Leon owns a CFA in Plantation. Like many others, he wrote in an email that his "main concern is to serve great food with heart-warming service, with implies that we treat everyone with the same honor, respect and dignity regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation, or gender."

Asked if he's concerned over loss of business from many planned protests and boycotts, Leon wrote, "My employees are an extension of my family, their wealth is mine; therefore, providing a great dining experience at our restaurant is crucial for all of us."

The rest of the owners either failed to respond to SFGN or declined to comment.

With petitions buzzing around the web and boycotts being proposed around the country, one group decided to take a more interesting route to their dissatisfaction. It's called "Kiss MoR Chiks" (The 'R' is reversed). It's coming down Friday, August 3, the idea being to have same-sex couple kiss at their local CFA stores. The event will give thanks to the company for their "support of love, equality, and the really definition of marriage," the group's Facebook page reads. "So grab a buddy and head on out to your local Chick-Fil-A!"

To counter this event and others like it, CFA supporters like former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and the notoriously anti-gay National Organization for Marriage are asking Americans to eat at CFA stores around the country on Wednesday, August 1. The idea is to show solidarity on this co-called Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day.

Keeping up with all of the news of the CFA controversy, Eric Harazi - the guy who organized the protest in West Palm Beach on July 28 - isn't confident any of the activism will make a change.

"I want peace and harmony - but in reality, that's not going to happen," he told SFGN. "No matter how much we protest, they're not going to change their beliefs."

But perhaps Harazi's being too cynical. On July 27, a day before the West Palm Beach protest took place, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos donated $2.5 million to a same-sex marriage defense campaign in Washington State.

Bezos is the first and only major voice who's put his money where his mouth is in defending gay rights during the CFA debacle.

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