Chick-fil-A Releases Internal Memo, But Did It Dig a Deeper Hole?

The company is being ripped by disappointed customers who say it abandoned its beliefs, while also hearing it from LGBT activists who say all it offers in the memo are empty words.

BY Lucas Grindley

September 20 2012 5:12 PM ET

Chick-fil-A has released today an internal memo that commits it to treating gay people "with honor, dignity and respect." But few on any side of the issue are satisfied by it.

On its own Facebook page, comments poured in from disaffected customers who say the fast food chain has abandoned its Christian beliefs:

"You caved."

"Way to stand up for your beliefs…. so disappointed"

"TOTAL SELL-OUTS!!!!"

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign dismissed the memo, saying "CfA offers their LGBT employees nothing but platitudes; they certainly don't offer them any benefits or protections." HRC rates the LGBT inclusive policies of top companies each year, and spokesman Fred Sainz said that although there is no best practice on a non-discrimination statement, "Their statements are completely empty unless they back them up with actions."

No where in the four-page memo, titled "Chick-fil-A: Who We Are," is the word "discrimination" even used. Instead, it says Chick-fil-A principles require "treating others as we want to be treated." It claims a "66-year service tradition" that "is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."

(RELATED EXCLUSIVE: Big Loophole? Chick-fil-A Already Raising Questionable Money)

This appears to be the same memo that Chicago Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno touted as "a big step forward." Moreno said he would end his blockade of Chick-fil-A's attempt to add a store in his neighborhood. He also painted the memo as a promise not to make further donations to antigay groups. But the memo doesn't address that in explicit terms, saying only that "our intent is not to engage in political or social debates."     

A statement released by the company today alongside the memo actually outlines areas where it intends to keep right on giving.

"A part of our corporate commitment is to be responsible stewards of all that God has entrusted to us," it says. "Because of this commitment, Chick-fil-A's giving heritage is focused on programs that educate youth, strengthen families and enrich marriages, and support communities. We will continue to focus our giving in those areas."

Chick-fil-A has given more than $5 million to antigay organizations, including those that try to change people from gay to straight. It didn't commit in the memo to never donating to Focus on the Family, for example. And The Advocate reported today that the company hosted a fundraiser this same week on behalf of the Marriage and Family Foundation, which Equality Matters had listed as the top antigay recipient of Chick-fil-A funding in 2010 with more than $1 million in donations received from its WinShape Foundation.

Instead of directly collecting the money raised via WinShape as a result of the "Ride for Family," a motorcycle trip, it asked participants to send checks directly to the Marriage and Family Foundation. The group was not only founded by a member of the Cathy family that created Chick-fil-A, but it also shares the same address with Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta. What the Marriage and Family Foundation does with its money these days is unclear. Equality Matters reports that it was originally created to help fund multi-million dollar public awareness campaigns that promote its values.

Sainz of HRC points out that the words Chick-fil-A used in its statement are actually often associated with opponents of same-sex marriage and LGBT people in general.

"Unfortunately, for far too long 'strengthening communities and marriages' has meant destroying ours," he said. "Today, CfA doubled down on that strategy. What they don't get is that by funding institutions that are hell-bent on destroying our families, they are completely violating their own stated values."

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said he is "dismayed" by the Chick-fil-A memo and its inference that anything has changed.

“Chick-Fil-A’s charitable giving to programs that supposedly ‘strengthen families and enrich marriages’ do not include in their vision same-sex couples and the families they are building,” Cherkasov said.

The group Campus Pride, which has led in protests of the chain at colleges where it's located nationwide, said in a statement reacting to the memo that Chick-fil-A is on tentative ground.

"As indicated by this memo, Chick-fil-A has not made any public statements or changes in policy despite the claims by Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno," said Executive Director Shane Windmeyer, who has also recently attended meetings with Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy. Campus Pride had suspended its public awareness campaign called "5 Simple Facts about Chick-fil-A" after the meetings. But Windmeyer said that wasn't because the group is satisfied by the memo or other moves.

"It is about role modeling how to work together across differences and we remain hopeful, and vigilant — and cautious in our discussions," he said. "Campus Pride is suspending the national campaign to continue the dialogue with Chick-fil-A and may re-activate it at any time we feel necessary."

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