By Lucas Grindley
Originally published on Advocate.com September 20 2012 11:00 AM ET
Although Chick-fil-A supposedly assured a Chicago alderman that it would stop donating to antigay groups, this week it held a fundraiser for one anyway.
The fast food chain promised in a letter to Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno, reported by the Chicago Phoenix, that it would end giving to any groups with "political agendas," implying it had stopped a practice that had led to about $5 million for antigay groups. But there might be a loophole.
Although the company's foundation might not be donating directly, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy tweeted a photo on Tuesday from the 2012 WinShape Ride for the Family. He wrote alongside the picture of a pack of motorcyclists: "WinShape Ride for the Family bikers locked and loaded for 200 mile ride to Wilmington out of Charleston."
That long ride is a fundraiser for an organization that helps lobby against marriage equality. Registration forms for the event ask that checks be sent, not to the WinShape Foundation that Chick-fil-A operates, but directly to the Marriage and Family Foundation at 5200 Buffington Road in Atlanta, Ga.
The forms say the ride fee is $3,500 for each individual or couple. But sponsorship packages posted online show that organizations could pledge $5,000 for "silver" status, $10,000 for "gold" or $15,000 and more to reach "platinum." The Chick-fil-A logo accompanies everything, and so does the WinShape name, but it's unclear whether the foundation continues to make donations.
The Marriage and Family Foundation was not only included in the investigation by Equality Matters of the fast-food chain's questionable giving history, it was identified as the top antigay recipient in 2010. WinShape had given more than $1 million to the group in 2010 alone.
Equality Matters explained the group's history in detail. It was originally named the Marriage and Family Legacy Fund when it was founded in 2007 by a member of the Cathy family. In fact, the current Buffington Road address in Atlanta is now shared by Chick-fil-A's headquarters.
(UPDATE: Chick-fil-A President Assures Mike Huckabee: Nothing Has Changed)
The Marriage and Family Foundation was created as the "implementation and funding arm" for something called the Marriage CoMission, which Equality Matters says is host to an annual conference about the supposed decline of marriage. The conference has been attended by the founders of the National Organization for Marriage and Exodus International, which had once focused on changing people from gay to straight. The Cathy-family group originally was intended to contribute to multi-million dollar public awareness campaigns about its values.
Granted, the group's sole focus isn't on same-sex marriage. The CoMission emphasizes lowering the divorce rate and making couples more satisfied in their marriages, for example. But even in those instances, the group has made clear it's worried only about heterosexuals being happy in their marriages and avoiding divorce.
Chick-fil-A was facing backlash not only from the local Chicago lawmaker, who blocked the chain's expansion to his neighborhood, but also from dozens of college campuses where protests were spreading. The chain is located in campus food courts across the country. Campus Pride had led in a lot of the college-level backlash and on Wednesday announced it has suspended its "5 Simple Facts about Chick-fil-A" awareness campaign in response to recent meetings with Dan Cathy himself. It too had seen reason to believe the company is intent on changing its ways and Executive Director Shane Windmeyer struck a cautious note while saying he is "pleased" by what could be ahead.
The company itself has so far been mum on any change in policy. Representatives did not return multiple calls and emails for comment on this story. And they had also refused requests from mainstream media to confirm the Chicago alderman's version of events.
(UPDATE: Chick-fil-A Releases Internal Memo, But Did It Dig a Deeper Hole?)
During an appearance on Current TV on Wednesday, Moreno claimed Chick-fil-A had taken "a big step forward." But when Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks, asked why the company wouldn't confirm its changing views, Moreno said it was apparently the company's policy not to talk about it.
Uygur asked why anyone should believe Chick-fil-A when it says it will stop making antigay donations, and Moreno said he'd seen new financial statements and the antigay groups were missing — although he did not say specifically whether the Cathy family's own Marriage and Family Foundation was also gone.
Although the company has no official anti-discrimination policy, it reportedly sent a memo to local operators explaining that everyone should be treated the same. The notice, titled “Chick-fil-A: Who We Are,” said the company would “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation and gender.” The complete memo was not shared, but it didn't appear to have included the word "discrimination."
Since this isn't any different from what Chick-fil-A has long claimed in public statements on Facebook and elsewhere, Uygur asked Moreno why it matters. "What if they don't follow through?" he asked.
"They would be breaking the law," Moreno said, citing his city's human rights ordinance. "Now that they have adopted that within an official company document, in the legal field if they were to break that, or if a franchisee was to discriminate, there is going to be severe legal retributions to the company."
The Civil Rights Agenda of Illinois had been advising Moreno on his conversation with Chick-fil-A, and it touted the apparent change in policy on Wednesday. But when reached today with information about the Marriage and Family Foundation fundraiser this week, Executive Director Anthony Martinez was concerned it might violate the spirit of that agreement.
"The agreement was that the foundation would no longer give to these groups, so we are going to have to take some time to obviously look into this," said Martinez. He said his group and the alderman both understood it would be important to monitor Chick-fil-A going forward.
Martinez said the Marriage and Family Foundation would need to have changed its ways in order for Chick-fil-A to honor what it told the alderman.
"In the past, their practices have definitely been against the marriage equality movement," Martinez said. "So the concern would be that, since it was founded by the Cathys, would be going forward is what they are using that money for.... Supporting family and marriage is definitely a good thing, but if they are working against marriage equality, obviously that is something that needs to be addressed."
Watch video of the Current TV interview with the alderman below.