An upcoming conference promoting “inclusive economic development” will have a keynote speaker who’s worked against LGBT inclusion — Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy.
The International Economic Development Council conference, to be held September 30-October 3 in Atlanta, has scheduled Cathy to address the gathering despite the company’s antigay ways, ThinkProgress reports.
Cathy has been a vocal opponent of marriage equality, and Chick-fil-A, through its foundation, has donated to many anti-LGBT causes for years. It has continued to do so, with $1.8 million in contributions to homophobic groups shown in its latest tax filing, even though Cathy said a few years ago, in response to criticism, that the company and foundation would stay out of the debate. Chick-fil-A is one of the largest American companies without an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy and has a zero score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.
The Economic Development Council’s code of ethics calls for “equality of opportunity for all segments of the community without regard to race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, political affiliation, disability, age, marital status, or socioeconomic status.” The council’s president, Jeff Finkle, “defended the decision [to have Cathy speak] while acknowledging that the organization’s leadership had disagreed on the matter,” ThinkProgress reports.
“Is this my easiest thing to defend in my career? It is not,” he told the site. “Am I willing to defend it? I am.”
He said Cathy’s speech will concentrate on “the good work Chick-fil-A, their foundation, and the [Cathy] family has done in supporting the African American community on Atlanta’s Westside” and will offer “a case study on economic development in that area.”
He added that Chick-fil-A officials have assured him the foundation’s stance on LGBT issues is changing. “They said, after this year, there’s only gonna be one group left that some people in the LGBTQ community will object to — that’s the Salvation Army. They told us from now forward they are ceasing all the other contributions that have been deemed offensive.”
ThinkProgress, noting that the company has previously “tried to give the impression that it has evolved,” sought confirmation from Chick-fil-A but did not immediately receive a response.
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said Chick-fil-A is out of step with other major companies in the state. As of four years ago, 500 of the biggest companies in Georgia had LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies, and recently hundreds of others signed a pledge to welcome all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, among other factors. Neither group includes Chick-fil-A, he told ThinkProgress.
Such policies are not only the right thing to do but good for business, Graham added. It would be significant if Chick-fil-A adopted them, he said, as its leaders often talk about their Christian values. Embracing inclusivity would show that “protecting people from discrimination does not violate someone’s faith,” he said.