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Is New Denver Chick-fil-A Franchise Doomed Over LGBT Issues?

Is New Denver Chick-fil-A Franchise Doomed Over LGBT Issues?

A meeting of the Denver City Council's Business Development Committee ended with a rare political controversy this week, when several council members expressed concerns over a proposed Chick-fil-A franchise in the Denver International Airport.

The politicians, concerned about the company's past antigay practices, put the project on hold for two weeks, beginning last Tuesday, so attorneys could brief the council on any legal ramifications, reports The Denver Post.

Council member Robin Kniech, who is gay, was the first to express unease over the fast-food chain's return to the airport. A previous franchise operated in the airport a decade ago.

Kniech said she is concerned that the local store would be creating "corporate profits used to fund and fuel discrimination." Four of the six committee members also had questions about the store's ability to abide by local nondiscrimination laws. Ten of the full council's 12 members attended the committee meeting; none spoke in favor of the proposed franchise.

"We can do better than this brand in Denver at our airport, in my estimation," new council member Jolon Clark said at the meeting, according to the Post reported.

"If the national corporation with which you are affiliated once again puts themselves at the center of a national debate about depriving people and their families of rights, would you as a concessionaire have any ability to influence that?" Kneich asked Mike De La Rosa, president of the proposed franchisee, Delarosa Restaurant Concepts.

"I don't believe so," he replied.

"I don't think you would, either," Kniech said. "And that's my concern."

De La Rosa pushed back against the insinuation that his franchise would discriminate against LGBT people in employment. "Any and all hiring, promotion — any and all of those decisions are made by us," he told the committee. "We have a long history of diversity, all those kind of things, between both companies. These would not be issues."

Chick-fil-A became a flashpoint in the national debate on marriage equality in 2012 after it was revealed that the company, through its affiliated nonprofit the WinShape Foundation, has donated millions of dollars to antigay causes and candidates over the past several years. The chain was founded by noted conservative Christian S. Truett Cathy and is now run by his son Dan Cathy, who serves as the company's president, chairman, and CEO.

In 2012, then-COO Dan Cathy helped the company become the target of protests and vandalism — and support campaigns — when he voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage and told reporters that he runs the national company according to "biblical principles." As protests and pickets by LGBT and allied consumers spread nationwide, religious-right organizations and held special events to drive business to the company, including current Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.

While Chick-fil-A executives claim the company has ended its antigay charitable donations, and Cathy himself now says he is "wiser" and won't be discussing his personal views on marriage equality, many LGBT and allied consumers remain suspicious of the company's agenda, and the antigay connotation of the chain's product persists.  

Meanwhile, Cathy told Fortune earlier this year that he has a new goal for Chick-fil-A: expand into urban markets.

The Atlanta-based company will open a 5,000-square-foot store on Avenue of the Americas at West 37th Street in New York City in October. It's a five-minute walk from the Empire State Building and about half a mile north of Manhattan’s Chelsea district, a diverse LGBT-friendly neighborhood.

Despite the controversy, Chick-fil-A’s food has grown even more popular, even among some gays who told the New York Post “the crispy chicken is orgasmic.” Chick-fil-A has 1,900 restaurants nationwide, raking in $6 billion in 2014. It's now the largest U.S. fast-food chicken chain, surpassing KFC last year.

Chik-fil-A's corporate spokesperson issued a statement following the Denver committee meeting, saying the company is "focused on providing everyone great food in an atmosphere of genuine hospitality. We hope to welcome all guests to any of our locations, including a proposed licensed location at the Denver International Airport."

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