Chick-fil-A, the cult-favorite chain that prides itself on customer service and making the original fried chicken sandwich, has showed no signs of slowing its rapid expansion into big cities and throughout America. But as Chick-fil-A's growth continues, a major issue has kept many eaters away from its sandwiches and waffle fries: its long history of charitable donations to groups viewed as anti-LGBTQ. That, however, will soon come to an end, the company announced on Monday.
The Chick-fil-A Foundation, the fast food chain's charitable arm, will no longer donate to The Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes -- organizations that advocates have denounced as anti-LGBTQ -- in 2020, the company said. Instead, the foundation announced it will change the way it gives to focus on organizations working in the areas of homelessness, hunger, and education. These organizations include Junior Achievement USA, which offers kindergarten to 12th grade programs aimed at building financial literacy and entrepreneurship among children; Covenant House International, which services homeless youth; and local food banks in 120 communities with $25,000 donations upon new Chick-fil-A restaurant openings.
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Along with its promise to focus is charitable giving in 2020, the foundation also released the tax form for its 2018 fiscal year, which reveals it continued to give to The Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian athletes that year. Specifically, the Chick-fil-A Foundation gave $115,000 to The Salvation Army and $1.65 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in 2018, according to a press release. Chick-fil-A faced renewed backlash from LGBTQ rights advocates and allies throughout 2019 when the release of the foundation's 2017 tax form showed donations to those same groups -- even after it reportedly agreed to cease these donations back in 2012. The foundation has not yet provided its 2019 tax form, but it did release a preview of its 2019 giving, which doesn't show any donations to the two organizations. In other words, it looks like these donations have already ended.
“The only organizations the Chick-fil-A Foundation will donate to in 2020 are Covenant House International, Junior Achievement of America, and local community food banks where we open new locations," a Chick-fil-A spokesperson told Thrillist. "We made multiyear commitments to [The Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes], and we fulfilled those obligations in 2018. Moving forward you will see that the Chick-fil-A Foundation will support the three specific initiatives of homelessness, hunger and education.”
So why did LGBTQ activists protest over these donations? The Salvation Army has been accused of discrimination against LGBTQ people over the years. As for The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, advocates allege that it opposes “homosexual acts” and requires employees and representatives to pledge to adhere to a “sexual purity” policy (Chick-fil-A notes that the money it gave to the group funded programs that didn't require participants to make such pledges). Chick-fil-A previously promised to no longer donate to the Paul Anderson Youth Home, an organization that reportedly taught that same-sex marriage is “rage against Jesus Christ and His values" after its $6,000 donation in 2017. Judging by the newly released 2018 tax form and the 2019 preview, it looks like the foundation followed through on that promise.
When reached via email on Monday, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a leading LGBTQ rights organization, told Thrillist it recognizes Chick-fil-A's change of course as an improvement. However, the fast food chain still has a way to in regards to LGBTQ equality; particularly, in the workplace.
"At HRC, we always encourage companies to ensure that their giving is in line with LGBTQ-inclusive values. And while this is an important step for Chick-fil-A, the company still does not have workplace protections and policies that are fully inclusive of LGBTQ people," Beck Bailey, director of workplace equality at HRC Foundation, said. "We look forward to the day when Chick-fil-A's commitment to welcoming all is reflected in their workplace policies and practices by including explicit sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination protections."
Of course, we don't know Chick-fil-A's intent when it donated to these organizations over the years, but even if it didn't mean to be anti-LGBTQ, the donations presented another problem. As we noted this summer -- on the same day as Chick-fil-A's annual Cow Appreciation Day -- the foundation's questionable donations needlessly complicated fast food, which is supposed to be simple:
"Fast food is supposed to be quick, convenient, and accessible for everyone -- something you don't have to think about much because, well, you're hungry and you just need to eat. Chick-fil-A has done much to try to remake its image as it expands into places like New York City, but as of today and amid our current political divisions especially, it's still not an easy choice for everyone who just wants a decent chicken sandwich. Even when it's free."
Is it finally OK to eat at Chick-fil-A if you care about LGBTQ rights? Can you -- in good conscience -- finally bite into one of its delicious fried chicken sandwiches? Can you stuff your face with waffle fries and finally feel less guilt? That's up to you to decide based on how ready and willing to forgive.
But does Chick-fil-A finally live up to what fast food should be -- quick, convenient, and accessible to everyone? Thanks to the company's decision to change course on how it gives, the answer appears to be yes. And that's great news.