Chick-fil-A flap didn’t hurt profits

A gay leader in protests against Chick-fil-A says both sides used the controversy to further polarize a country divided over same-sex marriage.

By Bob Allen

Last summer’s uproar over Chick-fil-A head Dan Cathy’s defense of the company’s support for organizations opposed to gay marriage didn’t hurt the company’s bottom line.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the fast-food giant took in $4.6 billion in sales in 2012 -- up 14 percent from the previous year – and opened 96 new stores, four more than in 2011.

Chick-fil-A, a family-owned company based in the Atlanta suburb of College Park, Ga., does not have to publicize its earnings but made the information available at the newspaper’s request.

Comments last year by Cathy in an interview with a Baptist state newspaper -- later picked up in the Southern Baptist Convention news service, Baptist Press -- sparked protests and talk of a boycott by pro-gay activists already at odds with the Southern Baptist layman for donating millions of dollars to groups like the Family Research Council and Exodus International that are on record as opposing same-sex marriage.

Alan Blum, the Biblical Recorder editor who conducted the interview originally published July 2, faulted the mainstream media for construing as a political statement Cathy’s plea of “guilty as charged” to criticism of Chick-fil-A’s past support for pro-family causes.

That didn’t stop Fox commentator and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee from firing back by declaring Aug. 1 Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, supported by high-profile Baptists including Billy Graham and resulting in record one-day sales.

Ironically, 2012 tax records released Jan. 28 suggest that Chick-fil-A had already stopped giving to groups mentioned in the criticism. During the controversy, the firm posted statements saying the corporate intent was never “to support political or social agendas” and denying the family had caved in to pressure.

Behind the scenes, meanwhile, an unlikely friendship developed between Cathy and a gay-rights activist and strident critic. Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, posted an article Jan. 28 on Huffington Post sharing the back story behind his attendance at the Chick-fil-Bowl on New Year’s Eve as Cathy’s guest.

shane windmeyerIn the 1,900-word article, Windmeyer told of receiving an unexpected call on his cell phone from Cathy, who had gotten the number from a mutual business contact. That first call lasted over an hour and was followed by a number of other calls and face-to-face meetings. Windmeyer said it was Cathy’s first-such dialogue with a member of the LGBT community.

Windmeyer said Cathy confessed that he had been naïve about the issues at hand and expressed genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-A, but offered no apologies for his beliefs about marriage.

Neither did Windmeyer, but the conversation was behind Campus Pride’s decision in September to drop its “5 Simple Facts about Chick-fil-A” campaign condemning the company’s alleged discrimination against gays.

Windmeyer said when Cathy invited him to be his personal guest to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, an event that Campus Pride originally planned to protest, questions arose about “Had I been played?”

“No,” Windmeyer said. “It was Dan who took a great risk in inviting me: He stood to face the ire of his conservative base (and a potential boycott) by being seen or photographed with a LGBT activist. He could have been portrayed as ‘caving to the gay agenda’ by welcoming me.”

“Instead, he stood next to me most of the night, putting respect ahead of fear,” Windmeyer continued. “There we were on the sidelines, Dan, his wife, his family and friends and I, all enjoying the game.”

“And that is why building a relationship with someone I thought I would never understand mattered,” Windmeyer reflected. “Our worlds, different as they can be, could coexist peacefully.”

“The millions of college football fans watching the game never could have imagined what was playing out right in front of them,” Windmeyer wrote. “Gay and straight, liberal and conservative, activist and evangelist -- we could stand together in our difference and in our respect. How much better would our world be if more could do the same?”