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Outrage escalates into public relations debacle for anti-gay Chick-fil-A

The fallout over remarks made by Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy last week, stating his opposition to LGBT rights, and in particular same-sex marriage, has turned into a public relations debacle for the Atlanta-based fast food chain.

Since the July 16 interview with the Baptist Press, where Cathy acknowledged that Chick-fil-A was “guilty as charged” regarding its millions of dollars in contributions to established anti-gay organizations, politicians in Boston, and now Chicago, have moved to block openings on new Chick-fil-A restaurants, while the chain said it was voluntarily removing Creature Shop toys from its kids meals over a “product issue,” but stated the move was unrelated to an announcement last week by the Jim Henson Company that it was ending its partnership with the chicken chain.

Among the latest developments, Chicago Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno announced that he will block Chick-fil-A’s efforts to build its second Chicago-area restaurant.

“If you are discriminating against a segment of the community, I don’t want you in the 1st Ward,” Moreno told the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday.

Moreno called Cathy’s remarks “bigoted, homophobic comments,” and, in a statement to the Tribune said, “Because of this man’s ignorance, I will now be denying Chick-fil-A’s permit to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward.”

Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel indicated privately that he may support Moreno’s announcement, and was quoted as saying, “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.”

Moreno’s announcement echos a statement by Boston mayor Thomas Menino last week, who vowed to block Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant near the city’s “Freedom Trail,” a site directly across from City Hall.

In a letter released today — dated July 20 — Menino wrote:

“In recent days you said Chick-fil-A opposes same-sex marriage and said the generation that supports it has an ‘arrogant attitude.’

Now — incredibly — your company says you are backing out of the same-sex marriage debate. I urge you to back out of your plans to locate in Boston.”


“You called supporters of gay marriage ‘prideful.’ Here in Boston, to borrow your own words, we are ‘guilty as charged.’ We are indeed full of pride for our support of same-sex marriage and our work to expand freedom to all people. We are proud that our state and our city have led the way for the country on equal marriage rights…

There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”

Politicians weren’t excluded from the terse reaction to Cathy’s remarks.

Late last week, The Jim Henson Company, the entertainment organization that traces its origins to the founding of The Muppets in 1958 by puppeteer Jim Henson, announced it was ending its affiliation with Chick-fil-A over the restaurant chain’s anti-gay sentiments.

The Henson company’s partnership with Chick-fil-A included selling its Creature Shop toys for the restaurant chain’s kids meals.

In a curious announcement Wednesday, Chick-fil-A responded that it was “initiating a voluntary withdrawal for our Jim Henson Creature Shop Puppet Kid’s Meal Premiums due to a product issue.”

Several of the chain’s restaurants posted a sign in the window claiming that the toys presented a “safety issue,” and that the “recall” was effective July 19, the day prior to the Henson company’s announcement.

Meanwhile, Gizmodo called the stunt “a lie that the company may be propagating with fake Facebook accounts of Chick-fil-a sympathists.”

“Instead of owning up to the fact that The Jim Henson Company stopped doing business with them because they’re overrun with bigots, the chicken sandwich company appears to have made fake Facebook accounts to defend its honor on the social network. How do we know the accounts are fake? Just check out this back and forth on Chick-fil-A’s Facebook page between real, breathing people and “Abby Farle”, a Facebook account that was made 8 hours ago by a chicken PR flack with a stock image of a teenage girl as her profile picture.”

The controversy has sparked a renewed campaign in the debate over same-sex marriage with Christian groups organizing support for Chick-fil-A while attacking LGBT advocacy groups.

Failed GOP presidential hopefuls, Rick Santorum (former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania) and former Arkansas Governor and Fox News pundit Mike Huckabee, have been outspoken in their support for Cathy and the franchise.

Huckabee has encouraged people to patronize the fast food chain on Aug. 1, which he deemed “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.”

Santorum responded with, “I think Governor Mike Huckabee said it best when he wrote, ‘Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant.’ … I am joining Mike in his effort to fight for traditional values. Please join me and Governor Huckabee on August 1 by eating at Chick-fil-A.”

Bryan Fischer, spokesman for the anti-gay American Family Association, has asserted that “the bullies at ‘Big Gay,’” the term he is now using to describe LGBT advocates, are “trying to go Ahmadinejad on Chick-fil-A, they want them wiped off the face of the map.”

“And they’re trying to present themselves as these innocent little victims, helpless and hapless, being picked on across the fruited plain. And they’re not. They are bullies. They are intolerant, they are vicious, they are mean, and they are after people of faith. There’s no ‘live and let live’ with the bullies at Big Gay. They don’t know anything about tolerance,” Fischer said.

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“Let’s make it our goal to buy out every chicken sandwich that Chick-fil-A makes on August 1,” Fischer added, in support of Huckabee’s proposal.

Back in Illinois, LGBT advocacy group Equality Illinois on Tuesday kicked off a multi-faceted “Flick-the-Hate” campaign aimed at Illinois communities where Chick-fil-A has franchises.

Among its efforts, Equality Illinois has launched a petition urging universities and mall owners where Chick-fil-A has franchises to sever their ties with the chain.

The group is also encouraging Illinois residents to participate in an “Eat for Love Day” on August 1st, by supporting local LGBT-friendly restaurants.

And not to be left out of the debate, Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) angrily attacked Boston’s mayor:

“The hypocrisy is ludicrous. Menino, of course, is an outspoken promoter of same-sex marriage, just another out-of-touch politician ignorant of the fact that the American people have consistently rejected same-sex marriage at the ballot box,” Brown wrote on NOM’s blog.

“Luckily for Mr. Menino, the people of Massachusetts haven’t been allowed to vote on marriage; but they will be allowed to vote on him — and if he isn’t nervous, he probably should be,” threatened Brown.

LGBT advocacy groups are also promoting a nationwide “Kiss In” campaign planned for August 3, encouraging same-sex couples and LGBT supporters to “show their disdain for Chick-fil-A’s policies with public displays of affection in front of their restaurants.”

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