Chick-fil-A, criticized for its charitable giving, narrows donations

Chick-fil-A, which has continued to face questions about its charitable, says it is reworking its philanthropic giving. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Chick-fil-A, which has continued to face questions about its charitable, says it is reworking its philanthropic giving. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Chick-fil-A, which for years has faced questions about its giving to groups viewed as hostile to LGBTQ rights, said it is narrowing the scope of its foundation’s charitable donations to target education, homelessness and hunger.

It’s unclear whether the Atlanta-based restaurant chain is ruling out future donations to organizations that have sparked the ire of LGBTQ rights groups.

Some of those groups raised a red flag Monday.

“Chick-fil-A investors, employees and customers can greet today’s announcement with cautious optimism, but should remember that similar press statements were previously proven to be empty,” Drew Anderson, the director of Campaigns and Rapid Response for GLADD, wrote in an emailed statement Monday. “In addition to refraining from financially supporting anti-LGBTQ organizations, Chick-fil-A still lacks policies to ensure safe workplaces for LGBTQ employees and should unequivocally speak out against the anti-LGBTQ reputation that their brand represents.”

In 2012, Chick-fil-A leader Dan Cathy, a son of founder Truett Cathy, publicly weighed in against same-sex marriage. That ignited an onslaught of criticism of Cathy and the company overall. And it renewed earlier complaints about corporate and franchisee donations to groups some viewed as anti-gay groups. But the turmoil, which included an effort to boycott the business, also sparked a deep wave of support from Chick-fil-A's many fans, including those who agreed and disagreed with Cathy's stance on marriage.

In most of the seven years since, Cathy has tried to douse the controversy and keep a lower profile. The company has said it has no political or social agenda and welcomes all to its restaurants.

Still, the issue has flared over and over again.

Jacob Meister, the chairman of Chicago-based Civil Rights Agenda, said Chick-fil-A made promises to the group years ago that it would stop giving to certain groups. "They went back on their assurances," he said.

Some city officials, colleges and even airports have fought against new and existing Chick-fil-A restaurants, citing views on LGBTQ issues. Still, Chick-fil-A's business has boomed and it has surged to be counted as the third largest restaurant chain in the nation.

Chick-fil-A said that in 2018 it fulfilled multi-year giving agreements with the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, two organizations that have faced some criticism from LGBTQ groups in the past.

FCA’s online statement of faith holds that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman. The organization received $1.65 million “to provide under-served youth with week-long summer sports camps at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Morehouse College and Spelman College. Students who participate are not required to be members of FCA or sign any FCA pledge,” according to the company.

The Salvation Army received $115,000 for its Angel Tree program to provide holiday gifts for children.

An online statement from the Salvation Army said it was "saddened to learn that a corporate partner has felt it necessary to divert funding to other hunger, education and homelessness organizations — areas in which The Salvation Army, as the largest social services provider in the world, is already fully committed." It stated that "we believe we are the largest provider of poverty relief to the LGBTQ+ population. When misinformation is perpetuated without fact, our ability to serve those in need, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or any other factor, is at risk."

A Chick-fil-A spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement: “Moving forward, you will see that the Chick-fil-A Foundation will support the three specific initiatives of homelessness, hunger and education, and it will reassess its philanthropic partnerships annually to allow maximum impact. These partners could include faith-based and non-faith-based charities.”

Another media outlet, Bisnow, reported the company had said the new giving initiative would no longer include donating to organizations like the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Paul Anderson Youth Home, which also has come under fire in the past for taking stances viewed as anti-LGBTQ.

Asked about the Bisnow report, a Chick-fil-A spokesperson wrote, “We have not decided future giving beyond those partners announced for 2020.”

The announced partners include Junior Achievement USA and Covenant House, which helps homeless youth.

The Chick-fil-A Foundation is already giving heavily to metro Atlanta-focused organizations.

Among the biggest recipients so far this year were the Westside Future Fund, the Greater Atlanta Chamber Foundation, City of Refuge, the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta.

Rodney Bullard, the executive director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation, said in a posting online that, “We have tried to be as transparent as possible on who we give to and why we give, which we commit to continuing to do.”

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