In response to mounting opposition, the undergraduate Student Government Association (SGA) at Northeastern University (NU) voted down a proposal to bring Chick-fil-A, a Georgia-based fast-food chain with an anti-LGBT track record to campus.
For more than two weeks, critics, including students, faculty, staff, and alumni, denounced Chick-fil-A, citing the company’s substantial financial contributions to a host of anti-gay organizations as good reason to deny the chicken-chain a franchise at the school’s student center.
No Consideration for Bigotry in Massachusetts
“When you are a university in one of America’s most progressive cities, you cannot ignore the queer community and put a symbol of discrimination in public display,” said first year sociology major Devon Branin of East Greenwich, R.I. a spokesperson for NU Pride, the school’s LGBT student group.
Chick-fil-A’s presence here would be “a blow to our campus brand identity as the only school in Boston that placed a corporation over the interests of an oppressed minority,” said resident assistant Frank Marino, a junior from New Jersey majoring in international affairs, human services and social activism.
The 31 to 5 vote, with eight senators abstaining, came on Monday evening, Feb. 27 after an hour of debate, mostly one-sided in opposition to Chick-fil-A, according to the Huntington News, an independent student newspaper.
Consequently, Chick-fil-A will “not even [be] considered as a result of the vote,” said spokesperson Renata Nyul, director of communications for the school, according to the newspaper.
“I’m encouraged by the margin in the SGA senate’s vote,” said Jamaica Plain resident Adam Sell, a 2009 Northeastern graduate. “It’s heartening to see that a significant majority of the students’ representatives believe that bigotry and intolerance shouldn’t be subsidized on Northeastern’s campus.”
“This is the right decision for the university, and I am heartened by the fact that Northeastern’s [SGA] was able to lead the way in making it happen,” said communications professional Chris Viveiros, a 1995 alumnus.
Chick-fil-A’s funding of anti-gay groups “incensed” Sell, a marketing professional. Particularly infuriating, he said, was financial support given to the “most egregious” group of them all, Exodus International, which holds out “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapy, a dubious practice of trying to change one’s sexual orientation from gay to straight.
“I was aggravated to the point where I wanted to do something as an alumnus,” said Sell, who launched a petition drive on the Web site Change.org. The university, the petition states, “must not be in the business of choosing a few bucks over respect for parts of its own community.”
The petition gathered more than 600 signatures.
Social media, Twitter and Facebook, also spread the word on campus and beyond, raising awareness of Chick-fil-A’s offensive anti-LGBT activity.
Millions went to fight LGBT equality
Chick-fil-A has more than 1,500 restaurants spanning 39 states, mostly in the South. A New York Times article a year ago reported the chain’s sales figures for 2010 would be more than $3.5 billion.
The local controversy surrounding the fast-food chain is not the first. Last year when Chick-fil-A supplied food for seminar sponsored by the Pennsylvania Family Institute, an organization working to defeat same-sex marriage efforts in the Keystone State, the LGBT blogosphere ignited.
The outcry prompted Chick-fil-A’s president Dan Cathy to defend the restaurant chain. He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “We’re not anti-anybody. Our mission is to create raving fans.”
Nonetheless, Chick-fil-A has run afoul at other universities, including Duke, Bowling Green, Florida Gulf Coast, Gainesville State College, Indiana University South Bend, Mississippi State, Texas Tech, University of North Texas, and New York University. There, a freshman, Hillary Dworkoski of Santa Monica, Calif., launched a petition-protest drive asking the university to close the already operating Chick-fil-A franchise. The online petition has nearly 11,000 signatures.
Mission to glorify God
Founded by Southern Baptist in 1946, Chick-fil-A, privately owned, is an evangelical Christian, faith-based business. Part of its corporate mission is “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.”
Chick-fil-A’s religious corporate ethos is not the main rub. Rather, what rankles is the flexing of the chicken chain’s financial muscle against LGBT equality.
More than $3 million to anti-gay groups
Two studies by EqualityMatters.org, an LGBT advocacy site, found that Chick-fil-A, through its charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation, established by the fast-food firm’s founder S. Truett Cathy, donated more than $1.1 million dollars to anti-gay organizations between 2003 and 2008 and nearly $2 million in 2009.
The largest contribution in 2009 went to the Marriage & Family Legacy ($994,199). Other contributions that year were to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes ($480,000), National Christian Foundation ($240,000), Focus on Family ($12,500), Eagle Forum ($5,000), Exodus International ($1,000), and Family Research Council ($1,000).
“What’s unique about Chick-fil-A is the company has publicly denied, on several occasions, having a political agenda that discriminates against LGBT people,” said Carlos Maza, lead researcher at Equality Matters.
“In the meantime, Chick-fil-A donated nearly $3 million over the past several years to some of America’s most vile anti-gay groups, including the Family Research Council and Alliance Defense Fund,” he said.
“Chick-fil-A has the right to donate to whichever organizations it supports, but it doesn’t have the right to mislead its customers about the millions of dollars it pours into anti-gay causes,” said Maza who served as the lead researcher of the two reports.
In singling out Family Research Council (FRC) and Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), Maza was referring to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s naming FRC a hate group for spreading “false accusations linking gay men to pedophilia.”
Similarly, Southern Poverty Law considers ADF to be one America’s most influential groups fighting against LGBT equality. ADF has gone so far as to say efforts to enhance LGBT equality is “the principle threat to your religious freedom.”
Between 2003 and 2008, Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm gave ADF $5,000.
Based in Montgomery, Ala. the Southern Poverty Law Center is “a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society, according to its Web site.
Years in the making
For the past four years, as the Huntington News reported, the SGA has worked to bring Chick-fil-A to Northeastern, “even after it became apparent that the fast food-chain’s presence on campus might be contentious.”
“We talked about [the potential controversy] for some time,” Ryan Fox, a former SGA president told the student newspaper. “We didn’t think it would be an issue.”
But as controversy swirled, the student government groups reversed course.
In its recent action, the SGA approved a “Sense of the Senate” resolution, which states “that the undergraduate student body supports Chick-fil-A on the basis of its food alone, but more strongly supports the principle of people over products, and out of respect for the values of the Northeastern community, does not support the addition of Chick-fil-A as an on-campus vendor.”
The resolution also calls for the Office of Student Affairs to review current on-campus vendors “to ensure that they do not participate in any sort of actions that may harm or discriminate against community members or their values.”
Earlier the same day, the Graduate Student Government (GSG) approved a similar resolution.
A university spokesperson said school officials were happy about the SGA and SCG votes. “We are pleased with the outcome of Monday night’s senate resolution to exclude Chick-Fil-A from the group of vendors considered for a soon-to-be-renovated space at Northeastern’s Curry Student Center,” said communications director Nyul, in e-mail correspondence.
“We are proud of the decision that affirms our University’s commitment to be an inclusive, diverse community that is respectful of all,” she added.
“The successful process is also a testament to the great working relationship between the university administration, the [SGA] and the [GSG],” Nyul said.