Chick-fil-A Inc. said its philanthropic arm will not donate next year to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or the Salvation Army — which espouse or have been linked to anti-LGBTQ stances — as the chain of chicken restaurants continues to face public pressure about its charitable giving.
The Atlanta company said Monday that it will focus its philanthropic efforts on organizations that work on education, homelessness and hunger issues. As part of this new plan, the Chick-fil-A Foundation said it will donate a total of $9 million next year to local food banks, youth financial literacy group Junior Achievement USA and Covenant House International, which helps provide housing and services to young people without homes.
The chain has been working to shed its image as an opponent of LGBTQ rights, and this year the debut of a rival chicken sandwich from Popeyes offered Chick-fil-A’s customers a wildly popular alternative.
In 2012, Dan Cathy — who was then the company president — kicked a hornet’s nest by saying in an interview that Chick-fil-A was “very much supportive of” the “biblical definition of the family unit.” Cathy is the founder’s son and now serves as chief executive.
“We don’t claim to be a Christian business,” Cathy told Baptist Press at the time. “But as an organization we can operate on biblical principles.”
His remarks sparked an immediate backlash. Protesters gathered at Chick-fil-A restaurants, politicians denounced the chain, and Jim Henson Co. pulled out of a deal to make toys for its kids’ meals. Shortly after, Chick-fil-A said it would no longer donate money to anti-LGBTQ groups.
But it continued to donate to such charities as the Salvation Army, a Christian-aligned group that in the past has said people attracted to members of the same sex should remain celibate.
In 2012, a Salvation Army spokesman told Australian journalists that part of the organization’s belief system was that LGBTQ people deserve death. (The larger group said he’d misinterpreted its guidance.) The previous year, a gay rights activist told the New York Times that two decades earlier, when he and his boyfriend were homeless, the Salvation Army had refused to shelter them unless they broke up and attended church services.
The Salvation Army said in a statement Monday that it was “saddened” by Chick-fil-A’s decision to halt its donations, adding that its own focus on education, homelessness and hunger is in line with the foundation’s stated initiatives.
The charity also said it believes it is the largest provider of poverty relief to “the LGBTQ+ population.”
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes did not respond Monday to a request for comment. On its website, it says it believes marriage is “exclusively the union of one man and one woman.”
Chick-fil-A left open the possibility of resuming its contributions to the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the future. Its foundation said Monday that it will evaluate its donations on a yearly basis.
President Tim Tassopoulos said in a statement that no organization would be excluded from future consideration. Chick-fil-A did not respond to follow-up questions about whether it has ruled out future donations to groups that have track records of anti-LGBTQ stances.
LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD said investors, employees and customers could greet Monday’s news with “cautious optimism” because Chick-fil-A has made similar pledges in the past that “were previously proven to be empty.” It did not respond to a follow-up question about whether it has any concerns about next year’s announced recipients, Junior Achievement and Covenant House.
The controversy has had business implications for the fast-food chain. This year, concessions operator Delaware North decided against adding a Chick-fil-A restaurant to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York state after protests led by a local assemblyman.
On Monday, Delaware North said that although it applauded Chick-fil-A’s announcement, the move to nix the airport Chick-fil-A was a business decision that it is not reconsidering.