There’s a huge dilemma about to grip New York City’s staunchest liberals, and politically minded LGBTs who also really like fried chicken.
On October 3, America’s favorite fast-food chain, Chick-fil-A, is opening its doors near Herald Square in Midtown.
It’s been a wish years in the making as transplants from suburbia—more specifically, the South—had to live their day-to-day lives without access to the warm and buttery taste of the chain’s much beloved chicken and waffle fries.
The 5,000-square-foot outpost will be the city’s first freestanding franchise, catering to some 8.5 million people throughout five boroughs—that is, if they’re not afraid of how others might judge them.
In 2012, the company’s president and CEO, Dan Cathy, caused a huge controversy when he took a strong stance opposing same-sex marriage.
“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’” Cathy stated while on The Ken Coleman Show. “I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”
Weeks later, he reiterated to the Biblical Recorder that he was “guilty as charged” and “very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit,” one man and one woman.
Almost immediately it was exposed that Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm, WinShape, had been donating millions to various organizations that opposed LGBT equality, like the Marriage & Family Foundation, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, National Christian Foundation, New Mexico Christian Foundation, Exodus International, Family Research Council, and Georgia Family Council.
The company’s strong Christian roots were no surprise to many of their faithful followers. Founded in small-town Georgia in 1946, its corporate policy is that all stores be closed on Sunday in order to observe the Lord’s “day of rest” and allow employees to attend church.
But at a time when marriage was on the cusp of becoming a hard-fought-for reality for same-sex couples in many states (and now across the country), many were shocked and outraged that Chick-fil-A so explicitly condemned the right to equality of the LGBT community.
The mayors of Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco pledged to prevent the franchise from expanding in their cities.
Schools, including New York University, Northeastern University and Davidson College, boycotted or prevented Chick-fil-A from being served on campus.
A “Kiss Off” was staged at outposts across the country and LGBT individuals showed their love for each other outside.
Then, in September 2012, the Civil Rights Agenda announced Chick-fil-A had “ceased donating to organizations that promote discrimination, specifically against LGBT civil rights.”
Cathy later told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the “wiser thing” for the company to do was “to stay focused on customer service,” instead of on a personal belief.
“Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena,” the company said in a statement.
And, even though threats of massive boycotts loomed, sales boomed. There was a 12 percent increase in sales in 2012 as the company rapidly expanded, while members and supporters of the LGBT community have continued to remain loyal to their golden chicken.
A surf through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter on Monday proved to be void of any backlash from the LGBT community after the announcement of the New York franchise opening.
If anything, all that could be heard was a collective “YAAAAAAS!!” from Manhattan residents.
As Daily Beast contributor and LGBT activist Sally Kohn put it, “Chick-fil-A is like gay sex: Don’t knock it till you try it.”
But can a socially liberal city known for the Stonewall Riots, the cornerstone of the modern LGBT rights movement, accept a love for a brand with undeniably bigoted founders?
“I’ve never stopped enjoying Chick-Fil-A, even during all of the controversy,” Nathanial Millbank, who grew up Southern Baptist and identifies as both Christian and gay, told The Daily Beast.
“I love their products and I’m always treated with respect and courtesy. I’ve never seen them as discriminating or judgmental against gays directly and I honestly think they just fell victim to the media.”
Millbank has even gone as far as sneaking into NYU’s student cafeteria, where a limited Chick-fil-A menu is offered, and driving an hour out of the Manhattan to dine on the chain’s famous chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.
He has no embarrassment admitting this to friends or strangers, and plans to visit the new franchise as soon as it opens.
His LGBT friends shared the same excitement early this morning as they exchanged joyous messages when reports of the opening date first surfaced.
On the other hand, Toph Allen, a former political organizer for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, finds the desire to go internally problematic.
“I’m honestly conflicted,” he told The Daily Beast. “On the one hand, Chick-Fil-A tastes so good and reminds me of high school in Dallas. On the other hand, they’re owned by vociferous bigots. But they are so on the losing side of history that it’s kind of neither here nor there whether I have, like, one sandwich.”
There are far “more meaningful things one can do than not eating a chicken sandwich,” Allen adds, clarifying that he would be a little embarrassed to be seen at the New York Chick-fil-A outpost.
“I don’t know where I’ll wind up because I think: Sure, they’re irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but what if they discriminate against LGBT or even non-gender-conforming straight people in states where that’s legal? Or support organizations in other countries that are strongly anti-LGBT? And when I think about it like that, I’d just rather not be associated with them, and I’ll go have Shake Shack instead.”
If anything, Allen will “go once to reminisce and then not again. I wouldn’t make it a regular stop.”
But based on the reaction of many other social media users, others couldn’t be more ecstatic to finally have a taste of the country’s favorite chicken sandwich.
Hopefully 5,000 square feet can contain all the excitement—and exorcise a few prejudiced demons.