Elected officials have urged Chick-fil-A to stay out of their cities, the Jim Henson Company has severed ties, and gay rights groups are organizing national protests against the fried chicken chain. But at the Chick-fil-A where Andrew works in northern Alabama, business has been booming over the past few weeks.

On Wednesday -- dubbed "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" by former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee -- lines are stretching out the front door and the parking lot is packed with customers coming out to support company chief executive Dan Cathy, who recently came out against same-sex marriage with statements that have polarized lovers of the fast-food chain.

Andrew, a gay 24-year-old who has been working at the northern Alabama Chick-fil-A since January, sat in his car smoking a cigarette and watching the crowd during a break earlier Wednesday.

"I call it hater appreciation day," said Andrew, who asked that his last name be withheld out of fear he'd be fired. "It's very, very depressing."

Chick-fil-A has long come under fire from activists for giving millions to groups that advocate against gay rights and even support ex-gay therapy, but the fire has ratcheted up in recent weeks, following interviews in which Cathy said he was “guilty as charged” of supporting “the biblical definition of the family unit" and that gay marriage invites "God's judgment on our nation."

Now, Chick-fil-A sits at the center of furious debate over same-sex marriage, gay rights and free speech, with politicians, activists, and newspaper editorial boards weighing in from all sides.

The company has remained mostly silent on the issue. On the company's Facebook page, a post declares, "The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender." (On the page, the company also maintains that it severed ties with the Jim Henson Company, first). The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Huffington Post, and Dan Cathy has not given any subsequent interviews since the controversy began.

Another group staying mostly silent on the issue are the gay, lesbian and bisexual employees who staff the restaurants. They say that, like most employees of the company, they aren't allowed to speak to the press.

For these employees, the last couple of weeks have been very difficult.

One gay employee who works at Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., and asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job, says he is getting it from both sides. On the one hand, there is the customer who came in and said he supported Dan Cathy and then "continues to say something truly homophobic, e.g. 'I'm so glad you don't support the queers, I can eat in peace,'" the employee, who is 23 and has worked for Chick-fil-A since he was 16, wrote in an email. On the other hand, he continued, "I was yelled at for being a god-loving, conservative, homophobic Christian while walking some food out to a guest in a mall dining room."

He disagrees with Cathy's views, but the reaction from the public has been just as hard to swallow.

"It seems like very few people have stopped to think about who actually works for Chick-fil-A and what those people's opinions are," he wrote. "They are putting us in a pot and coming to support us or hate us based on something they heard and assume we agree with."

Gabriel Aguiniga, a gay employee at a Chick-fil-A in Colorado, also said the hardest part hasn't been hearing Cathy's comments. Instead, "[it's] constantly having people come up to you and say, 'I support your company, because your company hates the gays,'" Aguiniga, 18, wrote in an email. "It really takes a toll on me."

Management is encouraging employees at the stores to remain neutral, no matter what customers say, according to multiple workers interviewed by The Huffington Post.

"Our managers have recommended just saying 'Thank you for your business' if a customer says they agree with Cathy’s comments, rather than agreeing or disagreeing with them," K, an openly gay Chick-fil-A employee in Louisiana, told HuffPost in an email.

But staying neutral can be difficult when it feels like the world is passing judgment on everyone associated with the company.

"Now, anyone that works there is stuck with a stigma of being homophobic, even when many of us are far from it," K said. One of her coworkers, who supports same-sex marriage, has had people say things like, “Don’t give me that hate sh*t,” and “I hope you choke on that chicken," while she was handing out samples.

But for K, the hardest part hasn't been the actions of customers and protesters, it's the money the company gives to anti-gay groups.

"At the end of the day part of our profits still go towards Dan Cathy, and subsequently, all the organizations he supports," she said. K is now actively searching for work elsewhere. Many of her coworkers, she said, are looking for new jobs, too.

The groups Chick-fil-A gives to include the Family Research Council and Exodus International, according to Equality Matters, an initiative associated with the progressive Watchdog group, Media Matters. The Family Research Council is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, while Exodus International is a Christian Ministry that has long endorsed ex-gay therapy, a controversial practice of "curing" gay people that mainstream mental health organizations have disavowed. (In recent months, the president of Exodus has tried to distance his group from the idea that gay people can be "cured.")

Several of the gay and lesbian employees interviewed by The Huffington Post said that they liked their work, and had never witnessed incidents of homophobia or discrimination on the job. But Chick-fil-A restaurants are operated by independent owners, and employee experience can vary widely depending on the person running a particular chain.

Kellie, a 23-year-old gay woman from Georgia who also requested her last name be withheld for fear of being outed in the press, worked at two different Chick-fil-A locations in Georgia. She loved working at the first location, she said, where nobody ever said anything homophobic or discriminatory. But at the second location, in Atlanta, "there was a lot of general homophobia." Managers would frequently make homophobic jokes, she said, and she felt that if she were to tell her colleagues she was gay, she would be fired. Eventually, she quit.

Another former employee, who worked at the Chick-fil-A in Chicago, said he thought the culture of the company encouraged homophobia.

"It's a very monochromatic, white, male driven company," said Andrew Mullen, a gay 26-year-old who quit his job last winter after less than a year with the company. Once, Andrew recalled, a company operator leading an employee training session, saw two men kissing on the patio outside the restaurant and proclaimed to the group he was leading that he thought it was "disgusting." Mullen later told the person in charge of corporate training about the incident, and the man was fired. "[This person] was very apologetic for it, and there are a few people here like that, but from what I saw, it's a predominantly pro-ignorant culture."

But the gay employee who works at headquarters in Atlanta disagreed with this assessment. Aside from the occasional homophobic joke or comment outside of working hours, he said, his experience with the company has been "extremely positive."

Asked in June, Andrew, the employee in Alabama, would have said his experience was positive, too. He had never explicitly told any of his colleagues he was gay, but he felt comfortable at work and liked the operator of his store. But recently, Andrew says the atmosphere at work has grown nearly intolerable. Although plenty of his coworkers have said they don't agree with Cathy's views, on "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," one colleague told him proudly that his friends would be eating the fried chicken sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Last week, when he went out to the parking lot to help a trucker (not directly employed by Chick-fil-A) unload a shipment of goods, the trucker turned to Andrew confidentially and said, "If I see one more faggot at a Chick-fil-A protesting, I'm going to be sick."

"I just looked at him and said, 'I don't want to hear that,'" Andrew recalled. "I thought, Chick-fil-A doesn't promote hatred, we don't cuss and we don't hate," he continued. But experiences over the last couple of weeks have shifted his views: "Honestly, I really wish they would just go out of business, I do."

View a slideshow of companies and products that have been boycotted for being pro-LGBT below:

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  • Oreo

    In June 2012, Oreo posted a photo of a rainbow sextuple-stacked cookie to its <a href="https://www.facebook.com/oreo" target="_hplink">Facebook</a> page in honor of Pride month. While the responses were mostly positive, some commenters were outraged, even calling for a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/oreo-sees-support-backlash-boycott-gay-pride-rainbow-cookie-article-1.1103369" target="_hplink">boycott</a> of the product. Still, Basil Maglaris, Kraft's associate director of corporate affairs, <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-krafts-gay-pride-oreo-draws-20000-comments-some-flak-20120627,0,490983.story" target="_hplink">said</a> that the positive comments on the post "far outweighed" the negative ones.

  • Betty Crocker

    The staple of American domesticity is part of the General Mills family of products, which has been <a href="http://www.dumpgeneralmills.com/?REF=EB120625NANT" target="_hplink">boycotted by the National Organization for Marriage</a> for opposing the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. What better way to celebrate the stand against intolerance than Betty Crocker's <a href="http://www.bettycrocker.com/products/supermoist-cakes/products/supermoist cake mix/rainbow-chip" target="_hplink">Rainbow Chip</a> cake? <em>Correction on July 24 at 1:35pm ET: The original version of this slideshow misidentified the name of the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. It has been corrected on this slide and several others throughout the slideshow.</em>

  • Levi's

    In 1992, Levi's found itself at odds with the Boy Scout's 'Three Gs' principle that had guided the Scouts' membership model for more than 80 years -- that everyone is welcome, provided they are not gay, godless, or a girl. San Francisco-based Levi's <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/boy-scouts-battle-on-antigay-policy-levis-the-denim-firm-has-withdrawn-its-sponsorship-over-the-movements-refusal-to-accept-homosexuals-writes-david-usborne-in-washington-1550450.html" target="_hplink">pulled its Boy Scout funding</a>, due to the group's exclusion. In response, Republican Dana Rohrabacher encouraged a 'grassroots' counter-boycott of Levi Strauss and his Texan colleage, Tom DeLay, was even more extreme in his reaction: "When Texans find out that the Levi's they have on go toward attacks on the Boy Scouts of America... they'll take off those Levi's and burn them in the streets."

  • Cheerios

    Not only will this breakfast cereal reduce your family's cholesterol but it will reduce your family's moral integrity as well, according to The National Organization for Marriage. As part of the General Mills family of products, Cheerios is one of the brands that has been <a href="http://www.dumpgeneralmills.com/?REF=EB120625NANT" target="_hplink">boycotted by NOM</a> for opposing the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.

  • American Apparel

    In 2009, <a href="http://www.americanapparel.net/" target="_hplink">American Apparel</a> put its "Legalize Gay" t-shirt in storefront windows in Washinton, D.C. When a group of <a href="http://news.change.org/stories/american-apparel-pushes-back-against-anti-lgbt-vandalism" target="_hplink">anti-LGBT vandals broke the store's windows</a>, the company didn't back down, but rather agreed to send shirts to any group in D.C. that was fighting for gay rights.

  • Disney World

    Although Walt Disney World's <a href="http://www.gaydays.com/" target="_hplink">Gay Days</a> are not officially sanctioned by the theme park, they were the object of a <a href="http://floridafamily.org/full_article.php?article_no=158" target="_hplink">Florida Family Association warning</a>. The anti-LGBT group paid to have two planes fly over the park, with warning banners, to deter unsuspecting families from attending the park during Gay Days.

  • Starbucks

    In January 2012, when Starbucks released a <a href="http://www.dumpstarbucks.com/documents/memo.pdf" target="_hplink">memorandum</a> voicing support of gay marriage, NOM launched <a href="http://www.dumpstarbucks.com/" target="_hplink">DumpStarbucks.com</a> to urge people to boycott the coffee chain.

  • Wheaties

    As part of the General Mills family of products, which has been <a href="http://www.dumpgeneralmills.com/?REF=EB120625NANT" target="_hplink">boycotted by NOM</a> for opposing the Minnesota Marriage Amendment, there are attempts to dethrone Wheaties as the "Breakfast of Champions."

  • Tide Detergent

    In 2004, Procter and Gamble <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/17/news/fortune500/pg_gay_rights/" target="_hplink">angered conservatives</a> by opposing an anti-gay rights statute that would exempt gays and lesbians from special civil rights protection in its hometown of Cincinnati. In response, the American Family Association <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/17/news/fortune500/pg_gay_rights/" target="_hplink">issued a boycott</a> of some of P&G's most popular products, including Tide Detergent, and gathered petition signatures from almost 365,000 families urging Procter & Gamble to change its policy.

  • Microsoft

    In 2005, Microsoft <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1490060/Religious-Right-to-boycott-Microsoft-over-support-for-gay-rights.html" target="_hplink">came under fire</a> from anti-LGBT activists, including evangelical preacher Ken Hutcherson, for its support of a bill in that would outlaw discrimination against homosexuals at work in the state of Washington. In response, Microsoft <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1490060/Religious-Right-to-boycott-Microsoft-over-support-for-gay-rights.html" target="_hplink">withdrew its support</a> of the bill, prompting outrage from gay and liberal activists and criticism from its staff and other big businesses. In response, Bill Gates backtracked again and admitted that he was surprised by the vehemence of the reaction. When the bill was defeated by a single vote, Microsoft's liberal critics blamed its withdrawal of support for the loss.

  • Home Depot

    A May 2012 <a href="http://action.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147521725" target="_hplink">post</a> on the American Family Association web site proclaims, "AFA is promoting a boycott of Home Depot until it agrees to remain neutral in the homosexual culture war. The total number of people who have signed the Home Depot boycott pledge is 719,037." The <a href="http://action.afa.net/item.aspx?id=2147496231" target="_hplink">pledge</a> condemns Home Depot for giving "financial and corporate support to open displays of homosexual activism," because this helps expose "small children to lascivious displays of sexual conduct by homosexuals and cross-dressers." In response to the <a href="http://action.afa.net/item.aspx?id=2147496231" target="_hplink">pledge</a>, which was delivered at Home Depot's annual shareholder meeting, Chairman Blake <a href="http://action.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147521725" target="_hplink">responded</a>, "We are, and will remain, committed to a culture that fosters an inclusive environment for our associates, our customers and communities in which we exist."

  • Pampers Diapers

    Diapers are essential to fulfilling the straight family-making dream, which make them an odd target of a 'pro-family' boycott. However, in 2004, Proctor and Gamble <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/17/news/fortune500/pg_gay_rights/" target="_hplink">angered conservatives</a> by opposing an anti-gay rights statute that would exempt gays and lesbians from special civil rights protection in its hometown of Cincinnati. In response, the American Family Association <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/17/news/fortune500/pg_gay_rights/" target="_hplink">issued a boycott</a> of some of P&G's most popular products, including Pampers Diapers, and gathered petition signatures from almost 365,000 families, urging Procter & Gamble to change its policy.

  • PepsiCo Products

    After it was discovered that PepsiCo gave a combined $1,000,000 to the <a href="http://www.hrc.org/" target="_hplink">Human Rights Campaign</a> and <a href="http://community.pflag.org/page.aspx?pid=191" target="_hplink">PFLAG</a> (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) to promote the so-called "homosexual lifestyle" in the workplace, the American Family Accociation posted a "<a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147483718" target="_hplink">Boycott Pepsi Pledge</a>," urging conservatives to stay away from Pepsi drinks, Frito Lay chips, Quaker Oats, and Gatorade.

  • Safeway

    In June of 2009, Safeway honored Pride by putting large gay/lesbian Pride posters in its stores across America. In response to this celebration of the "gay lifestyle," the American Family Association <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147484828" target="_hplink">urged conservatives</a> to contact their local Safeway, and ask it to "stop promoting homosexuality," and "let Safeway know if they continue, you will consider grocery shopping with their competitors."

  • Crest Toothpaste

    In 2004, Procter and Gamble <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/17/news/fortune500/pg_gay_rights/" target="_hplink">angered conservatives</a> by opposing an anti-gay rights statute that would exempt gays and lesbians from special civil rights protection in its hometown of Cincinnati. In response, the American Family Association <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/17/news/fortune500/pg_gay_rights/" target="_hplink">issued a boycott</a> of some of P&G's most popular products, including Crest Toothpaste, and gathered petition signatures from almost 365,000 families, urging Procter & Gamble to change its policy.

  • Old Navy

    In 2011, when Old Navy planned to sell shirts to benefit the anti-suicide, anti-bullying <a href="http://www.itgetsbetter.org/" target="_hplink">It Gets Better</a> project, the American Family Association <a href="http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/fischer-gays-ought-be-ashamed-national-borders-were-set-god" target="_hplink">urged members</a> to "drop by your Old Navy store in your community and tell them you're not going to shop at Old Navy until they get their minds right."

  • Girl Scouts

    In 2011, when The Girl Scouts decided to allow a transgender youth to participate, The American Family Association <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147513279" target="_hplink">urged members</a> to contact Girl Scout leadership, "expressing your disappointment in their recent decision to allow boys as troop members," and to "let them know you will not support the Girl Scouts as long as it continues down a path of destructive policies."

  • Macy's

    In December 2011, a Macy's dressing room attendant prevented a transgender woman from using a female dressing room, because it violated her religious beliefs. After the woman was fired for refusing to abide by Macy's pro-LGBT policies, the American Family Association <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147514523" target="_hplink">lamented</a>, "The LGBT agenda has become the theater of the absurd" and <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147514523" target="_hplink">urged</a> members to contact the Macy's headquarters to "express... outrage at this injustice to female employees and customers."

  • Target

    In May 2012, Target <a href="http://action.afa.net/uploadedImages/Activism/AFA_Action_Alerts/Action_Alert_Related_Items/targetpride.jpg" target="_hplink">announced</a> that 100% of the purchase price of any of its Pride merchandise would be donated to the pro-LGBT <a href="http://www.familyequality.org/" target="_hplink">Family Equality Council</a>. The American Family Association <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147521799" target="_hplink">lamented</a> that "Target is joining President Obama in ramming same-sex marriage down the throats of the American people" and urged members to contact Target Chairman Gregg Steinhafel, to "let him know that a majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage and are able to use their pocketbooks to voice their opposition to companies that support it." It should be noted that Target has also come under fire from gay advocates. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/08/lady-gaga-ends-target-lgbt_n_833209.html" target="_hplink">In 2011, Lady Gaga nixed a deal with Target</a> for an exclusive special edition of her "Born This Way" album after it was revealed that the brand had donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a group that was backing Tom Emmer's gubernatorial bid in Minnesota. Emmer was known for being especially conservative and not supporting equal rights for LGBT citizens.

  • J.C. Penney

    Aside from One Million Mom's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/ellen-degeneres-jc-penney_n_1247657.html" target="_hplink">infamous boycott</a> of the department store for choosing Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson, J.C. Penney also came under fire in June 2012 when its <a href="http://calendar.jcpenney.com/june/#!book/thebook/16" target="_hplink">catalog</a> featured two men on the floor playing and hugging their two children at home indicating, <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147522587" target="_hplink">according</a> to the American Family Association, that the company made a "departure from its moorings to God's Word and Mr. Penney's leadership by taking sides in the cultural war in celebration of homosexuality." The AFA <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147522587" target="_hplink">urged members</a> to "call or visit your local J. C. Penney store manager to politely inform them that you will not be shopping at their store this Father's Day," and added, "If you have a store credit card or hold stock with the J. C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE: JCP), you might consider closing your account and divesting until they become neutral in the culture war."

  • Pillsbury

    Pillsbury is part of the General Mills family of products, which has been <a href="http://www.dumpgeneralmills.com/?REF=EB120625NANT" target="_hplink">boycotted by NOM</a> for opposing the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.

  • Walgreen's

    In 2006, Walgreen's was a Platinum-Level sponsor of the Chicago "<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_Games" target="_hplink">Gay Games</a>." According to Tom Kovach of <a href="http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/kovach/060319" target="_hplink">RenewAmerica.com</a>, "by its very definition, the 'Gay' Games will invite people from all over the world to come to Chicago this summer and have homo-sex," and Walgreen's support contradicted it "squeaky-clean, family-friendly corporate image." Kovach wasn't alone in his condemnation -- the Illinois Family Institute <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2005-10-19/news/0510190382_1_walgreens-gay-games-vii-michael-polzin" target="_hplink">voiced opposition</a> and considered urging members to boycott the Pharmacy chain.

  • Ford

    In 2005, the American Family Association <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8047423/ns/business-us_business/t/another-swing-pocketbook/#.T-x3GCtSTDV" target="_hplink">launched a boycott campaign</a> against Ford for being "the company which has done the most to affirm and promote the homosexual lifestyle." The group criticized Ford for donating money to gay-rights organizations (Ford offered to give up to $1,000 to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for every Jaguar and Land Rover it sells to a member of GLAAD) and complained that Ford had sponsored Pride celebrations, advertised in gay-oriented publications and was "redefining the definition of the family to include homosexual marriage."

  • Gap

    When Gap launched an ad campaign featuring two men pressed together under a shared t-shirt, anti-LGBT group One Million Moms, which is part of the American Family Association, launched a boycott, <a href="http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/gay-issues/one-million-moms-protests-gap-clothing-gay-billboard" target="_hplink">stating</a>, "GAP Inc. Brands, including Old Navy, Banana Republic, Piperlime, and Athleta, does not deserve, nor will it get, money from conservative families across the country. Supporting GAP is not an option until they decide to remain neutral in the culture war. GAP needs to seriously consider how their immoral advertising affect the youth of our nation."

  • Green Giant

    The frozen vegetable brand is part of the General Mills family of products, which, in June 2012, was <a href="DumpGeneralMills.com " target="_hplink">boycotted by NOM</a> for opposing the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.