Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, is in for a shock when thousands of college students go back to school this month. His anti-gay remarks, coupled with Chick-fil-A's secretive donations to anti-gay organizations and a documented hate group for nearly a decade (to the accumulated sum of $5 million), add fuel to an already burning fire.
As the executive director of Campus Pride, the leading national organization for LGBT students and campus groups, I have heard complaints about Chick-fil-A for years now. The company's presence and noncompliance with LGBT-inclusive policies on college campuses has been the subject of petitions and protests for as long as I can remember. The truth is finally out, and campuses are starting to take action.
Up until now, in most instances, the only thing that has allowed Chick-fil-A to survive on college campuses has been its clever marketing and denial that it was anything but a family-focused, Christian-run business that treats everyone with "dignity and respect." The Chick-fil-A controversy has changed all that forever. The company brand has radically redefined itself as a divisive political symbol. It stands publicly against same-sex marriage and uses its profits to fund groups proudly and aggressively working against the rights of LGBT people, advocating their criminalization, psychological abuse, and death. Among the chosen recipients of funds are some of the worst of the worst: Exodus International, the Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family.
I'm not surprised that a company masquerading inside cow suits to sell chicken would trick people into believing that "family-friendly" is different from "anti-gay." Chick-fil-A and its president, however, underestimate college students and have proven that they are out of touch with the next generation's values of respect and tolerance.
Gallup polls suggest that young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 are overwhelmingly in favor of LGBT rights, and 76 percent of them support legalizing marriage for gay and lesbian couples. The Higher Education Research Institute's annual Freshman Survey corroborates this support for same-sex marriage and also the fact that three quarters of college students today support adoption by gay and lesbian couples.
I have no doubt that in the near future, colleges and universities will be moving away from the Chick-fil-A brand for dining options on campus. Most campuses -- and businesses like the Jim Henson Company -- do not wish to be associated with a brand that has become synonymous with the funding of anti-gay groups and espousing propaganda for an anti-gay agenda.
The signs of change are already here. Last week, Duke's Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Larry Moneta, stated that Chick-fil-A will not be returning to campus after renovations in Duke's West Union. This was in response to an email from an alum who objected to Chick-fil-A being on campus. Moneta clarified that the decision was made prior to the recent controversy; however, students on campus had raised concerns over Chick-fil-A prior to renovations. Moneta would not confirm or deny that this was part of the considerations, stating in an email, "Duke University seeks to eliminate discrimination and promote equality for the LGBT and all our communities in all our endeavors."
Last week, Davidson College publicly made the decision to stop serving Chick-fil-A in association with its summer campus activities. A number of other colleges and universities also quickly distanced themselves after the controversy broke, including Emory University, which is based in Atlanta, the hometown and national headquarters of Chick-fil-A.
Will the campuses involved in the upcoming Chick-fil-A Bowl step back from it? Will co-sponsors, such as AT&T, Coca-Cola, and Delta, keep their brands publicly associated with a company that donates to anti-gay groups? They have serious questions to ask if their own diversity and nondiscrimination policies mean anything at all.
Nevertheless, the fervor over Chick-fil-A has escalated beyond disassociation and merely being told not to buy a chicken sandwich. This past week Campus Pride was informed about an incident at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where a fraternity was tabling next to the Chick-fil-A restaurant on campus. Whenever an out gay student on campus walked past the table, the fraternity would chant, "We love Chick-fil-A," and then scream, "Faggot!" Talk about feeding hate.
Campuses have every right to deny doing business with a food vendor, especially one that creates a divisive, potentially unsafe learning environment for students. It's just not worth it. Plus, there is no justification for a business operating on a college campus when it directly supports the activities of organizations that hurt a population of students represented within the campus community.
Companies like Chartwells, Aramark, and Sodexo, which hold the food-service contracts on these campuses, also must be held accountable for their advocacy of the Chick-fil-A brand. These food-service contractors are the gateway for most, if not all, the Chick-fil-A dining establishments on college campuses. But all three of these food-service contractors want to be seen as LGBT-friendly businesses. Two of these companies, Aramark and Sodexo, score above 90 percent on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index for an LGBT-inclusive workplace. Should they now?
All this spells trouble for the Chick-fil-A brand; even Pat Robertson knows this to be true. It is not a coincidence that the televangelist took to the airwaves last week chiding college students protesting Chick-fil-A to "shut their mouths." That's exactly what Chick-fil-A hopes for: that young people will stop talking about this, and that it will go away. They won't, and it won't.
The fact is that Chick-fil-A is in serious jeopardy on college campuses, and with its future consumers. A Chick-fil-A billboard in the downtown Atlanta skyline this week reads, "WHEN YOU EAT CHIKEN, OUR FUTURZ LOOKZ BRIGHT." Nothing could be further from reality for the future of Chick-fil-A on college campuses.
Learn more about Campus Pride's "5 Simple Facts About Chick-fil-A" at CampusPride.org/ChickfilA.
An earlier version of this piece appeared on Advocate.com.
Follow Shane L. Windmeyer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ShaneWindmeyer