HOUSTON—Despite a wave of social media backlash, Houston-area gay rights groups say they do not plan major protests at local Chick-fil-A restaurants.
In contrast, Houston-area franchises report bustling business after the company CEO reaffirmed his focus as a family-oriented business based on Christian values and a biblical view of marriage.
“I’m still gonna come to Chick-fil-A,” said customer Diana Gutierrez outside the triple lane drive thru at the Chick-fil-A at Kirby and the 59 Freeway near downtown.
The three lanes leading to two drive-up windows were completely full at noon on Thursday.
“If this is a boycott,” said another customer, “bring on the American way!”
The controversy began when Chick-fil-A President and CEO Dan Cathy said in an interview with the Baptist Press earlier this month his belief that marriage should be allowed only between one man and one woman.
“We are very much supportive of the family, the biblical definition of the family unit,” Cathy said. “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that,” he said of the business that requires its restaurants remain closed on Sundays in observance of those beliefs.
After those comments, the Jim Henson Company, maker of the Muppets, pulled its toys from Chick-fil-A kids’ meals.
Politicians in both Chicago and Boston have threatened to block franchises in those cities, and gay rights activists are calling for a boycott and a “Same Sex Kiss Day” at Chick-fil-A restaurants on Aug. 3.
A petition circulating on Change.org, as of Thursday signed by about 100 people, is calling for the University of Houston to remove Chick-fil-A from its campus.
Noel Freeman, the president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, said, “We find it incredibly disappointing that Chick-fil-A has chosen to financially support organizations that actively attempt to interfere in the private lives and relationships of GLBT individuals. Mr. Cathy and Chick-fil-A are entitled to exercise their rights under the First Amendment. Likewise, the GLBT community is entitled to take our business elsewhere. The business local franchises generate continues to fund corporate anti-equality efforts, and we encourage members of the community to enjoy the many other culinary options Houston has to offer.”
But a loyal customer base, fueled by Facebook and other social media posts by the likes of Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Rick Santorum, are racing to the Chick-fil-A CEO’s defense. Aug. 1 is being touted as a Chick-fil-A appreciation day where customers are encouraged to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, at their local franchise.
“I think it’s funny how liberals want you to be tolerant to their issues but then if you don’t agree with them they’re not tolerant to you,” said loyal customer Michael Yocum.
Houston-area Chick-fil-A franchise owners, contacted by KHOU 11 News, deferred on-camera comments to the corporate office in Atlanta.
On the Facebook page for his restaurant at Kirby and the Southwest Freeway, owner Jesse Chaluh wrote this to his customers on July 19:
Each Chick-fil-A is independently owned and operated. At our locations in Houston, we strive to serve great food, in a timely manner, a clean environment, and with excellent customer service. We welcome all customers and select team members regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. We do not elect to be a part of a political agenda. We simply want to serve great food with compassion to all who visit or cater with us. We would appreciate any comments about corporate, please be addressed to them. We also encourage you to get to know the independent owners of each location, before passing harsh judgment on them. Thank you for respecting our independently run business as we respect all that visit us.
“People can say what they want but I think they’re gonna tell you how they like to eat,” said a customer who did not want to give her name but did want to throw her support to the company. “And Chick-fil-A rocks!”