Montana's AG to Chick-fil-A: We're Hungry for Your Brand of Discrimination!

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday April 25, 2019

In recent months, fast-food chain Chick-fil-A has been trying to fend off the persistent perception that the company is anti-LGBTQ. That perception has played a role in the company losing franchise opportunities at city airports and college campuses, with the chain's PR people working to counter the corporate image of Chick-fil-A as a brand invested in discriminatory practices.

But when it comes to the state of Montana, it turns out, the company's fight to shed its anti-gay image is unnecessary; the state's attorney general has seemingly expressed an appetite for the sort of corporate bias that the firm keeps denying it practices.

Tim Fox, who currently serves as Montana's AG and is in the running for the governor's office, invited the fast-food franchise - which primarily deals in chicken-based offerings, and which currently has only one location in the state - to throw a few more of its company doors open beneath the Montana's much-marketed "big sky," reported political news outlet The Hill.

Fox jumped onto a bandwagon of woes that has seen the company mired in a spiral of lost business opportunities. In late March, Chick-Fil-A found itself excluded from the San Antonio, Texas, airport when the city council there declined to give the company permission to open a new location at the airport, citing a "legacy of anti-LGBT behavior."

A week later, the company lost a second airport concession in Buffalo, New York. A New York State Assemblyman led the charge, citing the company's "long history of supporting and funding anti-LGBTQ organizations."

Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A, famously decried marriage equality in 2012, declaring that to permit same-sex families the same legal rights as their heterosexual countrymen would be tantamount to "inviting God's judgment on our nation." Chick-Fil-A has been firmly embroiled in the culture wars ever since, with a conservative-driven "Day of Appreciation" on the anti-gay side and a longstanding boycott among some LGBTQ equality advocates and their allies.

Though the company had officially stepped back from the culturally divisive issue of marriage equality, its corporate culture still lacks specific protections for LGBTQ employees. Moreover, it recently came to light that tax records show the company's foundation doled out almost $2 million in 2017 to a trio of overtly anti-gay organizations, with the bulk of the money — more than $1.5 million — going to the fellowship of Christian Athletes, which ThinkProgress reported "is a religious organization that seeks to spread an anti-LGBTQ message to college athletes and requires a strict 'sexual purity' policy for its employees that bars any 'homosexual acts.' "

Throughout these tribulations, the company has stuck to the same refrain, seeking to dispel the notion that Chick-fil-A is anti-gay. "Recent coverage about Chick-fil-A continues to drive an inaccurate narrative about our brand," a statement from the company said. "We want to make it clear that our sole focus is on providing delicious food and welcoming everyone — not being a part of a national political conversation."

Given Montana's eagerness to give the company a place at its table, though, maybe Chick-fil-A was worrying needlessly.

In what might be the most comical twist of Chick-fil-A's "anti-gay" saga since the company came in for a Zamboni-based drubbing, Fox framed the recurrent controversy as a matter of what the homophobic hard right increasingly tends to refer to as "religious freedom."

"While your company faces a barrage of unnecessary criticism from places like San Antonio, TX and Buffalo, NY, I want you to know that Montanans don't discriminate against others based on religious affiliations," Fox tweeted on April 22, in an apparent bid to catch the eye of decision makers at the fast food franchise.

"That's why I'd like to extend Chick-fil-A an invitation to expand its operations in Big Sky Country," Fox wrote in the letter, a typed copy of which was provided in an image and which was addressed to Cathy.

Fox was quick to sidestep the possible landmine of alienating Montana's cattle ranchers, adding: "Just to be clear, in Montana, beef is king." Fox then hastened to toss some sugar into the mix with: "But we sure know good food when we taste it."

Fox's cajoling continued: "Not only are Montanans the most amazing friends and neighbors you'll ever meet, we're hungry and ready to do business with you."

Fox signed off with a none-too-subtle plea: "I want you to know that Montana is open for business."

A video of Fox posing next to a gasoline-powered lawnmower accompanied the text and the image of the letter.

The tweet garnered a number of disapproving comments from Montana voters who did not share Fox's appetite for anti-LGBTQ politics as usual.

"I'm a born and raised Montana businessman, former pastor, with a GOP track record," replied one such. "I won't vote for anyone who pretends to be business savvy and then pulls publicity stunts like this one. Our country needs leadership. We know what that smells like, and it's not a chicken burger."

Commented another, "This is great! Montana needs more terrible food, minimum wage jobs, and bigotry! Thanks Tim!"

Still another noted that a lack of welcome toward the company in some places was "not a judgment of their religious beliefs, it's a response to their lack of equal treatment for all American workers. Would it be okay for the company to choose not to hire African-Americans?"

Not everyone took offense, however. A neighbor from the West hopped onto the thread to laud Fox with, "I would love to have them come to North Idaho. We are suffering from a lack of such companies."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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