Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said he does not approve of Chick-fil-A’s politics, but “kind of” approves of its chicken.
“Maybe if nothing else, I can build that bridge,” the openly gay 2020 presidential hopeful said on the syndicated radio show, “The Breakfast Club” on Tuesday. “Maybe I’ll become in a position to broker that peace deal.”
His comments drew laughs from the show’s hosts, but are sparking different reactions among some in the LGBTQ community.
Matthew Riemer, an LGBTQ historian and author of the forthcoming book “We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation,” said Buttigieg missed an opportunity to condemn a company with a legacy of financially backing anti-LGBT organizations.
“It’s so much more empowering to the community at large if candidates would say it’s OK to be angry and not support these organizations,” Riemer, 37, said. “It’s not minorities’ job to reach out and make peace with an organization that has openly expressed its hatred for us.”
Chick-fil-A first came under fire in 2012 when it was revealed that the company — via its late founder S. Truett Cathy’s charity the WinShape Foundation — donated nearly $2 million to groups that oppose same-sex marriage. Shortly thereafter, the fast food restaurant’s COO Dan T. Cathy made a series of public comments opposing same-sex marriage, stating that it was company policy to support “the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.”
Despite an ensuing public relations storm, the company continued to donate to anti-LGBT organizations, including the Marriage & Family Foundation, Exodus International and the Family Research Council.
ThinkProgress recently reported that in 2017, Chick-fil-A gave $1.65 million to an organization called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which requires its employees to refrain from “homosexual acts.”
The fast food restaurant chain in 2015 had a zero rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies on whether they offer protections and benefits to LGBT staff and other criteria.
Jon Paul Higgins, a writer and critic, doesn't eat at Chick-fil-A but partly understands that capitalism makes it difficult to avoid supporting companies you morally oppose.
Higgins still supports Apple, even though its business practices are “problematic.”
“Everyone is problematic,” Higgins said. “I think if there is a difference it’s that I’ve never heard Apple saying they hate a group of people like Chick-fil-A has. Why would I give my hard-earned queer money to a company outrightly saying they hate me?”
But Higgins, 33, also states that those in the LGBT community who still support Chick-fil-A may not feel they are affected by the company’s policies, which does the community a disservice.
“When you’re on the front lines seeing students saying, 'My family hates me, they want to get rid of LGBTQ individuals,' you’re not going to support an organization that adds to that pain,” Higgins said.
Some others in the LGBTQ community believe that Buttigieg has paved the way for an open and honest dialogue with the fast food company and the LGBTQ community.
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, an LGBTQ political advocacy organization, said he has gone out of his way to meet with Chick-fil-A franchise owners after discovering several of them were showing up at the organization’s events.
Williams thinks it’s imperative for LGBTQ advocates in Utah — one of the reddest states in the nation — to engage with people who oppose the queer community in order to enact change. Equality Utah regularly meets with leaders from the Mormon Church and the Republican Party, he said.
“Mayor Pete understands that the increased polarization of our country is tearing us apart,” Williams, 49, wrote in an email to NBC News. “Our nation is desperate for leaders who can heal divides and bring us back together. We will be cheering him on in those efforts.”
Chick-fil-A told NBC News in a statement that it does not have a comment on Buttigieg’s remarks, but said its “restaurants welcome and embrace all people, regardless of … sexual orientation or gender identity.” It also said that it donated money to a range of organizations in 2017 and that the “sole focus” of its donations was to support youth-oriented and educational causes.
Last week, the San Antonio City Council voted to block Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant at San Antonio International Airport, citing the company’s "legacy of anti-LGBT behavior." Earlier this month, a dean at Rider University in New Jersey resigned after the school decided not to bring the chicken restaurant to campus because of its donation history.
Joseph Rodriguez, co-founder of a strategy and social impact firm, Gardner Rodriguez, said that even though it’s early in the 2020 race, he is rooting for Buttigieg.
He manages a Twitter page titled “SF Bay Area for Pete” as part of a grassroots efforts to mobilize support for the candidate, who, like him, is a gay man. Yet he said he will “never spend a dollar” at Chick-fil-A, noting that LGBTQ youth may be driven to suicide or self-harm because their orientation doesn’t match with their church’s or family’s beliefs.
Despite Buttigieg’s taste in chicken, Rodriguez views the mayor’s recent comments and candidacy as a source of monumental change for the country.
“There’s a parallel between Pete and Harvey Milk, who’s kind of our patron saint,” Rodriguez, 58, said. “Milk talked a lot about hope, and Pete not only talks about hope, he gives people hope.”