Top 10: Chick-fil-A, J.C. Penney took stands on gay rights

Posted on 28 Dec 2012 at 10:35am
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A GAME OF CHICKEN | Students from the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, north of Dallas, stand outside a Chick-fil-A during a Same-Sex Kiss-In on Aug. 3. (Elizabeth Parker)

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Companies took stands this year for and against equality, sparking boycotts on both sides and demonstrating how important corporate views are to customers.

One of the most controversial moves was Plano-based J.C. Penney’s selection of lesbian comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman.

The announcement was met with heated discourse because of her sexual orientation, and anti-gay group One Million Moms launched a boycott because they thought DeGeneres didn’t stand for American values because she’s gay. OMM is a segment of the American Family Association, which is labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

DeGeneres addressed the claims on her talk show, saying she stood for love and honesty. The company backed DeGeneres and aired commercials featuring her during the Super Bowl.

The unsuccessful boycott was short-lived after OMM announced in March that the hate group was focusing on other battles in the cultural war.

Then in May, local J.C. Penney employee Wendi Hollenbeck was featured in the company’s Mother’s Day catalog with partner Maggie and their children. The ad reignited OMM’s boycott.

But OMM’s outcries again went unheard and June’s catalog featured an ad displaying Dallas dads Cooper Smith and Todd Koch in a playful moment with their two children. The ad was one of the first to feature a same-sex male couple with children.

J.C. Penney’s refusal to discriminate and remove DeGeneres as their spokeswoman and their inclusive ads won them many awards, including one from GLAAD. Locally, the company was awarded Business of the Year at the inaugural Equality Texas Ally Awards and the Media Award at HRC’s Black Tie Dinner.

But while J.C. Penney was taking a stand for equality, Chick-fil-A continued to stand for “traditional marriage.”

Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy spoke favorably of the company’s donations to anti-gay groups in July. The Christian company was praised for its position on marriage, leading to a National Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day organized by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Cathy’s comments also sparked boycotts of the restaurant from patrons and even college campuses. The gay community also organized a National Same-Sex Kiss-in Day.

A Dallas police sergeant was accused of making inappropriate comments on the appreciation day when he placed a Chick-fil-A bag in front of two female officers.

Internal affairs later determined the claim couldn’t be sustained because no one overheard the conversation. The sergeant, who was reassigned to the jail during the three-month investigation, was permanently reassigned to a different patrol division.

In September, word spread that the company was ending its contribution to anti-gay organizations after Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno said he’d met with representatives who agreed to cut ties with them.

But Chick-fil-A later clarified that the contributions were misconstrued and they would continue to donate to current beneficiaries, some of which fund campaigns against marriage equality. The company released a statement that all customers are valued at its restaurants, but ultimately the company’s views didn’t appear to change.

— Anna Waugh

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 28, 2012.

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