New York Democrats are attempting to stop a plan to open Chick-fil-A restaurants at rest stops along a state thruway, claiming that the fast-food franchise has a history of discriminating against LGBT people.
The New York State Thruway Authority is about to begin a $450 million project to modernize 27 service areas along I-90, and Chick-fil-A is one of several food vendors that will be installed at these locations. But on Friday, three openly gay Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter asking that the authority "re-examine the list of approved concessions for these rest spots considering Chick-fil-A's action against the LGBTQ+ community."
"Chick-fil-A and its founders have a long and controversial history of opposing the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and families," wrote state Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D-Rochester). The letter cites Chick-fil-A CEO Dan T. Cathy's public comments opposing same-sex marriage and claims Chick-fil-A's charity arm, the WinShape Foundation, has "donated millions of dollars to organizations hostile to LGBTQ+ rights." The letter cites a 2017 donation to the Salvation Army as an example.
While the Democrats praised the legalization of same-sex marriage and the adoption of LGBT sexual orientations and gender identities as protected classes in anti-discrimination law in New York, they expressed concerns that opening more Chick-fil-A restaurants would send "a message to LGBTQ+ individuals and families that [the Thruway Authority] doesn't share the same commitment to their civil rights as New York State."
"We are requesting that you re-examine the list of approved concessions for these rest spots considering Chick-fil-A's action against the LGBTQ+ community," the letter concludes.
Bronson said that by leasing state thruway authority property to Chick-fil-A, the state was giving the company an opportunity to make millions of dollars even though it is purportedly anti-LGBT.
"We can't say through those laws and through those policy positions and statements, that we support the dignity and human rights of LGBTQ individuals and their families and at the same time, have a state authority that's willing to enter into a 30-year-lease with a business that has a history of not recognizing the human rights of LGBTQ individuals," he told to WROC-TV.
The Rochester lawmaker has also launched a petition allowing state residents to co-sign the Democrats' letter in a show of solidarity.
In response, the Thruway Authority released a statement emphasizing its support for "an inclusive environment that treats the tens of millions of people that travel our system with dignity and respect."
"Our private partner in the Service Area redevelopment project, Empire State Thruway Partners, explored a selection of restaurants and finalized agreements with specific brands to operate at the redeveloped service areas to enhance and improve the travel experience for our customers. There are no state taxpayer dollars or toll payer funds supporting the redevelopment of the Thruway's 27 service areas," said Jonathan Dougherty, a spokesman for the Thruway Authority.
In a comment to Fox News, Chick-fil-A said it is "excited about the partnership" with New York and emphasized that the company does not have a political agenda.
"We want to be clear that Chick-fil-A does not have a political or social agenda, and we welcome everyone in our restaurants. We are proud to be represented by more than 200,000 diverse team members nationwide, and we strive to be a positive influence in our local communities," Chick-fil-A, Inc. said in a statement.
In 2019, after years of negative headlines in the media and outraged protest from LGBT individuals, Chick-fil-A announced it would stop donating to "anti-LGBTQ" organizations like the Salvation Army or the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The concession has apparently not sated the company's critics, nor have revelations that the company has recently donated to partisan left-wing organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center.