Chick-fil-A has ditched its plan to open a branch at San Antonio’s airport in Texas after 18 months of political wrangling.
The chain said in a statement it is ‘not pursuing a location in the San Antonio airport’. It finally ends a row which started in March last year about whether a modern, diverse city should accept the chain which donates to anti-LGBT+ causes.
The City Council owns San Antonio International Airport so can intervene in which chains open there.
And in March 2019, it decided not to include a Chick-fil-A in its plan for airport concessions. City councillors were concerned about the chain’s donations to anti-LGBT+ Christian charities.
In response, Texas state legislators said the city’s ban had violated the chain’s ‘religious liberty’. Despite a battle with LGBT+ Democrats, they managed to pass a law to stop other cities doing the same.
House Bill 3172 earned the name the ‘Save Chick-fil-A bill’ and passed in May 2019. Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed it in July last year, posting a picture of himself surrounded by Chick-fil-A’s food packaging and boasting he’d had a great lunch.
Meanwhile the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also got involved. Another anti-LGBT+ Republican poltician, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, wrote to the US Department of Transport complaining that San Antonio was discriminating against Chick-fil-A.
As a result, the FAA launched an investigation into the allegations – and a similar claim about the airport in Buffalo, New York.
Millions to anti-LGBT+ causes
In the end, the FAA didn’t complete a formal investigation. Instead, they invited San Antonio to negotiate. And the city reached an agreement with Chick-fil-A in July. It allowed the chain an opportunity to lease a concession at the airport ‘consistent with customary business practices’.
In turn, the city says it was more open to Chick-fil-A after it stated it would change its charitable giving policy.
The chain has been controversial for a decade after revelations it donated nearly $2million to anti-LGBT+ groups in 2010 alone. It also opposed same-sex marriage equality. It was continuing to make big donations to the causes at least until 2017.
However, in November last year, Chick-fil-A President Tim Tassopoulos indicated a policy change. He said the chain was no longer giving to those charities. And he said the new list of beneficiaries didn’t have anti-LGBT+ records.
Nevertheless, even that was not the end of the story. Tassopoulos later backtracked saying ‘No organization will be excluded from future consideration — faith-based or non-faith-based’. That kept the door open to charities with anti-LGBT+ records in the future.
‘Serving San Antonians in our 32 existing restaurants’
However, that was enough to give the city of San Antonio an excuse to climb down.
In a statement they said:
‘The city itself offered to resolve the FAA investigation informally following Chick-fil-A’s publicly stated change-of-position on its charitable giving policy.
‘The city maintains that at no point did it discriminate against Chick-fil-A. Any placement of Chick-fil-A at the San Antonio Airport is ultimately contingent on Chick-fil-A’s continued interest and approval by the City Council.’
And in another twist, the chain says it is no longer interested. In its statement, Chick-fil-A says:
‘We are always evaluating potential new locations in the hopes of serving existing and new customers great food with remarkable service.
‘While we are not pursuing a location in the San Antonio airport at this time, we are grateful for the opportunity to serve San Antonians in our 32 existing restaurants.’
The last barbed remark highlights how ubiquitous Chick-fil-A is in the US and Canada where it has 2,600 stores.
So perhaps the saga is a lesson in how hard it is for campaigners to oppose American corporate might.
At the start of the row, City Councilman Roberto Treviñ said:
‘San Antonio is a city full of compassion, and we do not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.’
But the question of how to impose those principles remains.
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