The Vancouver Island Rainbow Association (VIRA) say it’s “disappointed” and “disgusted” that a leadership event produced by Chick-fil-A and hosted by the Nanaimo Daily News was scheduled to take place at a city-owned conference centre in Nanaimo.
“Our concern is that Chick-fil-A is a US company with a proven track record of working towards the defeat of pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) policies and laws in the US,” writes VIRA board member ET Turner in a press release on behalf of the organization that organizes Nanaimo’s annual Pride celebrations.
Chick-fil-A has contributed millions of dollars to organizations in the US and to politicians who share its views, Turner notes. “The CEO of the company, Dan Cathy, has publicly stated that he is proudly anti-gay.”
In 2012 Cathy ignited controversy when he stated that his company supported the “biblical definition” of marriage. “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’” Cathy said in a widely publicized interview.
Since 2003, Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation, has donated approximately $5 million to anti-gay marriage groups and other organizations that oppose homosexuality, including the “ex-gay” Christian organization Exodus International.
Chick-fil-A did not respond to Xtra’s request for comment.
The 13th annual Chick fil-A Leadercast is a one-day leadership development event that will be broadcast live from Atlanta, Georgia, to hundreds of sites around the world, according to its website. Some of the speakers include former American secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and evangelical Christian authors and speakers John C Maxwell and Andy Stanley.
“I don’t say they say anything anti-gay at their event, but these are their values and this is their stance, and they are willing to spend millions of dollars on anti-gay stuff,” Turner says.
“The City of Nanaimo doesn’t need a Chick fil-A brand function to come to town because I think we’re better than that because we’re more accepting of people,” says Turner, who also wonders how much of the $99 ticket price is going back to Chick-fil-A.
“Is the Nanaimo Daily News keeping all of the money?” she asks. “If they do have to give some to Chick-fil-A that means Canadian money is going to a company that turns around and contributes to anti-gay causes.”
Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan says he is uncomfortable with the Chick fil-A event, but the city cannot disallow something simply because some people do not like it.
“I just find if this group event is going to promote anything negative towards any group or organization in our city I will be disappointed and unsupportive of it,” says Ruttan, who was first elected in 2008 and has participated in local Pride events since 2009. “I know that VIRA has worked with us, and every year we raise the rainbow flag for them and speak in support of their actions and what they are doing, and if this event is negative towards that end I won’t support it. It’s as simple that.”
The event was scheduled to be broadcast to the Vancouver Island Conference Centre (VICC) on May 10 but is now in the process of being cancelled by the Daily News, according to VICC manager Denise Tacon. Tickets to the event, however, were still being sold for that location as of 3:30pm on April 23.
“The Nanaimo Daily News contacted us and booked the space for a simulcast event. The actual event is being shot from Atlanta, Georgia, but would be simulcast here and put on the big screen,” says Tacon, who notes that she was unaware of who Chick-fil-A was until she noticed a full-age ad for the event in the Daily News and the Harbour City Star, which are both owned by Glacier Media.
“It didn’t cross anybody’s mind,” she says. “We are not American and didn’t realize that it was anything but a food product and that, at the end of the day, some people asked questions about it given the history.”
Turner questions the appropriateness of a public newspaper hosting an event that is organized by a brand that “exudes its founder’s Christian values.”
Daily News publisher Hugh Nicholson declined comment, saying he was too busy to speak with Xtra. “I just don’t have time to talk to you,” he said. “Have a nice day.”