In recent weeks, Chick-fil-A has lost airport deals in San Antonio and Buffalo after a ThinkProgress report revealed that it continued to donate money to charitable groups that discriminated against LGBTQ people. (The news of the donations was a particular blow to those who have preferred to continue eating their chicken sandwiches without having to contend with how that consumption reflected their own values; for many, calls for protest were easier to ignore when they were further removed from CEO Dan Cathy’s 2012 comments against gay marriage.)
But because it was apparently too late in the city of San Jose to boot an upcoming Chick-fil-A location from its airport, officials came up with an act of visual protest: the city council has endorsed a former legislator’s idea to surround the controversial site with rainbow and transgender pride flags “as a counter-signal to the discrimination supported by Chick-fil-A.” As the Mercury News reports, city Councilman Raul Peralez advocated making the location the “gayest Chick-fil-A in the country.” The location is scheduled to open in a month.
To many, the flags will be mere window dressing to the fact that Chick-fil-A will be operating in a city where many residents have vocally protested its presence. At a recent city council meeting, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo acknowledged he owed an “amount of apology... to the community,” acknowledging he “simply didn’t think enough” when the chain’s airport contract was extended to 2026. In the most recent meeting, the council voted withhold a two-year contract extension for the chain, or rather, any business that’s open seven days a week (Chick-fil-A famously closes every Sunday for employees to “set aside one day to rest and worship if they choose”).
City council members say the flags near the airport location will help signal to visitors that San Jose strives to an inclusive city. On the surface, though, the act is also a deliciously petty signal to Chick-fil-A, which has been trying to distance itself from the ideology that fuels its donations: “We do not have a political or social agenda,” the brand said in a recent statement responding to the San Jose protest. “We embrace all people, regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
And if we were to approach the move from the point of view of peak optimism, maybe it could achieve even more: Think of all the Instagram photos of this Chick-fil-A that might have LGBTQ pride iconography in the background, or the times where a customer can’t ignore this part of Chick-fil-A’s history when they’re lining up for a sandwich — because it’s literally waving in their face. Who knows, maybe the flags will inspire some to take their business to another chain without an explicitly anti-LGBTQ past. At the very least, their presence right outside airport doors could put consumers in an awkward position, one that asks self-described allies in particular exactly what their true colors show.