Metro Weekly

Gay lawmakers want to block Chick-fil-A from New York’s highway rest areas

Lawmakers want the New York State Thruway Authority to prevent Chick-fil-A from opening restaurants, citing anti-LGBTQ donations

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Chick-fil-A — Photo: Mike Mozart / Flickr

Gay lawmakers are demanding that the New York State Thruway Authority abandon plans to allow Chick-fil-A to open restaurants in its rest areas, given the fast food chain’s “action against the LGBTQ+ community.”

The Thruway Authority, which manages New York’s almost 600 miles of controlled-access highways, recently announced a $450 million modernization project, including new food options at rest areas such as Shake Shack, Panda Express, Popeyes, and Chick-fil-A.

But gay Democrats in the State Assembly balked at the announcement, pointing to Chick-fil-A’s history of donating to “organizations hostile to LGBTQ+ rights,” as Assemblyman Harry Bronson wrote on Twitter.

Bronson, along with Assemblymembers Danny O’Donnell and Deborah Glick, wrote a letter to New York State Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew Driscoll urging him to reexamine the decision to allow Chick-fil-A to open restaurants in its rest areas.

The letter notes that “Chick-fil-A and its founders have a long and controversial history of opposing the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and families,” citing CEO Dan Cathy’s statements against same-sex marriage and the company’s donations to anti-LGBTQ organizations.

“This move by the Thruway Authority strikes us as sending a message to LGBTQ+ communities that it doesn’t share the same commitment to their civil rights as New York State,” the letter continues. “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.”

Bronson’s office also created a petition to help people send their own copy of the letter to Thruway director Driscoll and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Jonathan Dougherty, the Thruway Authority’s deputy director of media relations, said the Authority supports “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,” Dougherty said in a statement. “There are no state taxpayer dollars or toll payer funds supporting the redevelopment of the Thruway’s 27 service areas.”

Dougherty added that restaurants in Thruway rest areas have both a contractual responsibility and legal requirement “to adhere to the inclusive and non-discriminatory standards that New York State embraces.”

But Bronson told NBC affiliate WHEC that the Thruway Authority’s statement missed the point of the lawmakers’ letter.

“They’re hanging their heads on a legality, and technicality,” he said. “That’s not what this is about.”

He added: “We need Chick-Fil-A to take responsibility, repudiate what they have done historically, and until they do that at the very least the state, and the State Authority should not be doing business with them.”

Chick-fil-A issued its own statement refuting the lawmakers’ “outdated” and “misleading” claims.

“Chick-fil-A is excited about the partnership and the opportunity to further serve the residents of New York,” the company said. “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.

“We do this, in part, by contributing $25,000 to food banks in each community where we open a new restaurant and donating more than 10 million meals through our Shared Table program.”

Last month, it emerged that Chick-fil-A was continuing to fund anti-LGBTQ causes, after CEO Dan Cathy was found to have donated to the National Christian Charitable Foundation (NCF).

NCF actively seeks to block the Equality Act, a landmark piece of LGBTQ rights legislation that would enshrine nondiscrimination protections into federal law. It also helps push for the same anti-transgender legislation being touted and passed by Republicans in states across the country.

In 2019, Chick-fil-A was found to have funneled millions of dollars to anti-LGBTQ organizations, including the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

After facing backlash, the company refused to stop the anti-LGBTQ donations, calling it part of a “higher calling.”

The animosity over the fried chicken purveyor’s corporate actions has led to clashes with LGBTQ activists, who forced the first Chick-fil-A in the United Kingdom to close, while a number of places in the United States have either rejected new Chick-fil-As from being built, or refused offers of free food from the restaurant due to its perceived anti-LGBTQ animus.

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