“I don’t stand with their values. But I do stand with their sandwiches.” With this, Flatbush resident Jeremy McMahan succinctly captured the sentiment permeating the soggy masses huddled outside of New York’s first Chick-fil-A.
The opening of the company's first full-fledged NYC restaurant this weekend was marked both by sleeping bags and picket signs. As a steady stream of fast food enthusiasts joined the line snaking around the corner of 37th Street, the mood was festive and the crowd was hyped. “It’s great day to be an American right now,” proclaimed one woman as she stepped into the infamous establishment.
Chick-fil-A sparked a wave of controversy and kiss-ins in 2012 when its CEO, Dan Cathy, publicly opposed gay marriage. The Atlanta-based chicken empire has a documented history of homophobia, despite recent moves to remake the company image (think less bigoted, more gimmicky). In addition to all that, Chick-fil-A has an atrocious animal rights record, brought to light by Mercy for Animals in an undercover exposé last year (warning: these images are really gross).
But the controversies surrounding the company didn’t seem to matter to the many hungry New Yorkers lined up and waiting for their fast food fix. “It’s not the sandwich that’s discriminating,” pointed out Geoffrey Kwan of Battery Park City. Fellow fan Steven Chi acknowledged the controversy, but said that “at the end of the day…the sandwiches are so good!” Bronx resident Jay Holmes agreed, explaining that the chicken is “just so good"—when pressed to describe what made it so good, he responded, “I just don’t know why.” When asked about Chick-Fil-A’s documented history of human and animal abuse, Holmes shook his head. “I can’t comment on that.”
One group that did care to comment was Collectively Free, who organized a protest during the grand opening. A small but spirited group brandishing signs and chanting “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” burst out of the restaurant and onto the street.
“We’re here to protest violence towards animals and LGBTQ individuals” explained Raffaella Ciavatta of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. “Chick-fil-A perpetuates the idea that some lives matter more than others, and that is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”
In a surprise twist, the protest ended up being a double header: a group of self-proclaimed “Bible-Believers” joined the fray to protest the protest with battlecries of “Repent!” and “Sodomy is a sin! God hates gay!” The two camps settled in to yell at each other over police barricades while the line continued to work its way into the restaurant and people continued to order chicken sandwiches.
Chick-Fil-A Protestby Gothamist
“We’re against these homosexuals,” explained Alan Ines of Stamford, Connecticut. “The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin. God doesn’t approve.” Ines was careful to note that God loves all people before turning towards the protesters and screaming “We love Chick-fil-A! We hate homo sex!!”
Chick-fil-A issued a statement addressing the protest, saying: “Chick-fil-A is aware of demonstrators who gathered at our restaurant today. Our grand opening day activities continue as planned, and we are focused on serving customers delicious food with great service. We are excited to serve all of our guests in New York City!”
As the protest battle between Collectively Free and the Bible Believers raged, the customers continued purchasing their chicken unperturbed. “I’m gay and I’m obsessed with Chick-fil-A” Prospect Heights resident Courtney Kim told us from the middle of the line. “My motto is that they’ll never hate gay people as much as I love fried chicken.”
At the end of the day, the doomsday calls to repent from sodomy and queer-hating didn’t move the blasé hearts of passersby. “I don’t get it,” one girl remarked to her friend. “It’s just fast food.”