Cal Poly faculty, students want Chick-fil-A banned. University says that’s ‘censorship’

Gay rights groups and others protest outside the Chick-fil-A restaurant at Cal Poly in 2012.
Gay rights groups and others protest outside the Chick-fil-A restaurant at Cal Poly in 2012. The Tribune

Cal Poly will not remove Chick-fil-A from its San Luis Obispo campus, despite renewed calls to do so by faculty and students who criticize the company’s public and vocal support for anti-LGBTQ groups and causes.

Student, faculty and community groups say they want to remove the restaurant because the company’s values are contrary to those of Cal Poly, which has made efforts to be more inclusive of marginalized groups.

On Tuesday night, Cal Poly’s Academic Senate overwhelmingly voted to urge the university to terminate its contract with Chick-fil-A, according to KCBX.

But Cal Poly administrators say that to remove the fast food chain from campus “would be its own form of censorship and intolerance.”

San Luis Obispo is the latest site of controversy for Chick-fil-A, which has faced boycotts, bans and counter-protests in response to company leadership’s support of groups with a history of discrimination and anti-gay statements and policies.

Company president Dan Cathy is a vocal opponent of marriage for same-sex couples, and the Chick-fil-A Foundation has donated millions of dollars to groups that oppose the rights of people who are gay or transgender. Those include the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Paul Anderson Youth Home and Salvation Army.

The public political position of Chick-fil-A’s leadership has prompted airports, cities and campuses across the nation to prohibit local franchises from opening.

Even so, the chain is growing across the country. The number of Chick-fil-A franchises has doubled since 2007, even as other fast food restaurants struggle.

A Cal Poly Academic Senate resolution on Tuesday said the company’s stance is “inconsistent with our values of diversity and inclusivity” and that the restaurant’s presence “negatively impacts campus climate.”

That stance is supported by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of the Central Coast, which sent a letter on April 22 to the campus community in support of Cal Poly breaking the five-year contract it signed with the Chick-fil-A in 2018.

The letter also raises concern about workplace protections for LGBTQ employees. Chick-fil-A is one of few companies that refuse to include protection against discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity in its employment policy, according to Human Rights Campaign.

“We believe continuing to contract with Chick-fil-A sends a contradictory message about where Cal Poly stands with regard to diversity and inclusion, and we urge President Armstrong to reconsider whether it is in the best interest of students and greater community,” the letter says.

The local restaurant won’t likely close soon.

In response to the faculty group’s vote, Cal Poly university spokesman Matt Lazier told The Tribune, “While university administration passionately disagrees with the values of some of the organizations the president of Chick-fil-A has chosen to make personal donations to, we do not believe in responding to intolerance with intolerance.”

He said the popular franchise has no history of discriminatory action at Cal Poly.

Each campus member has the right to make their own decision whether to support a business, Lazier said. To end a relationship because the administration disagrees with the religious or political beliefs of its president, “would be its own form of censorship and intolerance.”

“Inclusion,” Lazier said, “means upholding the rights of others to have different perspectives and ensuring there is space in our community for differing viewpoints and ideologies, even those that may be in direct conflict with our own.”

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance of the Central Coast anticipated that argument in its letter on the issue.

“We understand this may be framed as a free speech issue,” the letter says. “Chick-fil-A’s president may have a right to homophobic speech, but that speech is contrary to the values Cal Poly espouses. The 1st Amendment does not require the patronage of Cal Poly faculty, students, and staff.”

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