Several Orlando-area Chic-fil-A restaurants defied their famous closed-on-Sunday policy and opened their doors to serve the devastated community after a crazed gunman opened fire on a gay nightclub and killed 49 people and injured dozens more.
At the Chick-fil-A location in the Lee Vista neighborhood of Orlando, a staff posted on Facebook in response to the mass shooting: "A few members of our awesome team decided to go into work on a Sunday and make some food for people waiting in line to donate blood. We love our city and love the people in our community. #prayfororlando"
Vianna Vaughan writing in the DC Gazette asked: "But, wait, those people were waiting to give blood to victims that were mostly gay people...Doesn't Chick Fil A hate gays? That's what we kept being told."
"Turns out, that while the founders definitely don't approve of that choice of lifestyle, they believe in compassion," Vaughan continued. "Who knew?"
Chick-fil-A restaurants across the country also lowered their flag to half-mast to pay respect to those killed in the Orlando shooting on Monday.
Cindy Coffman, Chick-fil-A's area marketing director, commented to the Independent Journal Review about Orlando chain stores serving food this past Sunday:
"When you're in the midst of a tragedy, you just go where you're told you are needed. We went out this morning and took chicken biscuits, orange juice, and coffee to police and firefighters and even some of the volunteers as well. We were able to go over to the community blood center and give cards for free sandwiches to some of the people who were donating blood. The community around us has been absolutely incredible. We feel humbled to just be a part of the bigger picture."
The "Chick Fil-A hates gays" controversy began in 2012 after it was discovered that company president Dan Cathy had made financial contributions to Christian organizations that promote traditional marriage. Gay activists and supporters called for boycotts of Chick-fil-A, while former GOP presidential candidate and Fox commentator Mike Huckabee spearheaded a counter-movement, calling on Christians to go eat at Chick-fil-A, resulting in record-breaking sales and many chain stores reporting they ran out of food. Chick-fil-A has issued statements clarifying that it has never discriminated in its hiring practices nor does it refuse to serve anyone.
Despite the company's non-discrimination hiring practices, boycotts against Chick-fil-A are still being encouraged four years later. Just last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urged city residents not to patronize a new Chick-fil-A restaurant that opened in Queens.
Chick-Fil-A Founder S. Truett Cathy explained, as reported in a 2014 New York Times article eulogizing him, that the restaurant's closed-on-Sunday policy was started so "that his employees could spend time with their families." It was also a way to honor his deep Baptist faith and values. Cathy once told a journalist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "It's a silent witness to the Lord when people go into shopping malls, and everyone is bustling, and you see that Chick-fil-A is closed."
Former President Jimmy Carter was quoted in the same article as saying of Chick-fil-A's founder: "In every facet of his life, Truett Cathy has exemplified the finest aspects of his Christian faith...By his example, he has been a blessing to countless people."
Coffman of Chick-fil-A noted of the stores' service to the Orlando community during Sunday's shooting: "At the end of the day, we sell chicken, I get that. But I hope people can see beyond that, that we want to treat everyone with dignity, and we love our community. We just want to go where we are needed. I always think of Truett Cathy, our founder, and one of my favorite quotations of his: 'Nearly every moment of every day, we have the opportunity to give something to somebody else, whether it's our time or our resources. I have always been happiest giving to others when I had no expectation of getting anything back.'"