BY CHAD CALDER
Advocate business writer
August 07, 2012
Customers packed Chick-fil-A restaurants in Baton Rouge and across the country Wednesday to show support for the chain, which has recently drawn criticism and calls for a nationwide boycott for owner Dan Cathy’s opposition to gay marriage.
“I love it,” small-business owner Stuart Pitchford proclaimed as he stepped through the entrance and into the crowded restaurant on College Drive.
“I’m not even hungry and I’m here buying,” he said, noting he sees the issue as one of free speech and fairness.
“You’re a business owner, you get to believe what you want to believe,” he said.
Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was part of a national campaign launched by former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. It was coordinated locally by a business group formed by former state legislator Woody Jenkins and local conservative groups using email and social media to bring supporters out in droves.
At College Drive during lunch hour, traffic was backed out onto the street and customers parked in the massive Hobby Lobby parking lot nearby. A line snaked through the crowded restaurant and out the door. Similar crowds were spotted at locations on Millerville Road and Siegen Lane.
Many of those interviewed focused on criticism of Cathy by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino; preserving marriage as an institution only for a man and a woman; and Cathy’s right to say and think what he wants.
“I thought we had freedom of speech,” said Michael Elmore, a retired minister from Baton Rouge.
Elmore said people shouldn’t be attacking Chick-fil-A just because Cathy openly stated his beliefs and opinions. He pointed out the chain isn’t turning away customers the way restaurants routinely did to black people before the civil rights movement.
Asked if he felt that homosexuals are being denied a civil right by not being allowed to marry, he replied, “No.”
“I’m not anti-gay,” said Sydney Evans, an LSU senior majoring in kinesiology who came with four of her friends. “I guess we just wanted to support the CEO’s family.”
Some approached reporters for a chance to voice their opinions. One of them, Dennis Wilson, said he drove 75 miles from Gillsburg, Miss.
“Evidently Baton Rouge’s values are not Chicago’s values,” he said. “I thought Boston and Chicago overreacted with their anti-Chick-fil-A campaigns when Mr. Cathy didn’t say anything negative. He just said he stood for something and that’s what makes America what it is today.”
Wilson said he’s confident the stand he’s taken won’t be viewed harshly in the future, a point often made by supporters of gay marriage who point out people rallied to oppose interracial marriage decades ago.
“Certainly we’ve made some mistakes in our past history, taking stands for the wrong things, but this is not wrong,” he said. “People are just taking a stand for what they believe in.”
Becky Parker, who said she’s a wife and mom from Baton Rouge, stood near the counter and posted a status update on Facebook about how amazed she was at the turnout.
Parker said she was especially upset by the comments from Emanuel and Menino. She said Menino had no right to speak for the city and tell Chick-fil-A to back out of plans to locate in Boston.
Parker said she has mixed feelings about boycotts, though she said her family has at times chosen not to buy certain products on principle. After some thought, she said people have the right to boycott a business if they oppose it.
Pitchford, who heard about Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day on talk radio, said his take on boycotts depends on what the issue is. But he said people shouldn’t boycott businesses over “stupid stuff” when there are more pressing issues facing the nation.
Behind the counter, a beaming Brad Arton, the College Drive location’s owner and operator, said the corporate office wouldn’t let him say much to the press. Asked if he was keeping tabs on the customer count, he smiled broadly and said he was, but that he couldn’t say more.
For Elmore, the minister, the crowds were indicative of the general mood of participants.
“We feel like our values are being stepped on,” he explained calmly. “We’re fed up.”
The Associated Press and McClatchy newspapers reported that opponents of the company’s stance are planning “Kiss Mor Chiks” for Friday, when they are encouraging people of the same sex to show up at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country and kiss each other.