Activist groups are turning up the heat on HarperCollins—but the publisher isn’t bowing to pressure to sever ties with the anti-gay fast food chain Chick-fil-A.
Representatives from CREDO Action, SumofUs.org, and Faithful America on Tuesday delivered petitions signed by more than 80,000 people urging HarperCollins to pull several Berenstain Bears titles being distributed through a kids’ meal promotion that started this month.
“It is not our practice to cancel a contract with an author, or any other party, for exercising their first amendment rights,” says a statement issued by a HarperCollins spokesperson to the New York Daily News. “As a publisher, HarperCollins is committed to the freedom of speech. We have a long history of diversity and inclusiveness, and work tirelessly to protect the freedom of expression for all of our authors.”
Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy told the weekly Biblical Recorder on July 16. “We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.” Cathy later reiterated his stance on gay marriage, saying it invites “God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes marriage.’ I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”
The public outcry from politicians, customers, and other companies was swift. The Jim Henson Company immediately withdrew its Muppets finger puppets, which were distributed as part of Chick-fil-A kids’ meals, and vowed to never participate in Chick-fil-A’s future marketing campaigns.
The Berenstain family, which owns the copyright to the popular series, has publicly distanced themselves from their partnership with the Atlanta-based chicken sandwich chain, asking the public to direct their concerns to HarperCollins, which has the power to cut ties with Chick-fil-A.
Members of the activist groups also delivered a copy of the book, The Berenstain Bears and the New Neighbors,” which emphasizes the need to stand up to bigotry. The petition reads, “Berenstain Bears: Cut ties with Chick-fil-A as long as it continues to support anti-gay organizations.” It took a total of three days to collect all the signatures, says CREDO spokesperson Sarah Lane.
“The Berenstain Bears fight bigotry. It’s just plain wrong for HarperCollins to use these beloved characters to help fund hate,” says Becky Bond, CREDO’s political director. “Chick-fil-A funnels millions of dollars to anti-gay hate groups. If HarperCollins wants to stand by Chick-fil-A fine—but they should leave the Berenstain Bears out of it.”
Chick-fil-A gives millions of dollars to anti-gay organizations, including to a group that promotes “gay conversion therapy,” and hate groups such as the Family Research Council, the activist groups say.
The mayors of Boston, Chicago, Washington, DC, and San Francisco also have spoken out against Chick-fil-A, with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray writing several tweets about the chain, including: “Given my longstanding strong support for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] rights & marriage equality, I would not support #hatechicken.”
“By partnering with Chick-fil-A, a company that actively bankrolls hatred and discrimination against the LGBT community, HarperCollins is undermining the lessons of the beloved Bear family,” says Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, the founder and director of SumOfUs.org.
Lane says the fight isn’t over yet. “Things can still change if the public keeps putting the pressure on” HarperCollins.