Some staff and students are calling on the University of Maryland to boot Chick-fil-A off the College Park campus, making it the newest front in the war between gay-rights activists and the fast-food chain.
An online petition calls Chick-fil-A a "bigoted and hateful" company and asks the university to end its partnership with the chain after its president, Dan Cathy, told a Christian newspaper and radio station that he opposes same-sex marriage.
Rodrigo Lozada, co-president of the University of Maryland Pride Alliance, said in an email Monday that the petition will send "a message to University officials that students want a campus that is more inclusive and accepting and one that isn't hypocritical."
Chick-fil-A is no longer giving interviews and did not respond to a request for comment Monday. But as the storm over its president's comments broke last month, the company tried to clarify its position.
"The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender," the company said in a July 31 statement.
The University of Maryland drive was started last month and it has spread among staff and students through social networks. By Monday evening, the petition on Change.org had over 740 signatures, nearing its target of 1,000, and university officials are expecting protests when the semester starts.
In July, Cathy told the Baptist Press that he sticks to the "biblical definition" of marriage and told a radio show that calls for legalizing gay marriage are "inviting God's judgment on our nation." His comments sparked protests around the country — including gay kiss-ins at the chain's restaurants — as well as demonstrations of support led by Republican Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas.
The petition suggests the controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A will not die down as Maryland gears up for a referendum on gay marriage in November.
"I'm concerned to see Chick-fil-A on campus," said Nick Sakurai, associate director of the university's LGBT Equity Center. "I would question why we would make a choice to partner with a company that doesn't represent the values of the university. And we're profiting from it, too."
Sakurai's office is charged with making sure gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are fairly treated on campus. He is worried that having Chick-fil-A in the Stamp Student Union food court leaves some students feeling excluded and uncomfortable.
Marsha Guenzler-Stevens, director of the Stamp Student Union, said she is taking the petition seriously and is planning to hold open discussions once the semester starts so people on all sides of the issue can have a say.
"The university community is one where there's just a plethora of opinions," she said. "This is going to be a very interesting conversation."
But she added that the university renewed its contract with Chick-fil-A for the coming academic year and is unlikely to break it.
Classes do not start until next week, but the Chick-fil-A in the student union's food court was having no trouble drumming up customers Monday at lunchtime.
Many international students and some recent graduates who have stayed on through the summer were eating the chain's signature chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. Vedina Singh, who graduated this spring with a degree in psychology, said there have been lines at the chain every lunchtime this summer.
As he polished off the last of his chicken sandwich, Jeff Simpson, who graduated in May with a communications degree, said Cathy has a right to express his opinions.
"It's the irony of tolerance in our age," he said, "people want to be tolerant and that sometimes ends up as intolerance."
Chick-fil-A has long based some business decisions on religious principles — all of its restaurants close on Sundays — and, through its charitable arm, has donated money to organizations that oppose gay marriage. That stance has earned it the ire of gay rights activists and students.
"I personally haven't eaten at Chick-fil-A for years because of the rumors that have been going around about its president's anti-gay politics," said Chris Quach, a sophomore at College Park who is involved in a group that helps welcome gay and lesbian freshmen.
In February, the student government of Northeastern University in Boston blocked an attempt by Chick-fil-A to open a franchise there. Calls to push Chick-fil-A off college campuses have intensified across the country since Cathy's interviews.
The Chick-fil-A at the University of Maryland is run on a license basis and is staffed by university employees. Guenzler-Stevens said they are required to serve customers without discrimination.