Friday, March 15, 2013

Ontario Organization Cancels Planned Broadcast Of Chick-Fil-A Leadership Conference After Concern Raised By Local Gay Groups

In Oshawa, Ontario, pressure from the gay community has prompted a Durham group to cancel a planned broadcast connected to a fast food chain that came under fire last summer when its CEO spoke against same sex marriage. American fast food chain Chick-fil-A was awash in controversy for funding anti-gay marriage groups and after CEO Dan Cathy spoke against same-sex unions. Despite reports the funding has ceased, students across the United States have been petitioning to shut down the restaurants in their university food courts, some successful, others not. The issue raised some controversy in Oshawa recently as JCI Durham, a community organization fostering leadership to young people, and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology co-organized the broadcast of a Chick-fil-A Leadercast, which was set to air at the Regent Theatre on May 10. The Leadercast, featuring world-renowned speakers, is taking place in Atlanta, Georgia, and being broadcast to cities around the world. The university's Faculty of Business and Information Technology helped JCI Durham organize the airing in Oshawa. "If a university in the States is kicking them out, why are we inviting them in?" said Jayme Harper, PFLAG Durham executive director. But UOIT vice president of external relations, Sue McGovern, said the decision to air the event had nothing to do with views on sexual orientation. She said the UOIT students took advantage of a unique opportunity to listen to world-renowned leaders. "Because UOIT is about preparing students for the 21st century...I can see why students would think this is a great thing," she said. PFLAG Durham, a support and resources organization for people with concerns about sexual orientation or gender identity, had set up a Facebook page inviting people to protest at the Regent on the day of the event. Harper said, "We believe the university is fully on the side of diversity" but the group wasn't pleased with the decision to promote the fast food chain's event, given last summer's controversy. "We do work closely with them on a lot of events and they do sponsor us here and there, but we can't have Chick-fil-A being the title sponsor of an event in our city," he said. "It won't work." Shortly after the page was posted on Facebook, JCI Durham cancelled the Regent event. "One of the traits of a leader is the ability to listen when others have a different point of view," said Ryan Smith, JCI regional president in a statement. "Our members brought forward this event as a chance for Durham Region to access speakers who otherwise would cost tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees. When PFLAG approached us with concerns, we were happy to sit down and listen."Harper was pleased. "It just had no place in Durham," he said. McGovern said the students, who attend a university that "supports every sex, sexual orientation, colour, creed and religion" were upset that the event was cancelled, and hurt, feeling they were deemed as opposing the gay community. "Will they become involved in an event again next time? Unfortunately they'll probably say, 'It's not worth it'," she said. The students and the university just want to move past the issue, she said.

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