A group of fans in Cincinnati protested their professional hockey team’s partnership with Chick-fil-A on Saturday, holding signs calling the restaurant chain “anti-gay.” The team responded by blasting their peaceful protest as not “family friendly,” reaffirming their partnership, and barring the fans from coming back.
ThinkProgress reported last month that Chick-fil-A’s foundation donated $1.8 million in 2017 to groups that discriminated against LGBTQ people and that the company is one of a small number of major American businesses with a non-discrimination policy that does not protect employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Since then, the company has lost deals to open locations in airports in two different cities and the city council in a third city voted to place rainbow flags and blue, pink, and white transgender flags near the company’s airport spot.
According to local news reports, a group of fans paid $10 each to ride the “Chick-fil-A Fan Zam” Zamboni around the ice during the first intermission of Saturday’s Cincinnati Cyclones game at the city’s U.S. Bank Arena. Once aboard, they turned around birthday-themed signs to reveal the words “Chick-fil-A is anti-gay.”
The team — a minor league affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres — and the arena are owned by Nederlander Entertainment with Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) owning a non-controlling equity interest.
Though the team has previously tried to market itself as LGBTQ-friendly with Pride Nights and a You Can Play video, its response to the protest was to call out the fans for sharing “unacceptable messaging.”
In a statement tweeted on Saturday, the team said the fans’ signs “do not align with the family friendly atmosphere that we aim to provide. Chick-fil-A has been a wonderful partner and we are thankful for their ongoing support.” They noted that the fans were ejected and a spokesperson told the Cincinnati Enquirer that they will be treated as criminal trespassers if they attempt to attend future games at the arena. The team did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about what message their statement sends to LGBTQ fans.
The offending parties have been removed from the game and we apologize to anyone that may have been offended by these actions.
— xyz-Cincinnati Cyclones (@CincyCyclones) April 14, 2019
Cincinnati City Council member Chris Seelbach, who is openly gay, slammed the team’s behavior, posting on Facebook on Sunday that “you can’t pretend to be LGBT friendly by hosting a pride night, but also have anti-gay Chick-fil-A as a sponsor.”
AEG is owned by Philip Anschutz’s Anschutz Corporation. The Regal Cinemas founder and Coachella owner has come under fire for his own anti-LGBTQ giving. In recent years, his foundation has given six-figure donations to the Alliance Defending Freedom and Mission America Foundation, and five-figure donations to the Family Research Council. Each of those organizations has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Back in 1992, he reportedly gave $10,000 to the backers of an unconstitutional Colorado ballot initiative that would have barred any LGBTQ-inclusive local non-discrimination ordinances in the state.
The company has since tried to play down his record, putting out a statement in 2017 in which Anschutz asserts that claims that he is anti-LGBTQ “are nothing more than fake news – it is all garbage. I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation… Neither I nor the Foundation fund any organization with the purpose or expectation that it would finance anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and when it has come to my attention or the attention of The Anschutz Foundation that certain organizations either the Foundation or I have funded have been supporting such causes, we have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups.”
An AEG spokesperson told ThinkProgress that as a non-controlling equity investor, the company plays no role in the management of the franchise or the arena.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Nederlander Entertainment as a subsidiary of the Nederlander Organization.
This story has been updated to include information from AEG.