Cracker Barrel says it will not allow a Tennessee pastor who has made death threats against gay people to hold an event in one of its stores. Grayson Fritts said during a June 9 sermon that gay people are “freaks” and “reprobates” who are “worthy of death” and should be tried and executed by the government. The sermon was posted on YouTube but has since been removed.
- Did Cracker Barrel’s response send a message that it respects diversity and the lives of all customers?
- Cracker Barrel has a mixed history on prejudice. When a company embraces diversity, what added actions are required to show stakeholders that the change is real?
- Is it especially significant when a restaurant based in a state that makes headlines for anti-LGBTQ legislation, stands up against a homophobic pastor?
- In the early ’90s, Cracker Barrel issued a memo saying employees who did not portray “normal heterosexual values” should be dismissed.
- In 2004, it came under fire for allegations of racial segregation of customers after the Department of Justice found proof of discrimination against minority diners
- In 2013, it removed Duck Dynasty merchandise after the famous family’s patriarch, Phil Robertson, likened homosexuality to terrorism. One day later, it was back on its shelves.
The first Cracker Barrel Old Country Store opened in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1969. The company has a long history of problems with discrimination and prejudice. The company waited until 2002 until it finally included sexual orientation in its non-discrimination clause.
In the Human Rights Campaign’s 2008 report on corporate equality, Cracker Barrel bottomed out with a score of 15 out of 100. It continued to struggle over the next decade, but by 2019, had lifted its score to an 80 out of 100, up 20 points from last year’s 60. It has added equal marital benefits for employees in same-sex marriages, along with employee training regarding LGBTQ diversity.
That history makes the company’s decision last week all the more exciting. Esquire journalist Justin Kirklan, who spent his childhood eating at Cracker Barrel said in his article, “I was finally seeing the marriage of biscuits and gravy with social justice that I had been dreaming of for years.”
When the Tennessee Democratic Party heard about the event, chairwoman Mary Mancini sent a letter to Cracker Barrel CEO Sandra Cochran asking the company to review the decision based on the pledge of inclusivity and diversity on its website, which calls for “fairness, mutual respect and equal opportunity.”
The restaurant chain said on Twitter that it is not affiliated with the church or Pastor Grayson Fritts and that it “disagrees with their statements of hate and divisiveness. We take pride in serving as a home away from home for all guests and in showing our communities and our country that the hospitality we practice is open for everyone,” the company said.
It cited its “zero-tolerance” policy for discrimination and a corporate rule that prohibits protests of any kind on its property, and said, “We serve everyone who walks through our doors with genuine hospitality, not hate, and require all guests to do the same.”