Monday, August 10, 2009 | Tim Hortons pulls support for anti-gay marriage event

This is proof we have power. Let this be a lesson for the future !!! | Tim Hortons pulls support for anti-gay marriage event

Josh Visser, News Staff

Canadian icon Tim Hortons found itself under fire Monday after a Rhode Island franchise initially sponsored an event for a U.S. anti-gay marriage group.

Tim Hortons was listed as a sponsor for the Aug. 16 event in Warwick, R.I., for the National Organization for Marriage, which is one of the largest anti-gay marriage lobby groups in the U.S.

There was an immediate backlash online from the gay and lesbian community, with more than 1,600 people signing up for a petition at asking Tim Hortons to withdraw its support for the event.

By Monday afternoon, the company announced that the Rhode Island franchise would not be sponsoring the event because it would be against its corporate policy to support religious or political groups.

"It has come to our attention that the Rhode Island event organizer and purpose of the event fall outside of our sponsorship guidelines. As such, Tim Hortons can not provide support at the event," the company said on its website. "We apologize for any misunderstanding or inconvenience this may have caused.

"As a company, our primary focus is on helping children and supporting fundraising events for non-profit organizations and registered charities. For this reason, Tim Hortons has not sponsored those representing religious groups, political affiliates or lobby groups."

According to the company, more than 95 per cent of its stores are independently owned, and the "final decision to make a donation is at the discretion of the store owner," says the company's website.

Michael Jones, the blogger at Change.Org who started the online petition and communications director for the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, commended the company for its quick response.

"This shows that when a company is called in question to their support of (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgendered) rights, it's in their best interest to listen," Jones told Monday afternoon. "Kudos to the company for responding so quickly."

Jones said the incident could have damaged the company's reputation in the LBGT community, but the coffee chain's response should lessen the impact.

"The fact that the company responded in 15 hours . . . that shows really good faith," he said. "I still think its unfortunate that an individual franchise in Rhode Island decided to sponsor an anti-gay event but in the end, that's the franchise's own issue and they have been told by the company not to sponsor it.

"I think Tim Hortons as a corporate headquarters has acted as far they can here."

However, some in the Canadian gay and lesbian community, say the company hasn't gone quite far enough.

Curtis Norman of Toronto noted the irony of a company that promotes itself as distinctly Canadian, sponsoring an anti-gay marriage event, considering same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005.

"Tim Hortons is one the most Canadian companies out there . . . and in Canada, gay marriage is accepted," he told "Corporations who are representing Canada and Canadian values, I think they have to be in line with those values."

Norman said that he was happy with Tim Hortons rescinding its sponsorship, but also in the age of Twitter and Facebook, companies need to respond faster to issues with consumers.

"In this age of social media, a lot of companies have been able to act quicker," he added.

Tim Hortons has 36 stores in Rhode Island, according to the company's website.

The NOM event, "Celebrate Marriage and Family Day" is set to go on Sunday. Chris Plante, the executive director of the group's Rhode Island chapter, told The Canadian Press Tim Hortons was going to provide coffee for about 250 people.

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