McDonald's Responds to Criticism From LGBT Group on 2014 Olympic Game Sponsorship

Feb 08, 2014 07:02 PM EST | By Dina Exil

Several pro-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) groups are criticizing McDonald's for sponsoring the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Sochi, following the worldwide criticism of Russia's anti-gay laws.

The Nation's Restaurant News reported that McDonald's "Cheers To Sochi" social media campaign has received disapproving responses since news spread of its direct support for the Winter games. McDonald's asked fans to use the hashtag #CheersToSochi on Twitter to send messages of support to American athletes competing in the games.

However, pro-LGBT groups swarmed the hashtag demanding that the fast food franchise, along with other brands like Coca-Cola, denounce Russia's anti-LGBT laws. Scott Wooledge, an LGBT activist at Queer Nation NY, launched a parody website.

"For a while, I was thinking about a blanket campaign that would hit all the sponsors and then McDonald's did all my work for me, they launched 'Cheers To Sochi,'" Wooledge said. "We successfully hijacked 'Cheers To Sochi' from McDonald's. [CheersToSochi.org] is a way to continue the campaign."

The parody website presented photos of gay Russians being attacked in their own country. Last year Russia's government passed a law criminalizing "gay propaganda."

"#CheersToSochi speaks to frustrated people around the world who are disgusted with the sponsors' silence," Wooledge said. "Their silence, and tacit consent with Russia's war on gays, has damaged their brand images worldwide."

Wooledge tweeted on Jan. 23: "Dear Hamburglar at least you earned your prison stripes for an actual crime. Unlike #LGBT citizens of Russia. #CheersToSochi @McDonalds."

The fast food joint responded to the controversy on Jan. 24: "#CheersToSochi is about sending Olympians messages of good luck. We support human rights and all athletes." McDonald's tweet included a link of the Cheers to Sochi website.

In an email to Nation's Restaurant News, Becca Hary, McDonald's director of global media relations, responded to the backlash on Twitter, stating that the idea was to "celebrate Olympic athletes" but also "respect everyone's rights to express their opinions."

"Social media is all about conversation," Hary wrote. "Understandably, the LGBT community is focusing its conversation on the Russian legislation. We respect everyone's rights to express their opinions. "Cheers to Sochi" is a cool way for fans to cheer on athletes and teams who are competing in Sochi. McDonald's is proud to be a top sponsor of the Olympics; our sponsorship dollars literally help the men and women who are working to achieve their Olympic dreams."

Hary added: "We remain engaged with the IOC and have made clear our concern regarding this human rights issue and the paramount need to ensure non-discrimination and safety for everyone at the Games."

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