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Our City: Orlando City and the Challenge of Diversity

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Does Orlando City fully comprehend the diverse and dynamic make up of Orlando's community? Its recent partnership with Chick-fil-A has raised some legitimate questions.

Our City is a weekly column focused on my perspective of Orlando City as a supporter. I would love to incorporate your ideas and stories, if you have something to add or a story idea please connect by commenting here or on Twitter: @kevinmercer225

Orlando City SC's Jan. 20 announcement of its partnership with fast food restaurant chain Chick-fil-A took a fair amount of flack in both the local and national media. Although to be fair, the national story was just looking at the mostly local reaction. The question is, should Orlando City have anticipated this?

The issue at hand is the company's formerly aggressive stance against equal marriage rights for same sex couples. The Southern Baptist-owned corporation, famous for being closed on Sundays, put themselves within the national debate on this issue in 2011. In doing so, they spurred a divisive outpouring of protest and support.

On one level, I could understand how the club may not have expected to draw the ire of fans and locals. The company is a staple in the advertising marketplace. Chick-fil-A sponsors multiple sporting events and teams. They have taken over the naming rights of Atlanta's annual college football Peach Bowl, along with two "Kick Off Games." They also sponsor the Orlando Magic. So City's partnership with the brand isn't uncharacteristic of either Chick-fil-A or the modern sports landscape.

For the record, in 2012 Chick-fil-A sought to put any issues with the LGBT community behind them, issuing the following statement. "Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena." Along with this statement, the company has reduced its funding dramatically for anti-LGBT groups.

A partnership with a Southeastern based company that actively advertises in the sports marketplace seems like a no brainer for the club. To my knowledge nobody has challenged any other sports franchise, including the Orlando Magic, on their sponsorship deal with Chick-fil-A. Why would Orlando City's deal be any different?

It wasn't until I was approached by friends from the LGBT community, who were apprehensive about joining in the local excitement about the club, that I understood there were some questions to ask.

Orlando City was moved to the area in 2011 for the express reason that the ownership group saw the city's diverse population as a benefit in its push to join Major League Soccer. A "hip city" as Founder and President Phil Rawlins has been quoted as saying. A significant part of that diverse citizenry would identify itself as either part of the LGBT community, or an ally.

Another important factor making Orlando a great population for MLS is the significant level of millennials that have chosen to call Orlando home. Forbes has even called Orlando a "millennial boom town." This generation supports same sex marriage by 67%, according to Pew Research Center. The same survey also shows that 53% of the general population supports allowing gay and lesbians the right to marry.

These two factors alone should have made anyone in Orlando City management take a long hard pause before they took a meeting with Chick-fil-A. Despite the changes they have made, they are still a brand with an image problem for some people in Orlando.

The partnership and the debate are symbolic of the larger changing landscape of the South in general. When the company was founded in 1946 in Atlanta, Southern Baptist values dominated the social landscape and homosexuality was technically illegal in Georgia until 1998. The company has expanded, modernized, and become a staple throughout the suburban South with over 1,800 locations.

That South is still ever present. Ever since Richard Nixon won the White House in 1968 with his Southern Strategy, the Southeast has been a conservative bastion. However, the 21st century has seen dramatic demographic shifts with both the rise of new urban centers, along with new immigration to the area from both inside and outside of the United States.

These changes have made states like Florida and North Carolina battleground regions in recent elections. Central Florida and the I-4 corridor have become ground zero in these political battles.

This points again to Orlando's exceptionally diverse community. Orlando, just as Republican as it is Democrat, is just as conservative as it is liberal. It's part of the fabric of our community. The club is now a central element in the city, and should realize the thin line it treads as it attempts to unify all of us behind Kaká wonder goals and a chase for an MLS championship.