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By Sean Kosofsky
I hate bullies.
The American Family Association – the Bible-belt blowhards from Mississippi – has successfully forced its narrow, bigoted view on the world’s number one automaker. Essentially if you don’t live your life exactly the way Don Wildmon (AFA President) wants you to, he will attack you, your family, your business and everything else that matters to you. He is hijacking American businesses and all other institutions that inch or leap toward fairness. He is a tyrant who will stop at nothing until America is a neo-puritanical land of God-fearing extremists who resemble nothing like what Jesus Christ envisioned.
Ford Motor Company was a model corporation for diversity. They were highly praised and recognized for their leadership and scored an impressive 100 percent on HRC’s Workplace Equality Index.
They were heading in the right direction. Until one day – heading home from the stock market – they saw Donnie “brass knuckles” Wildmon on the playground. Ford tried to duck and run, but Wildmon had planted loud speakers around the playground so he could amplify his voice, making it seem like there were many more of him than there were. Ford, having been through this routine before, just wanted to make it home safe. But instead, Ford turned out its pockets for the bully without putting up a fight.
We may never know if or what kind of deal has been cut between the AFA and Ford. No one seems to be talking. It does appear that Ford made some concessions in order to avoid an even more dismal 4th quarter sales performance. The problem now, is that Ford has made everyone mad. AFA never did and never will like Ford, and the GLBT community is feeling betrayed and let down – many are calling for retaliation. Ford messed up big time. They didn’t control the message, and they let themselves get distracted by an annoying horn, when they should have kept their eyes on the road.
When the smoke clears, leaders at Ford are supposed to have a meeting with GLBT leaders to see what exactly happened. First it appeared that all Ford did was pull back some, not all, of its advertising in gay magazines. Some reports suggest they may have promised to pull back sponsorship of GLBT events. Within a 48-hour period the GLBT community went from fear and disappointment to feelings of betrayal and anger. There have even been calls for a boycott against Ford by the gay community.
Gee… now everyone is a winner in this deal!
AFA screwed up the deal originally, by calling for a boycott and launching a web site, not realizing it would hurt the dealers the worst. So they suspended the boycott and lobbied Ford dealerships in the South to pressure Ford to cave on this issue. By targeting a company that was already hurting, they kicked Ford while they were down. Now the powerful and influential company needs to bark and bite back because its own survival is at stake. They should stand strong with General Motors and DaimlerChrysler and dare the AFA to boycott all American made vehicles. By calling their bluff, they can make AFA look the un-American obstructionist cry-babies they are.
I must reveal a personal connection to the story. Triangle Foundation, where I work, is a grateful recipient of Volvo and Ford support. They help us do the critical work we do in Michigan. If Ford signaled a retreat on sponsorship it could mean a less solvent Motor City Pride Festival. Does the AFA want Ford to take back the $250,000 it gave Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center? What next?
The real anger here should be directed at the AFA. Ford did not do this in a vacuum. The GLBT community also needs to proceed with caution. The road ahead can get slippery if we start slinging threats and nasty names at Ford.
Boycotts never work and Ford should have known that. They claim they didn’t cut a deal with AFA, so let’s be patient. Last year Microsoft went through a similar flip-flop and we ended up winning. With the success AFA had in steering Ford’s marketing decisions – they should open an office on Madison Avenue.
I wonder if Mr. Wildmon has driven a Ford lately.