WASHINGTON – LGBT leaders met with Ford Motor Company officials Monday to ask them to reverse a decision to stop advertising in the LGBT media and to distance themselves from the extremist, anti-gay American Family Association. Instead, a statement released by Ford after the meeting did not specifically address these concerns and seems to have made matters worse.
The statement, issued by Ford, reads, “The automotive industry is a highly competitive business. During these budget-tightening times, our brands must make tough choices where to advertise and how to spend limited sponsorship dollars. Ford Motor Company will vigorously promote our products to all people, and we will continue to treat our customers and employees with dignity and respect.”
Ford’s CEO Bill Ford did not attend the meeting.
“The statement is nothing from Ford today,” said Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of Detroit’s Triangle Foundation who attended the meeting. “After this big investment of time and energy of meeting, they come out with this statement. It would have been maddening if it just came out, but it is even more maddening after all this effort. It is just patronizing. I have no idea what to think about what they think about us, if this is their response to our meeting.”
Ford executives met with the leadership of the AFA several times during the summer. On Nov. 30, Ford and the AFA announced that a threatened AFA boycott of Ford had been called off, indicating that some sort of a deal had been reached between the automaker and the AFA. Mike Moran, Ford public relations director, confirmed to BTL Dec. 1 that Ford was discontinuing its advertising of Jaguar and Land Rover brands in The Advocate and other national gay publications.
In Monday’s meeting, LGBT leaders stressed that even sitting down with the AFA was highly offensive to the LGBT community. Alexander Robinson, executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, a LGBT rights group in Washington, explained that there is no difference between what Ford did with the AFA and if they had met with a white supremacist group and then announced they were pulling all their advertising out of the black press.
“Any effort to appease a handful of vocal extremists backfired and offended millions of fair-minded consumers instead,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “We have asked that Ford repudiate its relationship with this extremist group, reinstate its advertising of Jaguar and Land Rover and continue investing in organizations working for equality.”
“The atmosphere in the room was good, the exchange was good,” said Montgomery. “But after the statement I can only assume it didn’t go well. They didn’t get it and that’s a little discouraging.”
The LGBT leaders at the meeting included Solmonese, Montgomery, Robinson, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman, President of Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Neil Giuliano, Executive Director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition Craig Bowman, and Jody Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG. Ford representatives included their vice president of human resources, two vice presidents of public relations, Ford GLOBE President Suzanne Wait, former Vice Chairman of Ford Allan Gilmour, Ziad Ojakli, an executive at Ford who had met with the AFA, and Bob Witeck of Witeck Combs, a public relations and marketing consultant that was hired in 2002 by Ford to help with their LGBT marketing and who was brought back to help with this current crisis.
According to Montgomery, only Gilmour and the human resources vice president spoke at the meeting. All of the LGBT leaders voiced their opinions.
Many LGBT groups have lauded Ford Motor Company as a model corporate citizen. (See Ford GLOBE sidebar.) But some of those same organizations blasted Ford last week after the AFA meeting was reported in the press. The rhetoric heated up after a Dec. 6 article in WardsAuto.com, an auto industry trade publication that originally broke the story, reported that Ford had also agreed to discontinue sponsoring LGBT events.
“Ford wants to dance with bigots, that’s fine,” wrote John Avavosis, a Washington D.C. based gay activist. “But you don’t get to do that in the year 2005 and remain a prosperous company in America.”
GLAAD had awarded Ford their Fairness Award in 2003. But last week they issued a press release that seriously questioned Ford’s commitment to their LGBT employees and customers. “Recent reports…suggest [an AFA agreement] requires Ford to withdraw advertising from LGBT media and cease sponsoring LGBT events. These reports, combined with Ford’s decision last week to refer media to the AFA to speak on its behalf, raise serious questions about whether Ford has aligned itself with an anti-gay extremist group.”
Popular gay columnist Dan Savage went further and called for a boycott of Ford. He wrote, “So what can you do? Gay or straight, you should at least pick up the phone and let local Ford dealers know that you won’t even consider buying a Ford after this.”
Brian McNaught, a corporate diversity consultant for Ford in the late 1990s, said that LGBT people should pause and consider Ford’s credibility against the credibility of the AFA.
“If I have to choose between believing so-called ‘religious’ extremists or Ford Motor Company as to why ads were cut from gay periodicals, I’d be inclined to trust the company with a hundred percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign,” said McNaught. “If fear of a boycott, however, did generate the decision, it underscores why we need to continue in our efforts to educate even our best friends on the price we daily pay personally, professionally, physically, and spiritually for being their gay and transgender sons, daughters, siblings, parents, friends, and colleagues.”
Statement issued by Ford Motor Company on Dec. 13, 2005:
Ford Motor Company and its brands value diversity among all of our constituents and pride ourselves on strong and clear values – respect for our customers, communities, employees, suppliers and dealers; acceptance of our differences; inclusion of different people with different perspectives; and integrity.
“We value all people – regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and cultural or physical differences,” said Bill Ford, chairman and chief executive officer. “This is a historical commitment of the Ford Motor Company that I intend to carry forward.”
Ford Motor Company is always willing to engage in constructive conversation with those interested in our policies, even with those who don’t always agree with them. But only Ford Motor Company speaks for Ford Motor Company. Any suggestion to the contrary is incorrect.
The automotive industry is a highly competitive business. During these budget-tightening times, our brands must make tough choices where to advertise and how to spend limited sponsorship dollars. Ford Motor Company will vigorously promote our products to all people, and we will continue to treat our customers and employees with dignity and respect.