WASHINGTON – A tense two weeks came to a happy resolution when Ford unequivocally stated its support for the LGBT community in words and actions, distancing themselves from the extremist right-wing group that had threatened to boycott the company. Ford released a statement confirming that they will continue to support LGBT groups and events, and that Ford will increase its advertising presence in LGBT publications.
“Ford worked in good faith with us in coming to terms with these matters,” said Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of Detroit’s Triangle Foundation and one of seven LGBT leaders who met with Ford executives Dec. 12 in Washington, D.C.
The controversy started Dec. 1 when the American Family Association released a statement that said Ford executives had negotiated with AFA leaders to drop the threat of a Ford boycott. The AFA statement said that Ford, “heard our concerns; they are acting on our concerns. We are pleased with where we are.”
The next day, a Ford spokesman confirmed that Ford executives had met with AFA representatives, and that Ford was discontinuing their advertising for Jaguar and Land Rover in LGBT publications, raising fears that Ford had made a deal with the anti-gay AFA to avert a boycott. Ford executives claimed that pulling the ads was strictly a business decision. To make matters even worse, a Dec. 6 report by Wards.com, an auto industry trade magazine, claimed that Ford executives had also agreed to the AFA’s demand that Ford’s cease its support of LGBT events and organizations.
In the Dec. 14 Ford statement, Joe Laymon, Group Vice President of Corporate Human Resources, wrote that Ford would continue its support for LGBT organizations and events, and that in 2006 the automaker would place corporate advertising in LGBT publications for all eight of its brands, including Jaguar and Land Rover. (see complete text of letter below).
Ford’s statement puts to rest the worries of the LGBT leaders that the corporation was backing off in its support for LGBT consumers, employees and community groups. “We welcome today’s statement from Ford Motor Company,” said the seven LGBT leaders in a joint statement. “It is conclusive proof of what Ford leaders have repeatedly assured us – that there never was any deal with the anti-LGBT organizations concerning Ford’s support for our community.”
Local LGBT leaders and Ford representatives breathed a collective sigh of relief that a negative showdown between Ford and the LGBT community has been averted. The Michigan LGBT community has a close working relationship with the Ford Motor Company, which has donated significant money to LGBT groups and sponsored numerous events. Ford provides strong support for their internal employee group, Ford GLOBE. For the Michigan LGBT community, the rift with Ford felt more like a family fallout than some sterile fight with a distant corporate conglomerate.
“Although they might not admit it, it is clear to me that the American Family Association created this mess by characterizing its relationship and influence with the company in the most cynical and dishonest terms,” said Montgomery. “It is a credit to Ford that they have been willing to do what they could to replace that impression with today’s strong statement of commitment to our community and many of our organizations.”
In last week’s issue of BTL, Leslie Thompson, executive director of Affirmations Lesbian Gay Community Center in Ferndale, wrote a viewpoint defending Ford as an excellent corporate citizen and friend to the LGBT community. “This past week it’s almost been like Ford has been on trial in the gay community,” wrote Thompson. “And suspiciously enough, doesn’t this seem to be just the kind of situation that the AFA would love – pitting us against one of our strongest corporate allies?”
“Ford’s action is a positive outcome and win for equality and fairness,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Ford has sent a powerful signal that corporate America values its GLBT employees and customers.”
“We applaud Ford Motor Company for taking such a firm stand on behalf of our community – pledging to continue support for our community’s organization and events, and increasing – not decreasing – its advertising in our community’s publications to include all Ford brands,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of National Gay & Lesbian task Force. “This is a very positive, welcome outcome.”
The AFA, however, has called foul and now claims that Ford is reneging on a firm deal to stop marketing to LGBT consumers and to stop supporting LGBT organizations in exchange for the AFA calling off its boycott.
“We had an agreement with Ford, worked out in good faith,” said AFA Chairman Donald Wildmon. “Unfortunately, some Ford Company officials made the decision to violate the good faith agreement.”
“We are now considering our response to the violation and expect to reach a decision very soon,” said Wildmon, who added that the option of a boycott is very much alive.
The AFA boycott threat comes as Ford struggles with declining market share and rising financial woes. Ford lost $284 million in the third quarter worldwide. In North America, its losses soared to $1.2 billion. Ford’s turnaround plan could eliminate as many as 30,000 hourly jobs and shutter at least 10 factories in North America over the next five or six years. Ford already has announced plans to cut about 4,000 salaried positions in North America by the end of March.
Letter to LGBT organizations from Ford Motor Company
The following letter was issued Dec. 14 and was addressed to Matt Foreman of NGLTF, Joe Solmonese of HRC, Jody Huckaby of PFLAG, Craig Bowman of National Youth Advocacy Coalition, Alexander Robinson of National Black Justice Coalition, Neil Giuliano of GLAAD, and Jeffrey Montgomery of the Triangle Foundation.
Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us on Monday. In my view, it was the start of a valuable and healthy dialogue, and I was pleased to be there on behalf of Bill Ford, Chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Company.
My intention was to be direct and forthright. You deserve no less. I appreciate your candor in return. I’d like to take this opportunity to review the information we shared face-to-face and to tell you how our thinking has evolved.
You asked us specifically to reaffirm our principles of nondiscrimination and inclusiveness. We agreed, without any reservations, and issued a statement immediately after the meeting in which Bill Ford did so personally. We pointed out that 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. That commitment is unchanged and we believe it is reflected in our policies, practices and marketing.
You asked us to comment on reports that we had placed creative restrictions on the way our brands could speak to gay and lesbian audiences. We expect our brands to create advertising that supports their brand image and is appropriate and effective in connecting with the intended audience. That is unchanged. But we do not have to deal with this topic in the abstract. The best answer to your question will be in the ads themselves. I would ask you to judge our intent by what you see.
You asked directly whether Ford Motor Company will continue to support nonprofit groups and events in the GLBT community. While we will still support certain events, I know you understand that the business situation will limit the extent of our support in all communities in 2006. We will continue all of our workplace policies and practices in support of Ford GLOBE members and supporters. That is unchanged.
You asked us directly for us to have Jaguar and Land Rover reverse its plans and advertise in gay and lesbian targeted publications in 2006. As we said, Jaguar and Land Rover made a business decision about their media plans and it would be inconsistent with the way we manage our business to direct them to do otherwise. However, it is clear there is a misperception about our intent. As a result, we have decided to run corporate ads in these targeted publications that will include not only Jaguar/Land Rover but all eight of Ford’s vehicle brands. As we have said, the content will be appropriate and effective in connecting with the intended audience. It is my hope that this will remove any ambiguity about Ford’s desire to advertise to all important audiences and put this particular issue behind us.
Finally, you expressed your strong objections to our having even met with one of your harshest critics. We meet every day with people and organizations on many issues, and, as a business, do not wish to be drawn into those that detract from our effectiveness in the marketplace. That said, we expect to be measured not by the meetings we conduct but by our conduct itself. Our record on tolerance and inclusion speaks for itself and I am proud to be judged on that record at any time.
In closing, thank you again for your candor and professionalism. We listened and learned, and hope that you continue to understand the values and commitment of Ford Motor Company. I look forward to hearing from you at any time.
Joe W. Laymon
Group Vice President
Corporate Human Resources
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