By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
DEARBORN – Undaunted by their failed boycotts against Disney, Kraft, and the Ford Motor Company, anti-gay family groups are trying once gain to bully Ford into backing down from its support of the LGBT community.
In a Jan. 10 letter to Ford Chairman Bill Ford, the American Family Association threatened to re-start a proposed boycott of the automaker that was first proposed back in June. As reported in Between The Lines, that boycott was originally suspended after a meeting with a right-wing leaning Ford dealer, then suspended again after talks between a few Ford representatives and the AFA seemed to result in an agreement by Ford to halt both support of gay rights organizations and marketing to the gay community. After December meetings between Ford and leaders of seven pro-gay organizations representing millions of members, however, Ford publicly re-stated its commitment to the LGBT community.
In the Jan. 10 letter, which was signed by leaders of anti-gay family groups including James Dobson of Focus on the Family, claims that Ford’s dealers will be hurt by the move.
According to the AFA letter, “Ford made this decision at the request of only seven homosexual leaders and without any input from your thousands of dealers who stand to be adversely affected by your decision. Why would Ford put the interests of seven homosexual groups ahead of the interests of all your dealers? Evidently you consider seven homosexual leaders more important than your thousands of dealers. Your support for these groups pushing homosexual marriage can only hurt your dealers.” The letter goes on to ask Ford to stop taking “sides in the culture war,” and to respond to the anti-gay family groups’ request by Jan. 20.
However, Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications, Inc., and a consultant to Ford, believes that rather than taking a side in the right’s declared war against gay families, Ford was merely making a wise business decision.
Witeck said that research done by his company in collaboration with Harris Interactive suggests that there are roughly fifteen million adult gays and lesbians in the United States today, and that by 2009, “The size of the gay population may grow to as high as 16.4 million adults.”
According to Witeck, not only are there millions of gay adults, but gay and lesbian households tend to have more spending money than opposite-sex headed families.
“2000 Census data confirms that gay couples are less likely than married heterosexual couples to have children, and they are more likely to have both partners in the workforce. These factors result in higher per capita household income, especially in the case of gay male couples,” he said.
However, the buying power of gays and lesbians themselves is only part of the picture, said Witeck. “When considering our economic clout we must remember that a majority of Americans are fair-minded and, in addition, our friends and family. So it’s certainly not just our numbers but it’s our family and friends and co-workers that are close to us. Those true numbers are a good deal more than 15 million – it may be more than a hundred million.”
Jody Huckaby, the executive director of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, agreed.
“Obviously here at PFLAG, coming from the perspective of parents, family and friends and many straight allies, I think it’s important to point out that our family members, our friends, are just as concerned about GLBT equality, and they’re becoming better-informed consumers,” he said.
Huckaby said that his organization was copied into “numerous” emails, as well as informed about calls, that PFLAG members sent and made to Ford when it looked as though the automaker was going to suspend its long-time support of the LGBT community.
“They were promising to sell their Fords, to not buy another one, and encouraging the companies that they work with to not use Ford fleet vehicles if Ford didn’t take a stand against the American Family Association,” Huckaby said.
One PFLAG parent told Huckaby, “I went on to the AFA web site, looked at their boycott list, and said ‘That’s where I’m doing my holiday shopping,'” he said.
“When you’re concerned about the buying power of groups like the AFA, don’t underestimate the buying power of our communities and our friends,” he added.
“Just from a business perspective, corporations are going to be left in the dust if they bow to groups like the AFA – they’re going to lose out,” he said.
Joe Solmonese, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, typified the reaction of other LGBT leaders who were present at the December meeting.
“The Ford statement was crystal clear, and it’s really past time for these extremist groups to move on,” he said.
Executive Director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition Craig Bowman, who was also at the December meeting, agreed. “I think it’s unfortunate that the American Family Association and their ‘who’s who’ of anti-gay bigots want a culture war, but Ford’s statement really speaks for itself,” he said.
“Ford followed its corporate conscience,” said Ray Daniels of the National Black Justice Coalition. “We support their decision to recognize that discrimination is wrong in any form.” NBJC’s executive director and CEO, Alexander Robinson, was also present for the December meeting with Ford.
Ford did not respond directly to the AFA letter. “We appreciate dialogue with all of our customers,” said Kathleen Vokes, legal news public affairs manager, in an email to BTL. “Ford is proud of its tradition of treating all with respect, and we remain focused on what we do best – building and selling the most innovative cars and trucks.”
Huckaby urged the community to not only stand by Ford Motor Company, but also other corporations that support LGBT employees and the community as a whole.
“Those of us at the national level want to be supportive of, brag about and advertise the companies that do the right thing,” he said.
For their part, grass-roots supporters of the LGBT community have already been chiming in to thank Ford.
However, support of Ford and other LGBT-friendly corporations isn’t limited to the LGBT community and its fair-minded allies. According to Witeck, that support also comes from people who support capitalism itself.
“At the end of the day it’s not going to be ‘my dad’s bigger than your dad,’ it’s going to be that every company should have the right to market to whoever they wish,” Witeck said. “I think that Americans are truly fair-minded about that – people don’t object to capitalistic acts between consenting adults. What could be more conservative than that?”