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DEARBORN – The perception that Ford Motor Company acquiesced to anti-gay demands from the American Family Association has ignited a firestorm from LGBT people both within the auto industry and across the country.
On Nov. 30, WardsAuto.com reported that Ford Motor Company executives had averted an AFA boycott scheduled to begin Dec. 1. While details of the deal between the extremist organization and Ford weren’t announced, WardsAuto.com quoted an AFA spokesman as saying on Nov. 29 “that while Ford had made some positive changes, there was a key point still to be resolved that was non-negotiable. He declined to specify the issue [and] added, ‘We’ve made it very clear that if Ford does not move on this one issue, the AFA will reinstate the boycott with renewed vigor.'”
In the face of its threatened boycott, the AFA perceives that Ford has agreed to pull advertising for two of its brands from the gay and lesbian press. However Director of Public Affairs for Ford Motor Company Mike Moran told BTL on Dec. 1 that while Ford will be pulling advertising for its Jaguar and Land Rover brands from the gay press in 2006, the decision was strictly a business decision and had nothing to do with AFA demands.
On Monday, 17 LGBT advocacy organizations including the Triangle Foundation, were on a conference call discussing media reports that Ford had made a deal with AFA. Following the conference call the group issued the following joint statement of unity, “We are deeply dismayed by reports in the media and otherwise that the Ford Motor Company has entered into a confidential agreement with the extremist American Family Association that requires Ford to stop advertising in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender media. If there is an agreement with AFA, we expect Ford to disavow it. We expect Ford to publicly reaffirm its historic support for our community. And, we expect Ford to meet with LGBT representatives this week to resolve these concerns.” Please see the complete list of signers at the end of this article.
A ‘business decision’ to pull gay ads
“As far as any change in our advertising, basically we reviewed this issue from a business perspective. Ford, Lincoln and Mercury – we didn’t advertise in any gay publications in 2005 and won’t in 2006. Jaguar and Land Rover won’t in 2006; Volvo is going to continue with advertising in gay publications because that division believes it’s an effective way to market its vehicles,” Moran said.
There was no indication that the company would discontinue its support of non-profit, pro-gay causes or that there were any plans to drop its domestic partnership program or shelve its LGBT employee affinity group, Ford GLOBE.
When the boycott was originally announced in May 2005, the AFA said it was targeting Ford because the company advertises in the gay press, supports gay pride events and pro-gay organizations, and, according to an MSNBC May 31 quote from the AFA’s now-defunct boycottford.com website, is “the company which has done the most to affirm and promote the ‘homosexual lifestyle.'”
Asked whether his company would be pulling its sponsorship of gay pride events, Moran said, “[We] haven’t called anyone to rescind any sponsorships. I don’t see that as an outgrowth of this.”
Asked about whether the agreement with the AFA would be affecting Ford’s domestic partner policy or its sponsorship of Ford GLOBE, Moran affirmed that there would be no change in either program. Ford GLOBE representatives directed BTL to their public relations department for official comment. While none wished to be quoted for this story, they did indicate how disappointing and demoralizing this whole event was for them.
Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of the Triangle Foundation, called Ford’s “record of fairness … an excellent model for other corporate entities to follow.”
“Ford admits that it will cease advertising some brands, such as Jaguar and Land Rover, in ‘gay’ media, but will continue with others, like Volvo, but that those are business-driven decisions, not a response to the homophobes of the AFA,” Montgomery said. “We are confident that Ford will continue to support the broad community of people who buy their products and look to them for leadership in fairness, diversity and equal treatment. To do otherwise and capitulate to pressure from bigots would be bad policy, bad business and bad corporate citizenship.”
Driven by local dealers
The AFA boycott was originally announced on May 31 but was suspended after efforts by dealers, led by Ford dealer Jerry Reynolds of Dallas, Texas. When the story was first reported in May, Reynolds told BTL that he agreed with the AFA “family values” philosophy.
“I’d written a letter to (AFA chairman) Donald Wildmon … regarding the boycott and just explained to him that the boycott was going to end up hurting the dealers and their employees primarily because we are the face of Ford Motor Co.,” said Reynolds. “I give much credit to him – he understood. He was going to be in Dallas so we met and out of the meeting came an agreement that they would suspend the boycott for a minimum of six months and during that time I would work with the AFA and top Ford management to discuss their concerns and solutions to them,” said Reynolds.
“What Ford does – I can’t control and really don’t want to comment one way or the other. Like most people, I agree with much of what the AFA stands for – family values. Ford, they market to all kinds of groups – Hispanics, Native Americans, to the military. All groups that I support. That’s their issue and it’s not mine, so you have to get a comment from them. If we can sit down as a group and discuss these things there may be some mediums there that can be reached and that’s my hope,” said Reynolds.
On June 6, the official response from Ford on the suspension of the boycott read as follows, “Ford Motor Company is pleased that the American Family Association has suspended its boycott of Ford products. We look forward to having an open dialogue with the AFA that leads to greater mutual understanding. Ford values all people – regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and cultural or physical differences.”
Sources close to BTL point out that having regional dealers making “secret deals” behind closed doors has led to a public relations nightmare for Ford.
Upon reading the WardsAuto.com story, Todd Evans, president and CEO of Rivendell Media, was not impressed with Ford’s commitment to continue sponsoring gay pride events. “If they’re not going to support gay and lesbian media, why should gays and lesbians support Ford?” Evans said. “I wouldn’t buy a Ford.”
Evans said that sponsorship of gay pride events is “a back-door, less visible way to support the community … because no one except attendees at these events knows,” that a company has sponsored them.
“No one notices sponsorships,” said Evans, who represents the National Gay Newspaper Guild to national advertisers. Rivendell is also the national sales rep for BTL. “But gays and lesbians read Between The Lines, and I bet they make a lot of car buying decisions based on what they see [advertised] there.”
Putting things in perspective
In a published “factoid” on its website, Diversity Inc. says, “The total buying power of the U.S. gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) adult population in 2005 is projected to be $610 billion, a 5.2 percent increase from $580 billion in 2004, according to the latest analysis by Witeck-Combs Communications and Packaged Facts.”
According to a February 2005 release by Witeck-Combs and Harris Interactive, “Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of GLB respondents say they are at least likely to consider purchasing everyday household products and services from companies that market directly to gays and lesbians over competing brands that do not.”
Asked whether any Motor City Pride sponsors have experienced a backlash because of their support of the event, Kevin McAlpine, development director of the Triangle Foundation said, “None whatsoever. All of our sponsors, vendors – no one has been subject to any scrutiny or influence from any organization like the AFA. On the contrary, the gay/lesbian and social justice communities see these corporations supporting human rights issues and in turn develop brand loyalty towards those companies.”
“Anyone or any organization that would hold a company hostage to its own interests is fooling themselves and exposes their own fatuous view of the world,” Montgomery said. “The AFA is infamous for just such stupidity.”
The following statement was issued Dec. 5, 2005 by LGBT advocacy groups across the country:
“We are deeply dismayed by reports in the media and otherwise that the Ford Motor Company has entered into a confidential agreement with the extremist American Family Association (AFA) that requires Ford to stop advertising in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media. If there is an agreement with AFA, we expect Ford to disavow it. We expect Ford to publicly reaffirm its historic support for our community. And, we expect Ford to meet with LGBT representatives this week to resolve these concerns.”
Freedom to Marry
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
Human Rights Campaign
Mautner Project, the National Lesbian Health Organization
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYAC)
Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
PFLAG National (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network
Related organizations and web sites:
American Family Association
Ford Motor Company
Human Rights Campaign
The Task Force