By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
DEARBORN – On Dec. 20, local LGBT community leaders met with representatives of Ford Motor Company and the Ford Motor Company Fund in attempt to heal any leftover damage resulting from the recent fallout from Ford’s dealings with the American Family Association.
According to LGBT leaders interviewed by BTL, the meeting was a resounding success.
“If Ford was guilty of anything, it was underestimating the sleaziness of the AFA,” said Leslie Thompson, executive director of Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center in Ferndale. Thompson said that she and other leaders were told by Joe Laymon, Group Vice President of Corporate Human Resources, that Ford had left their last meeting with the AFA with the understanding that the boycott would be going forward.
“When the AFA said that Ford was going to meet their demands, Ford was surprised,” Thompson said. “They told the AFA originally that they weren’t going to back down on their positions on diversity.”
Also in attendance at the Dec. 27 meeting were Grace McClelland, executive director of the Ruth Ellis Center; Jeff Montgomery, executive director of the Triangle Foundation; Barbara Murray, executive director of AIDS Partnership Michigan; Linda Karle of PFLAG; and “a number of Ford GLOBE people,” according to Murray.
“Their primary intent was to have a dialog with local GLBT leaders and to reinforce ford’s continued support of the GLBT community,” said Murray.
“I think the key message was that ‘We didn’t handle it right, and we realize that now.'”
“It’s tough when you get pulled into social justice issues when your specialty is automotive engineering,” Murray added.
All of the LGBT leaders at the meeting spoke very highly of Laymon, who did not return calls about the meeting as of press time.
“Joe Laymon should be cloned – there should be one of him in every major company in the country,” said Montgomery. “He’s very committed to these issues – he’s one of those people that gets it.”
As for the meeting, Montgomery said, “This is just one more experience that … leaves me impressed with Ford’s commitment to its stated principals of diversity and respect. It was a good, good meeting.”
The meeting “was a re-affirmation of their position with our community; one that actually had never varied,” Thompson said.
McClelland said, “It was excellent. Joe Laymon was, I think, being pretty up-front, and it’s like I told him: You judge a company by its policies, its ethics, and Ford’s had an excellent history with the LGBT community and with Ford GLOBE. So when a crisis happens we have to be careful not to have a knee-jerk reaction.”
McClelland was especially impressed with Laymon’s stated commitment to insure that, “In restructuring they’ll look out for their LGBT employees to make sure they aren’t overly affected by the company’s upcoming layoffs – that it doesn’t become an opportunity for another employee to treat them unfairly. It was unbelievable for a major company to actually look at the numbers regarding its LGBT employees. It’s amazing. They are far out in front of the rest of the corporate world in that respect.”
“I’ve been driving Chevy’s my whole life, and [the meeting] made me think, ‘This really makes me want to buy a Ford.’ That kind of loyalty and willingness to stand by their principles is courageous,” McClelland added.
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