The next chapter in the saga of Ford Motor Co., the GLBT community and the anti-gay American Family Association can be called “About Face.” Seems the historically queer-friendly auto giant, which appeared to turn its back on gay and lesbian customers in order to appease the religious right, has changed its mind.
You may recall that ford had a reputation for being a stellar example of a responsible, diversity-embracing business citizen: It offered health and family benefits to its GLBT employees. It supported gay-themed events and organizations as part of its philanthropic mission. It advertised its Land Rover, Jaguar and Volvo brands in gay publications like the Advocate and Out. It even earned a 100 percent approval rating from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest GLBT organization.
Last May, the AFA, incensed that Ford would treat its GLBT customers and workers as if they matter, threatened a Dec. 1 boycott. As the months went on, representatives of the right-wing fundamentalist Christian group lobbied Ford dealers and two Ford executives who used to be part of the anti-GLBT Bush Administration. An alleged secret agreement was reached. Ford announced that it was pulling its Land Rover and Jaguar advertisements from queer media and that while the Volvo ad placements would continue, generic ads would replace gay-themed ones previously used. In addition, future support of GLBT events and groups would end. The company insisted that the tough decisions were made necessary by tough economic times; the move was only business. But Ford didn’t disagree or cry foul when the AFA’s Donald Wildmon subsequently declared victory and cancelled the boycott.
Only business? Many people on the left and right scoffed at that notion. Gay-community leaders came together to take a stand. In phone negotiations with Ford, executives for the automaker reportedly agreed to make reversals. But after meeting face-to-face with GLBT leaders on Dec. 12, Ford held firm on its decisions and refused even to address the AFA or any secret pacts.
Oh, how things can change in a day and a half.
In a letter Wednesday to seven human rights groups, Joe Laymon, Ford’s group vice president for corporate human resources, said the Jaguar and Land Rover moves were strictly business decisions for the allocation of limited advertising dollars and that the corporation’s leadership wouldn’t reverse them.
“However,” Laymon said. “It is clear there is a misconception 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,” he said.
The letter didn’t specify the publications or indicate when the ads would begin or how long they would run.
But David Smith, vice president of policy and strategy at the Human Rights Campaign, which is based in Washington and got one of the letters, said he was satisfied with Ford’s overall response to his group’s concerns.
Indeed, the letter, which is also posted on Ford’s Web site, should be good news to GLBT consumers. A major corporation, after a bit of waffling, ultimately decided the gay market was important enough to keep happy.
Gay leaders are cheering now. From the Associated Press:
…Neil Giuliano of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation credited the company with listening to its concerns and making “a clear statement of nondiscrimination and inclusion.”
“Fairness and equality wins out in corporate America,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
A message seeking comment was left for an AFA spokeswoman.
A quick presstime scan of the AFA Web site and a raft of religious-right news sources shows no mention of the new developments. It is possible that its leaders are weighing the matter and crafting a response. It is just as possible that the AFA (perhaps with likeminded right-wing groups) is planning a counterattack.
Ford is taking a risk here, which effectively eradicates any idea that the automaker is cowardly. In choosing to please the gay market – which in fact does nothing to endanger the right-wing-fundamentalist market, whatever tracts and televangelists say – the carmaker made itself vulnerable to the Christian right. If and when the fundie fallout hits, it will be interesting to see what form it takes – and how Ford responds.