Last week, we reported that Ford Motor Co. is in boiling-hot water with the gay community. The reason: the company’s announcement that it is pulling its Land Rover and Jaguar advertising from GLBT publications, stripping gay-specific content from its Volvo ads and curtailing its future participation in and support of gay-related events and organizations. The move, seen by many as a slap in the face to GLBT car customers, came after a threatened boycott by – and a reportedly secret agreement with – the right-wing, anti-gay American Family Association, which opposes any support, corporate or otherwise, of gay and lesbian people.
Ford executives insist that its controversial decision was all about business and the bottom line – the AFA action was not a factor. According to an official statement, the company still claims its “commitment to diversity as an employer and corporate citizen remains unchanged.” And yes, Ford still offers health and family benefits to its GLBT employees (something any decent company would do) and really is experiencing economic trials. But is the auto giant telling the whole truth here?
I don’t think it is. And others agree.
After the announcement, AFA honcho Donald Wildmon crowed about his group’s victory. Having lobbed his threat of a Dec. 1 boycott in late spring, his organization had time to talk with individual Ford dealers – likely fellow anti-gay fundamentalist Christians in large part – and convince those dealers to persuade their parent company to, in essence, smear the queers. Wildmon said those dealers did facilitate meetings between the AFA and Ford executives – particularly one gathering that took place Nov. 29 in Tupelo, MS, according to WardsAuto.com reporter Barbara McClellan – and the eventual decision followed, coming reportedly from Ford’s “highest level.”
Consider this as well: Arianna Huffington writes that the two Ford execs who did the heavy lifting on this are “former Bush staffer and major GOP donor named Ziad Ojakli, who was also the Senate liaison for the Bush-Cheney Transition Team, as well as a legislative assistant to Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), one of the Senate’s most right-wing members; and David Leitch, a former deputy general counsel to President George W. Bush, and currently the general counsel at Ford.” Right. The executives come from the conservative-Christian-promoting administration that gave us the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment and works diligently to strip any hope of achieving legal equality from GLBT Americans.
Ford deferred to AFA in making the announcement, saying only the company had no disagreement with Wildmon’s statement.
Initially Ford spokesman Mike Moran confirmed to Advocate.com that “the company would no longer advertise Jaguar and Land Rover products in the gay media, saying that the decision was strictly ‘business.’” However, “a recognized authority in the advertising industry, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told 365Gay.com that the decision to end advertising in the gay media was made ‘at the highest level’ and was in reaction to the AFA threat.”
It’s true, Ford is in serious financial trouble. Still, the automaker, in the person of former Bush minions, met with the AFA. Ford made its announcement, and poof! The fundie-boycott threat vanished. Despite its statements about this being a business decision, Ford did not disavow an agreement with AFA and did say that it had no disagreement with Wildmon’s victory statement. Given all this, it is disingenuous for anyone even to imply that no connection exists between the AFA’s hate-filled efforts and Ford’s public eff-you to its GLBT customer base.
Leaders of national GLBT- and civil-rights groups certainly don’t buy Ford’s act. A number of them, including representatives from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, expressed their outrage in the national press. From a joint statement by Family Pride; Freedom to Marry; GLAAD; the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association; the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; HRC, the Mautner Project (the national lesbian health organization); Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund; the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project; the American Civil Liberties Union; the
National Black Justice Coalition; the National Center for Lesbian Rights; the National Center for Transgender Equality; the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs; NGLTF; the National Youth Advocacy Coalition; Out and Equal Workplace Advocates; Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the Triangle Foundation:
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.
A series of phone calls between equality leaders and Ford officials ensued, and on Dec. 12, company executives met with group leaders to discuss the matter. There was no change: “We value all people regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and cultural or physical differences,” William Clay Ford Jr., company chair and CEO (and a chip off of old Henry’s Nazi-embracing block), said in a post-meeting statement. “This is a historical commitment of the Ford Motor Company that I intend to carry forward.”
Neil Giuliano, GLAAD’s president, was among those who met with Ford. He scoffed at the company’s statement, telling the Washington Blade that he was “shocked and disturbed” by the text, which did not address the points of contention, did not mention the AFA, and ignored all of the agreements made between the GLBT leaders and Ford execs prior to Monday’s meeting. “It clearly shows that they do not have an understanding of our positions,” he said, “nor are they willing to distance themselves, and specifically correct, the statements that have been made by the AFA.”
From the Blade:
Giuliano said gay leaders asked Ford to continue supporting gay organizations and events, continue using gay-specific imagery in ads for the company’s Volvo brand placed in gay media, speficially disavow any deal made with the AFA on any of these points, and commit to continue advertising, at least at some level, the Jaguar and Land Rover brands in the gay media. Giuliano called the last issue “a deal-breaker” for the gay rights groups.
He said the Ford representatives verbally agreed to each of the requests, but that the statement failed to adequately address even one of them. He also faulted the company for not specifically mentioning in the statement Monday’s meeting in Washington, DC, with gay leaders or the company’s commitment specifically to gay and lesbian consumers.
“They are clearly not reaching out to the LGBT community to try to correct what they led us to believe was a wrong impression” made by the AFA, claiming credit with influencing Ford’s business decisions, Giuliano said.
“It’s very disappointing and frustrating. It almost feels like we were played.”
Sure it does. We were played. And belittled. And discarded like a used tissue.
Here is the message emanating from Ford’s disgraceful actions and statements: Don’t upset the fundies, no matter who it hurts. And we’ll say whatever we want; it’s not as if queers really matter anyway. Getting their money was nice as long as it lasted, but they are a small niche market – as long as fundie dollars roll in (and they’re sure to give their cash to those they see as standing for “family values”), we’re golden.
Neil Giuliano says he is going to sell his Ford Land Rover. I have already disposed of my ailing Ford Escort – for another reason preceding the Ford announcement, but the timing couldn’t have been better. Giuliano expects some Ford-owning-queers – many of whom gave their money to Ford on the basis of its support for the gay community and its media – will divest themselves of what have become tainted goods (though some seem willing to give Ford the benefit of the doubt). I am not so forgiving: Ford certainly has the right to do what it wants, but why support those who treat you and your subset of humankind less than humanely? Why patronize a concern that caves in to and protects bigots and, on top of that, doesn’t have the balls to admit what it has done and why?
Perhaps this truly is a bottom-line decision. You can’t fault a business for putting dollars and cents over people. Well, if Ford truly is cutting back for money’s sake and not to appease bigots, if it truly values its GLBT customers, it ought to give up the cowardice. Ford officials should want to reassure queer carbuyers. They should be happy to speak plainly and to address the AFA situation directly. To this point, it hasn’t done so – and that is, at the very least, bad business.
Obviously, Ford has heard plenty from the fundies; Ford needs to know how those who believe in equality and diversity feel. Let Bill Ford hear your piece.