Detroit--The Ford Motor Company staved off an anti-gay group�s threatened boycott by pulling advertising for two of its divisions from gay media, only to find itself accused of pandering to the religious right by LGBT advocates.
The controversy also caught Ford representatives giving contradictory statements to the New York Times and other publications.
WardsAuto.com, an automotive news site, reported on November 30 that Ford had negotiated a cease-fire with the American Family Association to avert the boycott, originally planned for last June. The AFA delayed the action against the company for six months so that individual Ford dealers who agreed with the organization�s �family values� viewpoint could try to sway the company.
Two Ford executives, general counsel David Leitch and group vice president for corporate affairs Ziad Ojakli, met on November 29 with AFA officials in their Tupelo, Mississippi headquarters, joined by Texas dealer Jerry Reynolds, who brokered the truce.
Leitch and Ojakli were both senior Bush administration officials prior to working at Ford, reported the web site Americablog.com.
After the meeting, two Ford divisions, Jaguar and Range Rover, dropped their advertising in gay magazines and other media outlets.
Ford spokesperson Mike Moran said that the end of niche gay advertising for the two high-end lines was simply a business decision based on marketing strategy, denying that it was related to the threatened AFA boycott.
But Moran also told the Advocate, one of the publications that had carried the ads, that the company had no disagreement with a statement on AFA�s web site that described their agreement.
WardsAuto.com, in a later report, said they had confirmed that dropping the ads was part of a deal with AFA.
The web site also said that Volvo, which Ford officials said will continue to advertise to the gay and lesbian market in 2006, will not use ads designed for that market. As part of the agreement, only generic Volvo ads will appear.
The company�s other nameplates, including Ford, Lincoln and Mercury, have not advertised in LGBT media and have no plans to do so.
Ford officials have also said that there have been no revocations of sponsorships for gay and lesbian events. But there will be no new ones, according to their agreement with AFA, Wards reported.
Ford noted that it will not change its antidiscrimination policies, which include sexual orientation. Benefits for domestic partners of most employees are contractual, and cannot be changed unless new contracts are negotiated between the United Auto Workers and the company.
�We are deeply dismayed by reports in the media . . . 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,� reads a December 5 joint statement signed by 17 LGBT organizations. �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 those concerns.�
Among the organizations signing the letter are the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Human Rights Campaign, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Black Justice Coalition, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, as well as the Triangle Foundation, headquartered in Detroit.
The American Family Association has a decade-long history of boycotting gay-friendly businesses, attempting them to alter their policies.
In 1996, AFA launched a boycott of Disney both for its pro-gay policies and because of �Gay Days� at Disney World, which was never officially sanctioned by the amusement park. The group dropped the action against Disney earlier this year, pointing to the departure of CEO Michael Eisner, the split with the founders of its Miramax label and the production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on the novel by C.S. Lewis, which contains Christian themes.
None of those decisions were made based on the AFA boycott.
The AFA also launched a boycott of Procter and Gamble products last year because the Cincinnati company donated money to the campaign to repeal Article 12, the charter amendment barring the city from granting any civil rights protections to lesbians or gay men.
The AFA said in releases that the company supported gay marriage, although Citizens to Restore Fairness� campaign was solely to repeal Article 12.
The AFA also breathlessly pointed to an ad which Procter and Gamble ran in a Canadian gay magazine a couple of years earlier, showing two men in bed, apparently after sex.
The Procter and Gamble boycott targeted three specific products: Tide laundry detergent, Pampers diapers and Crest toothpaste, and is ongoing.
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