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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 16, 2005

Ford reaffirms bond with LGBT community after meeting
with leaders

Detroit--The Ford Motor Company reconnected with the LGBT community in the second of two statements released this week after meeting with advocates upset over the perception that the company had made a deal with the anti-gay American Family Association.

The letter to national LGBT organizations, which drew immediate praise from queer groups, went further than the December 12 �Statement on Ford Motor Company�s Commitment to Inclusion,� which drew more criticism from LGBT advocates.

The message two days later served as a repudiation of claims made by the American Family Association that it had made a deal with Ford to drop ads for Jaguar and Land Rover in the media, only run non-gay-specific Volvo ads and end sponsorships of gay organizations and events.

The organizations that attended the December 12 meeting were not pleased with the first statement, which fell far short of their demanded refutation.

�We value all people, regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and cultural or physical difference,� chair and CEO Bill Ford said in the earlier statement. �This is a historical commitment of the Ford Motor Company that I intend to carry forward.�

The statement also read, �Ford Motor Company is always willing to engage in constructive conversation with those interested in our policies, even with those who don�t always agree with them. But only Ford Motor Company speaks for Ford Motor Company. Any suggestion to the contrary is incorrect.�

After continuing its contact with LGBT leaders in conference calls, Ford issued a �Letter to National Organizations� on December 14 clarifying its position.

The letter from Joe W. Laymon, group vice president of corporate human resources, described the meeting on December 12 as �the start of a valuable and healthy dialogue.�

According to reports last week, both from the AFA and from news outlets, Ford had agreed to pull the ads in an attempt to stave off a threatened boycott by the religious-right organization.

Ford then claimed that the decision to pull ads and new sponsorships was solely a business decision. The division of Ford that contains the two luxury lines, the Premier Auto Group, showed a $108 million loss in the last quarter, and sales of American automakers are down across the board.

Ford will continue to advertise its Volvo line in the LGBT media, although it will no longer have gay-specific ads.

In the newer letter, Laymon includes a point-by-point examination of the issues the LGBT leaders brought up, and Ford�s stance on each of them.

He asked that the LGBT community judge the Volvo ads when they come out. �We expect our brands to create advertising that supports their brand image and is appropriate and effective in connecting with the intended audience,� he noted. �That is unchanged.�

He also said that the company would continue to support �certain events,� but that the company�s dire financial straits will limit its support of events �in all communities in 2006.�

He reiterated Ford�s position that the removal of Jaguar and Land Rover ads from gay publications was a business decision, but Ford will now take out a corporate ad covering all eight Ford brands in the gay media that carried the original ads to explain the motivations behind removing the ads.

Triangle Foundation executive director Jeffrey Montgomery, who was in the meeting with Ford, said the company had continued talks in conference calls afterward.

Triangle, Michigan�s largest LGBT advocacy organization, produces a number of large events including Motor City Pride, which Ford has sponsored.

Montgomery believes that Ford�s statement about sponsorships means it will still support many of the ones it has sponsored in the past.

�My belief, based on our conversation, is they said they will continue to fund organizations and events at the same level as they are,� he noted. �That level of support is not going to be lessened.�

�Ford worked in good faith with us in coming to terms with these matters,� Montgomery said in a release when the second letter came out. �Although they might not admit it, it is clear to me that the American Family Association created this mess by characterizing its relationship and influence with the company in the most cynical and dishonest terms.�

�It is a credit to Ford that they have been willing to do what they could to replace that impression with today�s strong statement of commitment to our community and many of our organizations,� he concluded.

Ford�s broad antidiscrimination policies remain in place, as are domestic partner benefits for employees. In addition, Ford�s LGBT employees group, GLOBE, is one of the most powerful such organizations in the United States.

Laymon restated support both for the policies and the group.

�Hate groups like the AFA try to get as much out of these �victories� as they can,� Cleveland LGBT Center executive director Sue Doerfer said, referring to the possibility that the AFA claimed credit for business decisions already made by the company, then related to them by the two executives who met with AFA officials in November.

�What they�ve really done is put Ford in a bad light, which could actually harm its relationship with the AFA.�

 

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