LGBT leaders met with executives of the Ford Motor Company this week to complain about the company’s plans to pull ads from gay publications and drop support for gay events, allegedly in a deal with the right-wing anti-gay American Family Association which had threatened the company with a boycott, particularly of dealerships in the South. In a letter dated December 14, Ford officials denied that any such deal had been made, but acknowledged that “it is clear that there is a misperception about our intent.” As a result, the company—though saying it would not overrule its brand managers at Jaguar and Land Rover, who have determined in the face of declining sales to scale back advertising—committed to a series of “corporate” ads in gay publications advertising all eight of its company brands. Ford also reaffirmed its commitment to workplace policies that include domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees and its support for non-profit groups and events in the LGBT community.
As to the issue of whether its meeting with the AFA was appropriate, Ford said, in a letter to the seven LGBT leaders it met with, “We expect to be measured not by the meetings we conduct but by our conduct itself.”
“This is a fairly positive outcome after 10 days of considerable uncertainty,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and one of the seven advocates at the Ford meeting. Foreman explained that the outreach to Ford resulted from an emergency meeting of the National Policy Roundtable, a consortium of LGBT groups. “The way our community pulled together in response to this issue is a model for the future,” Foreman added.
Grant Lukenbill, who heads up the Equality Project, which for years has been pressing Wall Street and corporate America to adopt workplace and business practice policies that are non-discriminatory and inclusive of the LGBT community, offered a different perspective on how the Ford turnaround resulted. He said that his group spent considerable time since the initial ad cutback stories surfaced to find a public sector pension administrator willing to stand up to Ford as a major shareholder. On Monday, Alan Hevesi, the Democratic New York State comptroller, released a letter he sent to William Clay Ford, Jr., Ford’s CEO, complaining that discriminating against gay publications in ad purchases violated the Equality Principles, and adding, “as a shareholder, I am interested to know what cost/benefit analysis you performed in order to reach the conclusion that ending advertising to that particular customer base would be a positive strategic move for the company?”
Lukenbill said the Ford story cannot adequately be understood without recognizing the comptroller’s efforts.
Foreman seemed inclined to accept Ford’s explanation for the business decision to pull Land Rover and Jaguar ads from magazines, saying he understood that sales of those brands were only half of the projections for the previous year. Foreman said the meeting was “very forthright and direct. It wasn’t hostile at all. No threats were made. We made the points we needed to.”
On the issue of the Ford-AFA meeting, Foreman said that the advocates did express their displeasure to the company. The willingness of Ford and other organizations to meet with anti-gay groups represents what Foreman called “the gay exception”—groups representing anti-black, anti-Jewish, or anti-Muslim attitudes, he argued, for example, would be ostracized by leading American businesses and political leaders.
In addition to Foreman, the advocates at the meeting included Joe Solmonese, who heads up the Human Rights campaign, Neil Giuliano, leader of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Alexander Robinson of the National Black Justice Coalition, the Triangle Foundation of Michigan’s Jeff Montgomery, Jody Huckaby of P-FLAG, and Craig Bowman of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition. Foreman was at pains to emphasize that the seven were merely representatives of a coalition that included several dozen organizations.