The Right tries to steer Ford

The antigay American Family Association nearly changed the course of Ford Motor Co.’s commitment to equality. The feud with the country’s number 2 automaker is not finished

BY Todd Henneman

January 17 2006 1:00 AM ET

The AFA went
after Target “with a vengeance” after the
corporation prohibited the Salvation Army from
collecting donations outside its stores, Stoltman
says. “They used the Salvation Army decision by
Target as the rallying cry internally. They push the
buttons, whether bell ringers in front of Target or
Ford Motor Co.’s policies, that get the loudest
horn to go off internally to get their own troops
rallied.”

Despite
AFA’s claims, its boycotts aren’t always
successful. In April the group ended its eight-month
boycott of Procter & Gamble Co., saying the maker
of Crest toothpaste and Tide detergent had stopped
advertising on TV shows such as Will &
Grace
and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
In reality, Procter & Gamble continued its
advertising.

“We
advertise on shows like these because they are among the
most popular and widely watched programs on
television, plus [they] reflect the diversity of our
nation,” says Procter & Gamble spokesman Scott
Stewart. “While we don’t just advertise on any
program, we don’t believe the presence of a gay
character on a program means we should automatically
avoid it.”

The AFA’s
nine-year boycott of the Walt Disney Co. for offering
domestic-partner benefits didn’t hurt the Mouse House
financially. During the boycott Disney reported record
profits and exceeded expectations on Wall Street.

Still,
conservative Christian groups tap into a sizable base. About
10% to 15% of adult Americans describe themselves as
evangelical Christians, says Nancy Ammerman, professor
of sociology of religion at Boston University. The AFA
alone has close to 200 radio station affiliates under
the American Family Radio name and boasts 2 million online
supporters.

When a religious
group declares a boycott, Ammerman says, it may be less
about economics and more about defining what the group
believes in. “It is both assuring members of
the group who they are and declaring to the rest of
the world who they are,” says Ammerman.

Adds Stoltman:
“The thing about any boycott is, once you show the
slightest wrinkle of weaknesses, from then out all bets are
off. It’s a crisis of your own making.”

The unusually
strong show of unity among LGBT groups reflects how alarmed
they were by suspicions that a corporate ally had caved to
pressure by one the most vocal antigay groups in the
nation. “Anyone who works in the gay community
understands AFA’s history of misrepresenting the LGBT
community,” says Sandra Telep, an organizer with
Pride at Work, an AFL-CIO affiliate for LGBT workers.
“And it was important to all of us that those
lies were not legitimized by a national company.”

New York State
comptroller Alan Hevesi, who controls more than 9.4
million shares of Ford stock on behalf of the state, wrote
Bill Ford Jr., asking what cost-benefit analysis
justified giving into a “bigotry-based”
threat.

“It was a
PR debacle,” says Gordon Wangers, president of
Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc. “The
problem was that Bill Ford has publicly declared time
and again that Ford is a progressive and socially aware
company. So it was off strategy to pull advertising from gay
and lesbian media. Their decision was 180 degrees off
their stated position.”

Two days after
meeting with gay rights leaders, Ford sent its letter
reaffirming its commitment to policies that support LGBT
workers and said the company would support
“certain” LGBT events. The letter also said
the corporate parent would not force its Jaguar and
Land Rover divisions to advertise in gay media, but
Ford would buy corporate ads in the publications.

“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,” reads
the letter, signed by Joe Laymon, vice president for
corporate human resources. “It is my hope that this
will remove any ambiguity about Ford’s desire
to advertise to all important audiences and put this
particular issue behind us.”

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