Okay, so that’s not quite the story, although the KKK should probably give it a try, because if Ford’s craven response to pressure from the American Family Association is any indication, the company would buckle under at the first sign of trouble.
The automaker this week announced that it would pull ads for its Jaguar and Land Rover brands from gay and lesbian publications next year, and that it would no longer sponsor any gay-themed events. Almost all the ensuing reports linked the decision to a boycott launched in May of this year by the Reverend Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, which launched a website, BoycottFord.com, and told its members, “You are probably unaware that Ford Motor Company is a major supporter of the homosexual movement, including homosexual marriage.
“From redefining family to include homosexual marriage, to giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to support homosexual groups and their agenda, to forcing managers to attend diversity training on how to promote the acceptance of homosexuality, to sponsoring a ‘commitment [marriage] ceremony,’ to sponsoring Gay Pride Parades, Ford leads the way.”
Ford spokesman Mike Moran told Washington, D.C.’s Metro Weekly: “Some months ago we began a constructive dialogue with them, just as we do with other customers and interest groups. While we don’t agree on all issues, we expect the dialogue to continue so that we understand each other better.” When asked whether the advertising was being discontinued because of the threatened boycott, Moran admitted that “ceasing advertising is an outgrowth of those meetings.”
But later in the week, as human rights advocates began to attack the company’s decision, Ford was telling reporters from the mainstream media that the decision to discontinue advertising was based on cost-cutting considerations. “As [the Jaguar and Land Rover brands] begin planning their marketing for next year,” said Moran, “they’ve streamlined their budgets.”
Assuming the earlier quotes are a reflection of the company’s true motives—and given the timing of the announcement, and the fact that the AFA had an official statement on its website before Ford did, that’s a reasonable assumption—there are two possible explanations for the company’s actions.
The first is that Ford management sat down to discuss the whole issue of homosexuality in America and came to the conclusion that the AFA was right: that the “gay and lesbian agenda” had been pushed too far, that the growing acceptance of homosexuals among the general public was undermining the fabric of our society. The company felt it needed to make a principled stand against the campaign for equal rights, to draw a line in the sand, and to make it clear that homosexuality is so repellent that Ford no longer wants the business of the gay community.
The second is that Ford management sat down to discuss not the principles at stake but the cost in time and energy and financial resources of fighting the AFA versus the cost of capitulation. And it decided that the easiest course, the path of least resistance, would be to give in the AFA’s demands and hope the group would go find some other company—one more concerned with integrity than expediency—to threaten with a boycott.
Neither explanation is particularly palatable.
Needless to say, the backlash against Ford has already begun, as it did against Microsoft earlier this year when the software company, under pressure from the religious right, withdrew its support from an equal rights bill in Washington state. Microsoft soon learned that while fundamentalists can be intimidating opponents, bowing to their demands fuels rather than defuses controversy.
Microsoft experienced a significant backlash from employees—not only gay and lesbian groups, but other creative types who value a tolerant, progressive work environment. Granted, the automotive industry is not the software industry. But even a manufacturing company like Ford needs to attract creative people. And creative people—even straight creative people—are unlikely to be attracted to a company that treats its commitment to diversity so lightly.
Just as important, Ford needs to understand that companies have an obligation to society that goes beyond the need to appease a vocal minority.
Forty years ago, at the height of the civil rights struggle, the KKK had about the same economic influence, popular support and moral authority the American Family Association enjoys today. It’s hard to imagine that Ford then would have negotiated with the Klan, far less given it an excuse to claim victory. The company’s surrender to the AFA tells you all you need to know about the quality of leadership at Ford today.