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US: Ford, Reversing Decision, Will Run Ads in Gay Press

by Jeremy W. PetersThe New York Times
December 15th, 2005

Less than two weeks after the Ford Motor Company said it would all but eliminate its advertising in publications that cater to gays, the company reversed itself Wednesday.

The decision followed a wave of criticism from gay rights groups, who had accused Ford of bowing to the threat of a boycott from the American Family Association.

Ford's announcement, which gay advocates immediately praised, also included other steps to broaden the automaker's relations with gay consumers and repair damage from the initial decision to stop advertising.

In a letter Wednesday to gay advocacy groups, Ford said that in addition to its current advertising campaigns in gay media, it would expand the ads to encompass all eight Ford brands. Previously, only Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo ran ads in gay publications. Now, the company has said it will advertise its Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda and Aston Martin brands in the gay press.

"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," Ford's vice president for corporate human resources, Joe W. Laymon, said in the letter.

Ford also said it would continue to sponsor gay groups and events but plans to cut back on all charitable donations because of declining profits.

During a meeting with senior Ford executives on Monday, the heads of several gay groups asked Ford to reinstate its advertising and distance itself from the American Family Association, which in the past has put pressure on corporations that support gay causes. On Wednesday, leaders of gay groups said they were pleased with Ford's actions.

"This really proves that at Ford Motor Company, fairness and equality win out," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "Occasionally in this process we hit a bump in the road, and that's what happened here. The good and important thing is Ford is back on track."

A spokeswoman for the American Family Association said the group had no comment. A Ford spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the company's letter.

Ford's letter did not repudiate its relationship with the association, which it met with after the group's boycott was announced in May. But Mr. Laymon wrote, "We expect to be measured not by the meetings we conduct but by our conduct itself."

Ford now hopes to end an embarrassing public relations problem that left many puzzled. Ford has long sponsored gay rights groups and provided the same health care benefits to homosexual couples as it does to heterosexuals.

It was Ford's support of gay causes that led the American Family Association to call for a boycott. The association cited what it called Ford's "extensive promotion of homosexuality," including the company's training in tolerance of gays and ads designed specifically for gay audiences.

After Ford learned of the boycott, company executives began meeting with the association, which then agreed to temporarily suspend its boycott. The two sides talked on and off for six months. Two weeks ago Ford said Jaguar and Land Rover, but not Volvo, would stop advertising in gay publications. The family association claimed victory, but Ford said the decision was only a way for the company to cut costs.

In its letter on Wednesday, Ford said, "It is clear there is a misperception about our intent."

Confusion over the motives for Ford's decision to drop the ads remained. "I don't think we'll ever know the story," said Jeff Montgomery of the Triangle Foundation, a gay rights group in Michigan.



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