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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Intriguing new wrinkle in the Ford story: Is Ford sucking up to conservatives for a bail-out?

By now you've probably heard the story ... Ford Motor Company, after being a progressive corporation that offers protections for its LGBT employees and has supported a number of LGBT events and organizations, does an about-face at the threat of a boycott by the notoriously homophobic American Family Association. The AFA crows about its "victory" in getting Ford to pull advertising from gay publications and reportedly drop funding for LGBT causes. Then a group of LGBT organizations demand a meeting with Ford and the automaker holds a meeting with representatives from the groups on Monday.

As a result of that meeting, Ford issues the following statement, as reported in a Washington Blade article:

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

The Ford statement did not mention the advertising decisions or its support for gay organizations and events, but also did not back off from its previous public commitments to pull back on both.

"The automotive industry is a highly competitive business," the Ford statement said. "During these budget-tightening times, our brands must make tough choices where to advertise and how to spend limited sponsorship dollars." ...

The Ford statement also did not specifically mention meeting with the AFA or distance the company from the AFA's subsequent claims that the automaker had bowed to pressure from the anti-gay group. But the statement did include a general denial that its decisions were influenced by anything other than economics

"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," the statement said. "But only Ford Motor Company speaks for Ford Motor Company. Any suggestion to the contrary is incorrect."

It goes without saying that the representatives from the LGBT organizations were left scratching their heads over Ford's non-statement statement. Reports to come out of the meeting claim Ford representatives gave verbal agreements to each of the requests presented by the group, but that the "official" statement made no comment about the requests ... or even mentioned the fact that the meeting occurred.

So if you're keeping score, here's where things stand now:

Ford acknowledged that it is cutting back on its advertising in LGBT publications and calls it a "business decision." Meanwhile, the company refuses to correct AFA's claim that it was pressure from the far right-wing organization that prompted the decision. While it will continue to advertise Volvo in gay publications, Ford will no longer use gay-specific images in those ads. And the whole issue of the company's support for LGBT causes is left rather vague.

It's hard to understand how a company that was an industry leader in supporting not only it's LGBT employees, but the LGBT community and causes, could suddenly take an 180-degree turn and reverse its policies.

That is, it's hard to understand unless you consider the rumor that floating around concerning Ford.

According to the rumor, Ford is backing away from its gay-friendly policies as a way of convincing Washington to bail the company out of its financial woes. Those woes run deeper than most people outside the industry realize and are a real threat to the automaker (not to mention the country's economy). Hoping to curry favor with the Bushinistas, Ford is sucking up to the social conservatives by moving its corporate values to the right. Such a move would be looked upon favorably by the Bush administration which would have to approve a massive federal bail-out for the ailing automotive giant.

Adding to the suspicion surrounding Ford is the fact that two of the companies top executives are former members of the Bush administration. Far from leaving their government jobs behind, these executives are reportedly using their position to lobby for the appointment of conservative judges.

Who knows what's really going on behind the closed doors of Ford Motor Company's executive offices? From all appearances it seems as though Ford's decision to back away from gay issues is but the first card dealt in a corporate version of Texas hold 'em in which one of the nation's biggest companies is willing to gamble it's formerly gay-friendly image against the chance for a bail-out from a gay-baiting, right-wing administration.