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Here is your weekly op-ed by Deb Price from the Detroit News:
Gays forgive trend-setting Ford for pulling ads
by Deb Price / The Detroit News
Monday, December 12, 2005
Five years later, gay car enthusiasts still gush about their Motor City gathering: The Big Three rolled out the welcome mat -- showing off futuristic autos, providing tours and even giving out Ford T-shirts.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing," recalls Frank Markus of Lambda Car Club International's Detroit chapter, where half the members work in auto-related jobs. "It was definitely a 'Cadillac event,'" he adds, using a compliment favored by collectors of luxury cars.
It also happened to be the year that Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler jointly announced they were extending health benefits to their gay workers' partners. Many club members, inspired by the Big Three's leadership, drove back home to ask their own employers for equal benefits.
Detroit's gay community and the automakers have a deep, respectful friendship. Gay Ford workers originally dubbed themselves "Ford Family." Now known as Ford Globe, the group's Web site details a decade of gay-friendly policies at Ford, the only automaker to get a perfect score in 2004 and 2005 on the gay Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index.
So nowhere more than in the Motor City are gay folks stunned by the news that Ford, following talks with the anti-gay American Family Association about its boycott threats, announced the company will no longer advertise Jaguars and Land Rovers in the gay press.
Ford insists any suggestion it is retreating from its gay-friendly history "is just plain wrong." But it also says, "We don't intend -- directly or indirectly -- to take sides on controversial or emotionally charged social or moral issues." Hmmmm.
As we say in my business, "More will be revealed." But Ford's stumbling p.r. efforts have left Motor City gay folks feeling hurt or confused, yet eager to give an old friend the benefit of the doubt. As many put it, "I think Ford just made a blunder; I've made plenty."
Leslie Thompson, executive director of gay Affirmations, wants to believe Ford's decision not to advertise anything but Volvos in the gay press was "driven strictly by a business case." Ford, she notes, was the first of the Big Three to contribute $250,000 toward building Metro Detroit's $5.3 million gay community center, set to open next year. That $250,000 check was a record donation by a Fortune 500 firm.
"It's impossible to begin to explain how much the Big Three make a difference," says Thompson. "We create a safe space. You can walk down the hallway holding your partner's hand. Or just say 'I'm gay' out loud and not be afraid."
One big new gay fear is that Ford has lost its way. The cover of Between the Lines, Michigan's gay paper, captures that worry: A gay-pride rainbow bumper sticker on a Ford pickup has had "AFA" plastered over it. Where did the gay artist get the Ford pickup? She owns it.
The other new fear among those of us who're gay and prize the jobs Ford provides and the good it does is that gay national groups will lash out. Between the Lines wisely pleads that anyone mulling a gay boycott instead "come to Michigan. See the hard-won benefits and donations before you work to dismantle this valuable relationship."
As anti-gay rhetoric heated up in the 1990s, Ford did have a better idea -- reach out to gay workers and customers. Now, Ford's loyal gay friends are eager to forgive and forget. We just need to hear Ford say, without hedging, that it still values having a good relationship with us.