Group backs off boycott of Ford
American Family Association, irked by support of gay issues, will meet with execs.
By Christine Tierney / The Detroit News
• The American Family Association, a conservative Christian group, launched a boycott of Ford last week, saying the automaker has given thousands of dollars to gay rights groups, offers benefits to same-sex couples and actively recruits gay employees.
• Ford says it values all employees and customers regardless of sexual orientation, race and other differences. It was the only automaker among 56 companies that got the highest rating last year from the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group. Companies are rated on several factors, including whether they offer benefits to gay partners, donate to gay rights groups and market products to gay consumers.
Ford and its dealers will meet to see whether the American Family Association's concerns can be addressed. The AFA agreed to suspend the boycott until Dec. 1, pending the outcome of the talks.
Less than a week after calling for a boycott of Ford Motor Co. vehicles, a conservative group opposed to same-sex marriage suspended the call Monday after an influential Texas dealer offered to mediate between the American Family Association and the Dearborn automaker.
The association targeted Ford on June 1 to protest the automaker's donations to gay pride parades and gay organizations, and advertising in publications for gay readers.
The American Family Association, based in Tupelo, Miss., previously led an unsuccessful nine-year boycott of The Walt Disney Co. It claims to have more than 2 million online supporters.
"No one knows where it would have gone if it had stayed in effect," Jerry Reynolds, owner of Prestige Ford in Garland, Texas, said of the boycott.
"In Texas, in the Bible Belt, it would have had more effect here than in other parts of the country."
Reynolds, former chairman of Ford's national dealer council, wrote to the American Family Association and stressed the boycott would hurt dealers, their employees and others who had no bearing on Ford's marketing policies.
During a meeting Sunday with AFA founder Donald Wildmon, Reynolds offered to arrange meetings with Ford executives.
"We welcome a dialogue with the American Family Association," Ford spokesman Dan Bedore said.
Reynolds and four other dealers met Wildmon in Dallas.
"They understood our concerns in a way that Ford didn't," said Randy Sharp, director of special projects at the American Family Association. Sharp also attended the meeting.
"Homosexual magazines promote same-sex marriage by their very nature," said Sharp, while the AFA favors a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.
He said the AFA wanted Ford to stop advertising in such publications and donations to gay pride events and organizations.
But in its initial boycott letter, the organization also criticized Ford for offering benefits for same-sex couples and forcing managers to attend diversity meetings to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.
The group launched a Web site, www.boycottford.com
, and said they signed up more than 110,000 supporters of the boycott.
Ford responded that it valued all employees and customers regardless of sexual orientation, race and other differences -- and it noted that its competitors did as well.
Ford advised dealers on how to respond to customer queries about the boycott, saying Ford "supports faith and family" and that the founding family is active in the company's management.
All three Detroit automakers recognize same-sex partners in their employee benefits packages.But Ford was the only automaker among the 56 companies that got the highest rating last year from the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group. Companies are rated on several factors, including whether they offer benefits to gay partners, donate to gay rights groups and market their products to gays.
A couple of contentious issues were resolved at the Dallas meeting, after Reynolds pointed out that some of the advertisements that the AFA found offensive were in foreign publications. He proposed that they limit the discussions to campaigns in the United States, and he said Wildmon agreed.
The AFA recently ended its boycott of Disney over Disney's decision to extend benefits to same-sex couples and promote gay-related events at its theme parks.