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December 21-27, 2005

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Car Culture

Gay Car Battle

Ford said that the Volvo portion of the company will continue to advertise in the gay media. It seems like a smart move to market to gay people, considering that the gay market is actually very family oriented, thank you.

By Novella Carpenter

I LIVE in a bubble here on the liberal West Coast. That became very evident on my recent foray to Florida (T-day with the in-laws) when I saw the Exodus gay-reform billboards plastered all over. As Billy and I drove through Orlando, we were treated to all manner of propaganda about how homosexuality is a disease that—with the love of Jesus!—can be treated. Back on the left coast, they were handing out awards to gay cowboy movies.

Then came the news that Ford would pull its ads from the pages of gay rags like the Advocate and Out after receiving pressure from the conservative Christian group American Family Association, based in Mississippi. Although Ford denied that the AFA had anything to do with the move by the second-largest automaker in the United States, it sure did seem like more than a coincidence.

And the AFA's Donald Wildmon (he didn't make up that name did he? Get it—wild man?) claimed victory and called off the Ford boycott. Since May, the AFA has been collecting signatures for an anti-Ford petition. It collected 110,000 signatures before getting a meeting with Ford. After the meeting, according to the Washington Post, the group called off the Ford boycott and said that its concerns were being addressed. A few weeks later Ford warned that it would cut ads for the Jaguar and Range Rover in the gay press.

What is a gay ad exactly? I looked at the Commercial Closet website ("Bringing GLBT sensitivity to corporate advertising") and found that they are surprisingly bland. Take a Jaguar ad with a hunky guy in a polo shirt under the words "Life is full of twists and turns. Care for a partner?" The Jag races through the Italian countryside. No throbbing muscles, sweaty torsos or pink triangles. According to the website, Jaguar first stepped into the gay world when it sponsored the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Awards.

A more overt ad, run by Ford in Germany for a pride celebration, showed two men holding hands, one with a studded leather bracelet and the words "As if we only think about cars." Near the hands is the word "Anhangerkupplung?" which means "hitched or hook-up" but also refers to a car's tow bar or trailer hitch. Cute! Even sexier was an ad said to have run in Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras program that showed a parking brake pulled up—way up—and the words "We're just as excited as you." But, that's for Mardi Gras—it should be a little raunchy, shouldn't it?

Ford said that the Volvo portion of the company will continue to advertise in the gay media. It seems like a smart move to market to gay people, considering that the gay market is actually very family oriented, thank you. Census data from 2000 showed that one-fifth to one-third of gay households have kids. Since Volvo sells safety, and safety appeals to folks with kids. Plus, Ford did take out an ad in Australia's Blue magazine in 2002 that proclaimed that "Volvos are no longer straight." They can't take that back can they?

According to Rivendell, a gay media company that puts out an annual "gay press report," gay advertising has been enjoying a steady increase since 2000. Rivendell's 2004 report showed that automotive advertising space in the gay press increased 1.7 percent between 2003 and 2004. It also just doesn't make sense to alienate the queer community, which is angered by the move by Ford. When the gay community made motions that it would band together, AFA-style, and lead a boycott of its own, Ford backpedaled on its backpedaling and said that it would not pull the ads after all. Score 1 for the gay community, 0 for AFA.

Looks like the culture wars aren't over after all. Next up on the AFA's website: Progressive auto-insurance company chairman Peter Lewis donated money to the ACLU! And you know the ACLU—bunch of commies who support homosexuals! Who will win this battle?

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Novella Carpenter is a women not only obsessed with cars, but with protecting the environment. Her weekly column balances these two polar-opposite loves while providing handy tips and car-related news items.