Straighten up and fly right

American Airlines refuses to let a threat from the religious right steer the company off its gay-friendly course

"That was seen as a clear benefit to people who had domestic partners, heterosexual or gay, and also to people who were dating or single and just wanted to travel," says American spokeswoman Andrea Rader. "We had our gay and lesbian employees in mind when we did it, but we had our other employees in mind as well. It was a big deal."

Ultimately, Kincaid hopes GLEAM will help create a corporate atmosphere where all gays and lesbians can feel comfortable being open about who they are, but he recognizes that coming out is a very personal process.

"We have some people who are instrumental in GLEAM who are still in the closet, which is a dichotomy, I guess, but I'm seeing some progress there," Kincaid says. "And I don't mean being an activist and marching around, but just being known as a gay person in the workplace."

The Wednesday, March 25, episode of The Beverly LaHaye Show, titled "The Radical Gay Agenda," began with the show's co-hosts Carmen Pate and Jim Woodall joyously repeating the news of a March 23 ruling by the California Supreme Court, which determined that the Boy Scouts of America can actively exclude gays from its membership because it is a "social organization" and not a business.

After reciting the Boy Scout's pledge, Woodall and Pate turned their attention to special guest Robert Knight. He represents the Family Research Council, a Washington-based "pro-family" lobby that believes homosexuality is "unhealthy, immoral, and destructive" and "opposes any attempts to equate homosexuality with civil rights," according to a position paper posted on the group's Internet site.

Knight, the FRC's director of cultural studies and a former journalist, is well known among religious conservatives for his various anti-gay essays and speeches, such as one he gave at Harvard University last fall titled "Nobody has to be Gay."

Knight was one of nine conservative leaders who had traveled to Fort Worth two days earlier for the meeting with American Airlines, and he was on the show to discuss what happened.

A year earlier, on February 18, 1997, a coalition of 19 conservative religious groups, including the FRC, sent a letter to American's Robert Crandall informing him that they opposed his policies toward gays and lesbians.

The most vocal member of the coalition was Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America, a Washington-based "pro-family" lobby that boasts an $11.4 million income and is guided by the mission to "protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens, first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society."

The rambling, six-page letter, which focused mostly on sexual issues, laid out the groups' contentions that homosexuality is an unhealthy, destructive "choice." The letter also informed American that it had gone "beyond mere tolerance" and was promoting homosexuality.

Although the groups did not state that they were boycotting American (a difficult task given the company's regional dominance), the threatening tone of the letter was not subtle.

"Corporate acceptance of the gay rights agenda would also alienate millions of American's customers who are pro-family," the letter stated. "Most people with traditional values do not adopt the tactics of disruption that the gay militants use, but they do vote with their pocketbooks."

Knight began the LaHaye show by detailing how the conservative contingent was received when it arrived in Fort Worth.

"I expected a defensive, hostile posture...but it was nothing like that. Mr. Crandall and his staff were very gracious," Knight announced. "Crandall chose to bring in his top executives, and that really made a difference. They really listened. They gave us plenty of time to make our case."

At that point, Knight's assessment of the meeting was accurate. What followed, however, is a matter of debate.

The "upshot" of the meeting, Knight reported, was that American Airlines had agreed to "stop promoting any partisan political activity of any kind, which means not funding the Human Rights Campaign, the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, all these groups," Knight said.

They also agreed to "not sponsor any homosexual events or organizations or publications," Knight continued, adding that the company did reserve the right to advertise anywhere they wanted but suggested that the company agreed to stop marketing to the gay community and sponsoring gay-related events.

"We still made it clear that we don't think they ought to be advertising in any gay publications. They kind of dug in their heels on that," Knight said. "Mr. Crandall warned us, and his marketing director warned us, that there are a couple of events in the pipeline that will still have the American Airlines logo on it, and we won't like it, but he said two or three months, and it's over."

American spokeswoman Andrea Rader says she is "mystified" by the claims of Knight and his allies.

"We told them that we appreciated talking to people, but that we intend to stay neutral," Rader says. "We intend to make our marketing decisions based on employee need, consumer need, and [our] shareholders."

At no point, Rader says, did American agree to stop marketing to the gay and lesbian community or cut off any of its charitable funding to AIDS efforts or gay and lesbian organizations. Those activities, she says, will continue.

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