Straighten up and fly right

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

"In their view, we were in a position of promoting homosexuality. We made it clear to them that we were not promoting anything," Rader says. "We're not making any judgments with respect to people's [sexual] orientation. We are engaging in business behavior and will continue to do so."

In the CWFA press release, Pate claimed that American would stop its aggressive advertising for "discount fares for 'domestic partners' and discount tickets to 'cruise' parties." The claim was inaccurate as well as misleading, Rader says.

The company has never given discounted fares to domestic partners.
"We do not have a gay discount, where you could walk up to the counter and say, 'I'm gay; give me a discount'," Rader says. "If we did that, I have the feeling that suddenly everyone would be gay."

The Concerned Women were also apparently mistaken about American's new policy on "circuit" parties, which up until early 1997 the company had sponsored.

On weekends throughout the year, gay men travel to designated cities for the parties, the proceeds of which are donated to AIDS organizations. In 1995, for example, Out and About magazine reported that circuit parties raised between $4 million and $6 million.

In recent years, circuit parties have become controversial within the gay community, in part because of Michelangelo Signorile's 1997 book Life Outside, which detailed how the parties have become rife with drug use and unsafe sex--that's ironic, given the parties' purpose of raising money to fight AIDS.

American stopped sponsoring circuit parties last year because of the bad publicity surrounding them, says Rader. The company made the decision independently of demands by the Concerned Women and their allies. Instead of sponsoring the parties, American shifted its support directly to the organizations that benefit from the money the parties raised.

"They [the religious right] took away from that that we were going to quit sponsoring all these activities," Rader says. "What happened was, we saw that circuit parties were controversial, even within the gay community. We decided, 'Let's not have our logo in places that we're not comfortable.'"

Why exactly the conservative groups came away from their meeting with Crandall and claimed a victory is difficult to know.

When asked to explain the confusion, contacts at Concerned Women, the American Family Association, and Focus on the Family either declined to comment or refused to respond to repeated requests for interviews.

"I'm not sure what ought to be said," says Tom Minnery, the vice president of Focus on the Family. "I realize that Concerned Women for America put out a press release. I'm not going to contribute to the confusion by adding my two cents."

The only person who agreed to an interview was Knight, who maintains that American agreed to stop sponsoring and contributing to organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign.

"If he [Crandall] assured us that partisan organizations will no longer receive funding, then I believe him," says Knight, who concedes that Crandall never specifically agreed to sever its ties to any particular group or cause.

"He wasn't specific. He indicated he understood our concerns and that he was only interested in marketing the airline and not supporting partisan causes," Knight says. "I got the impression that he understood those organizations [such as the Human Rights Campaign] were indeed partisan."

The confusion surrounding the meeting aside, another curiosity about the religious right's campaign against American is its version of the chronology that led to last month's meeting in Fort Worth.

During his live report on the Fort Worth meeting, Knight told LaHaye's listeners that they helped force Crandall to show up at the negotiating table and, later, concede his mistakes. Woodall, who also attended the meeting but played the role of interviewer on the show, asked Knight whether he was shocked when Crandall supposedly admitted that he was wrong.

"He conceded the point early on, before we had even made our case. I don't think he realized how far out his marketing people had gone toward promoting homosexuality," said Knight, who later spoke directly to the audience. "Because of your pressure, they opened the doors to us. If it weren't for your letters, we wouldn't have gotten a seat at the table.

Yet Knight failed to mention that in August a group of Christian employees at American traveled to Washington at their own expense in the hope of opening up a dialogue with the conservative groups.

John Darbo, who led the American contingent, says he and his fellow Christian employees asked the company whether they could travel to Washington after they read what they considered unfair representations about American coming from the national groups.

One of the items Darbo refers to is a statement by Family Research Council President Gary Bauer in a March 10, 1997, news release announcing Bauer's opposition to American.

"I've joined other pro-family leaders to try and protect the rights of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim employees of American Airlines who are being forced to promote behavior that their faiths declare to be immoral and destructive," Bauer stated.

Darbo, a senior administrator for flight safety, says he was disappointed to see the groups make the false claim without contacting anyone at the company beforehand.

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