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American Airlines official boasts of homosexual marketing efforts
By Ken Walker
     WASHINGTON (BP)--Despite a past pledge to not back anti-family movements, American Airlines markets to the homosexual community and actively supports pro-homosexual causes.A spokesman for American's gay and lesbian marketing division boasted of the airline's courtship of its homosexual constituency, in the April/May edition of a homosexual TV news program, "In the Life," aired on 120 Public Broadcasting System affiliates. Rick Cirillo said the airline is the first "Fortune 100" company to establish a department dedicated to the homosexual market.
     "Gay people need to look at who is really out there supporting the community and giving to the community," Cirillo told In the Life. "We're that airline."American's financial contributions to the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is one reason the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee dropped American as a recommended carrier for the SBC's annual meeting.
     American and Delta Airlines were announced Jan. 29 as offering discounted fares for those flying to Atlanta for the June 15-16 SBC sessions and various pre-SBC events.But the Executive Committee dropped its recommendation of American on Feb. 9, stating that the company had violated assurances it had given evangelical leaders last year that it would not support movements destructive of the family and society.
     According to "In the Life," American Airlines has actively courted the homosexual community for the past five years. In the Life, a pro-homosexual news and issues program, is aired in the nation's top 20 viewer markets, among its 120 public television station affiliates, according to information on its Internet site. Its financial backers include various individuals and the H. van Ameringen, Lily Auchincloss and Michael Palm foundations, and the Mitchell Gold Co. The one-hour April/May edition of In the Life spotlighted travel topics, with the lead story about "gay" cruise ships. The other five features included a segment titled, "Friendly Skies?" which lauded American's attempts to reach the homosexual market.
     American's stance has earned it the designation of the official airline for GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, In the Life reported, noting that the company netted $177 million in revenue last year from this market.
"An airline known for being something special in the air has taken off in its efforts to land the gay and lesbian travel dollar," said producer Paul Mueller. "American Airlines' efforts to reach the gay and lesbian consumer is more than just selling tickets." Later, Mueller added, "American has constantly drawn criticism" from evangelical and pro-family groups. "But even with the threat of a nationwide boycott looming, American hasn't given in."
     American was the first major airline to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and the first to initiate and sanction a gay and lesbian employee group, Mueller said.
American wasn't always so favored in the homosexual community. Five years ago, a crew ordered all the pillows taken off a flight carrying homosexuals from a rally in the nation's capital, Mueller said.But Mark Chestnut, author of "The Gay Vacation Guide," noted the company had turned around and become one of the most prominent seekers of homosexuals' business and supporter of their social causes."It's definitely in American Airlines' best interest to continue to support the gay and lesbian community and organizations, as well as targeting the gay market," Chestnut told In the Life. "Otherwise they wouldn't be doing it to such an extent."
     A Dallas-area woman who went through three weeks of training last year to become a flight attendant for American Airlines said homosexuality was a prevalent part of the atmosphere at its training facility. She finally quit the program, saying offensive behavior in many classes became too "gross." It included men often making effeminate gestures or crude jokes with sexual overtones, said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. When such remarks continued throughout one day, she asked another woman, "Is it me or are the homosexual overtones worse today?" "It's horrible," the other trainee replied. Two days later she decided to quit. When she explained why, a manager said, "I understand, but that's the way most of our people are."
     Emphasizing she was treated very well by American, the woman said nobody directly told her they were homosexual, nor was there any written policy supporting this lifestyle.
Still, she backs the SBC's decision to shun the airline for convention travel. "I think Christians or any organization has a right to boycott anyone they want to," she said. "If you hit people's pocketbook, that's the only thing that will change them. If you believe in something, it's our responsibility to ... stand up for what's right." Among other airlines mentioned during the In the Life segment, Delta received negative reviews for its reported link with Sandals resort in the Bahamas.
     A homosexual Atlanta computer consultant featured on the program said he had checked out a Delta-related vacation package on the Internet and discovered a prize offered in a Sandals' travel contest was reserved for heterosexual couples. "As competitive as the airline industry is today, I can't understand why an airline would suggest, 'Hey, you know what? We're not sure we really want your business,'" he said. "[They're saying], 'We'll gladly take your money, but we're happy to discriminate against you on this particular thing.'"
Among other complaints homosexuals aired on the program: "domestic partner" benefits aren't offered by any major airline, including American. Controversy between American Airlines and evangelical leaders began in 1997 when six evangelical leaders, including Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, appealed to the company in a full-page advertisement/open letter in The Washington Times and Dallas-Fort Worth-area newspapers to abandon policies that "promote homosexual behavior."
     The open letter to Robert Crandall, then-chairman of American, expressed opposition to what it said were policies "that give preferential treatment to homosexuals" and "marketing programs that advance the anti-family agenda of militant homosexuals and sponsor events where dangerous and even illegal activities occur." The letter, published June 4, 1997, in The Times, listed several examples, including:

-- officially sponsoring homosexual "circuit" parties that, according to The Advocate, a homosexual magazine, are AIDS fund-raisers in various cities that include open, illegal drug use and illicit sex.
-- contributing to homosexual organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign; Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
-- targeting the homosexual market, including providing discounts for "domestic partners" and for travel connected with homosexual celebrations such as Cherry Jubilee in Washington. (Although not cited in the ad, American was providing discounted air travel to Gay and Lesbian Day June 7 at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and was listed as the airline of choice in an Out magazine ad for a party at Disney-MGM Studios that night. Out is a homosexual magazine.)
-- instituting "sexual orientation" as a category, like race and gender, deserving protection in the workplace.

     In addition to Land, the open letter was signed by James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family; Beverly LaHaye, chairman of Concerned Women for America; Don Wildmon, president of American Family Association; James Kennedy, president of Coral Ridge Ministries; and Gary Bauer, then-president of Family Research Council. At the time, American Airlines issued a brief written statement in response:
"We are very sorry that these groups disagree with our company's policy of treating all customers and employees with kindness and respect."
     In subsequent negotiations, however, an accord was reached. But, in the February 1999 issue of the American Family Association Journal came the headline, "American Airlines Breaks Word." "American Airlines as a company looked us right in the eyes and promised to remain neutral on the issue of the gay agenda," said Allen Wildmon, AFA's director of public relations. In light of American's recent support of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Human Rights Campaign, however, Wildmon said, "It has become quite clear now that American had no intention of working with us." Bill Merrell, Executive Committee vice president for convention relations, in announcing that American Airlines was being dropped as a recommended carrier for the SBC annual meeting, noted the company had given $50,000 to the media awards of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, "which incidentally was nominating the play 'Corpus Christi' for an honor. That play depicts Christ as engaging in serial homosexuality with the disciples. That is nothing less than blasphemous." Merrill also noted, "American Airlines gave another $25,000 to the Human Rights Campaign [HRC], whose agenda includes legalizing same-sex marriage, removing legal obstacles to the adoption of children by homosexuals and granting special minority rights protection to homosexuals in housing and employment."

Art Toalston & Tom Strode contributed to this article.

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