(CNSNews.com) - The organizers of a bisexuality conference that featured nudity and workshops on how to host orgies misrepresented their relationship with American Airlines (AA) when they claimed the company was a sponsor of the summer event in San Diego, Calif., according to both the airline and a conference official.
The North American Conference on Bisexuality (NACB) claimed American was a sponsor of its August 21-24 convention, giving sponsorship credit to AA and placing the company's logo on the conference Internet website.
The airline and its parent company, AMR Corporation, faced criticism from some for its affiliation with the conference after having laid off thousands of employees this year and generating more than $1 billion in business losses during the first six months of 2003.
When asked whether the airline's role in the conference had been misrepresented, American Airline spokesman Tim Kincaid replied: "Yes."
"We were not a sponsor of the conference. We didn't provide any money or free tickets, signage or any other support to the conference," Kincaid said. "What we did do, just like we do with hundreds of other meetings of all kinds, is provide a group discount for travel for attendees to and from the event."
NACB organizer Luigi Ferrer attributed the misrepresentation to a matter of "semantics," explaining that the airline provided "the standard travel discount that they give everybody."
The erroneous sponsorship claim came to light following a September 2 report by CNSNews.com, resulting in the airline contacting conference organizers and demanding that the AA logo and any sponsorship affiliation be removed from the NACB website.
Kincaid admitted he was "a little surprised" to see the NACB portray AA as a sponsor. According to Kincaid, the airline provides the same group travel discount to any group of nine or more travelers requesting it. For the airline to be considered a sponsor of any event, Kincaid said it must first undergo a corporate vetting process, which Kincaid said the NACB did not.
However, Ferrer said American is still considered by his organization to be "the official airline for the conference" in exchange for offering a 10 percent discount on airfares for people attending.
The NACB was also eligible for a free travel voucher for every 20 tickets purchased by conference attendees, but Ferrer said that threshold was not met.
"AA does not consider this a sponsorship because they are not providing cash for the event," Ferrer said. "We put them on our list of sponsors because we, as a small non-profit organization, don't make those fine distinctions and because 'sponsor' was what we called anyone who, in one way or another, helped us with the conference."
AA popular among homosexual advocacy groups
The misrepresentation of American Airlines' role in the bisexuality conference may have been spawned by semantics or formalities, but the company's affinity among homosexual advocacy groups is readily evident.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an advocacy organization for homosexuality and bisexuality, gave AA a perfect score in its most recent Corporate Equality Index, which rates the policies of U.S. companies as they relate to homosexual employees and consumers. AA earned the same distinction from the HRC in 2002.
The airline was also singled out for its creation of what the HRC called "an entire GLBT national marketing and sales team," referred to as "The Rainbow TeAAm," according to a statement published on the Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Bi-Sexual Employees at AMR (GLEAM) website.
"Each member is a specialist in gay and lesbian travel and works with community groups and organizations to handle a broad range of travel needs," reads the statement.
Another statement on the GLEAM website heralds the airline being named as the recipient of an HRC award for "corporate equality."
"American Airlines has been named the official airline of many of the organizations important to our community," the statement read. "In addition to the HRC, American serves as the official airline of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Astraea National Lesbian Action Foundation and many others."
Kincaid said AA did not solicit official airline status with the HRC and the other groups, but that they did have what he called a "business relationship" with those groups. "They provide us with business, and we provide them with attractive rates," Kincaid said.
The GLEAM website notes near the bottom of its home page that "GLEAM is a recognized Employee Resource Group (ERG) of the AMR Diversity Advisory Council" but informs visitors: "These web pages are not sponsored, funded or endorsed by the AMR Corporation or any of its affiliate companies."
According to the AMR corporate website, other ERGs include those representing African Americans, Asians, Christians, Jews, Hispanics, Muslims, disabled people and other persons.
A WHOIS search of GLEAM's Internet domain name showed "GLEAM - GLBT Employees of AMR" as the website registrant and lists a registration address a few miles west of Dallas - Fort Worth International Airport, a major hub for American Airlines.
The GLEAM website also includes a notation that invites visitors to send correspondence about GLEAM to an American Airlines e-mail account address.
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