Hallmark Channel pulls, then reinstates ads featuring kiss between lesbian brides

By : John Paul King OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL LGBT MEDIA ASSOCIATION
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At the end of a tumultuous week for The Hallmark Channel, the pay television network has announced it would reverse its decision to pull several ads featuring a same-sex kiss.

The controversial commercials were among a series of six ads for Zola, a wedding planning website, which had been airing on the Hallmark Channel since Dec. 2. In all of the ads, couples standing at the altar for their wedding wonder if guests might have arrived on time and bought them better gifts if they had used Zola to create a custom wedding website. Most of the ads include a same-sex couple; while only one focused specifically on the lesbian brides, the two women were shown kissing in several of them.

According to the New York Times, the ads which featured same-sex kissing were pulled after the channel deemed their content “controversial.” The decision was made by executives at the network after the anti-LGBTQ hate group, “One Million Moms,” published a petition urging Hallmark to “please reconsider airing commercials with same-sex couples.”

One Million Moms is a division of the conservative American Family Association, an organization that defines its mission as the “fight against indecency,” and which has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group for the “propagation of known falsehoods” and the use of “demonizing propaganda” against LGBTQ people.

Following the posting of the petition, anti-LGBTQ comments began to flood Hallmark’s online message board, such as one from an unnamed user who said, “Why would you show a lesbian wedding commercial on the Hallmark Channel? Hallmark movies are family friendly, and you ruined it with the commercial.”

On Thursday, Hallmark notified Zola via email that it was pulling four of the ads – the ones featuring a kiss between the two women – because the channel is “not allowed to accept creatives that are deemed controversial,” according to an account representative from the television network.

On Friday, a Hallmark Channel spokesman implied in a statement that “overt public displays of affection… regardless of the participants,” was against the network’s current policy. However, later that evening, Hallmark’s parent company, Crown Media Family Networks, issued a statement saying, “The debate surrounding these commercials on all sides was distracting from the purpose of our network, which is to provide entertainment value.”

The response from Zola was one of both surprise and skepticism. The company’s chief marketing officer, Mike Chi, commented that Zola had previously run ads featuring same-sex couples on the channel without incident. He also observed that the ads including kisses between same-sex couples were allowed to remain on the air.

Chi pointed out, “The only difference between the commercials that were flagged and the ones that were approved was that the commercials that did not meet Hallmark’s standards included a lesbian couple kissing. Hallmark approved a commercial where a heterosexual couple kissed. All kisses, couples and marriages are equal celebrations of love and we will no longer be advertising on Hallmark.”

Outcry was swift from the LGBTQ community and its advocates.

In a statement from GLAAD, president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said “The Hallmark Channel’s decision to remove LGBTQ families in such a blatant way is discriminatory and especially hypocritical coming from a network that claims to present family programming and also recently stated they are ‘open’ to LGBTQ holiday movies. As so many other TV and cable networks showcase, LGBTQ families are part of family programming. Advertisers on The Hallmark Channel should see this news and question whether they want to be associated with a network that chooses to bow to fringe anti-LGBTQ activist groups, which solely exist to harm LGBTQ families.”

In addition, GLAAD created a petition calling on the network to reinstate the ads.

Pro-LGBTQ voices also took to social media. The hashtags #boycotthallmark and #BoycottHallmarkChannel trended on Twitter over the weekend, with one commenter including a graphic featuring the word “Homophobic” using the same font and crown design used by Hallmark in its own branding.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, Hallmark president and CEO Mike Perry issued a new statement, saying, “The Crown Media team has been agonizing over this decision as we’ve seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused. Said simply, they believe this was the wrong decision.”

The statement goes on to stress Hallmark’s commitment to “diversity and inclusion,” saying it has “the track record to prove it” and citing its publication of LGBTQ greeting cards, previous commercials featuring same-sex couples, and recognition it has received from HRC and Forbes for its inclusive business practices. It also announces the company’s plan to work with GLAAD on how “to better represent the LGBTQ community,” as well as its intention to reinstate the commercials from Zola.

Shortly afterward, GLAAD issued a statement, with Ellis saying, “The Hallmark Channel’s decision to correct its mistake sends an important message to LGBTQ people and represents a major loss for fringe organizations, like One Million Moms, whose sole purpose is to hurt families like mine. LGBTQ people are, and will continue to be a part of advertisements and family programming and that will never change. GLAAD exists to hold brands like The Hallmark Channel accountable when they make discriminatory decisions and to proactively ensure families of all kinds are represented in fair and accurate ways.”

Speaking on CNN immediately after Hallmark’s announcement was released, Ellis confirmed Perry’s statement that Hallmark and GLAAD would be working together, saying, “We’re talking with them, we’ve been talking with them all weekend, because they want to do the right thing, and I think that the quick decision was the right thing. And now we have to watch and see what they do in the future.”

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