Photo: Zola.com, via YouTube.
The Hallmark Channel has reversed course, reinstating four LGBTQ-themed ads from the online wedding registry Zola that had previously been pulled over concerns that airing ads showing same-sex weddings would hurt the channel’s “family-friendly” reputation.
The Hallmark Channel yanked four of six ads that had been slated to air during its Christmas-themed programming after social conservatives and anti-gay organizations began circulating two petitions demanding that the channel stop airing ads showing same-sex marriages. Those opposed to same-sex marriage argued that the ads were at odds with Hallmark’s attempt to brand itself as “family-friendly” entertainment.
The petitions were circulated by One Million Moms and Lifesite, a right-wing Catholic website, following comments by Bill Abbott, the CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, Hallmark Channel’s parent company. Abbott had expressed an openness to accepting scripts for new show dealing with different types of relationships — including, ostensibly, same-sex couples.
Related: Conservatives demand Hallmark Channel keep LGBTQ characters out of Christmas films
In its petition, One Million Moms pointed to a Zola ad showing a lesbian couple briefly kissing as evidence that the channel was already moving in a more pro-LGBTQ direction, and warned that, by allowing such content to be aired, Hallmark Channel risked losing Christian viewers who would be offended by the ad’s content.
In response, Hallmark Channel pulled the ads containing same-sex content, but allowed two others featuring opposite-sex couples to remain, with a spokeswoman classifying the same-sex ads as “controversial” and the debate over them a “distraction” from the channel’s purpose of entertaining.
“The Hallmark brand is never going to be divisive. We don’t want to generate controversy, we’ve tried very hard to stay out of it … we just felt it was in the best interest of the brand to pull them and not continue to generate controversy,” Molly Biwer, Hallmark’s senior vice president for public affairs and communications, told the Associated Press in a statement on Saturday.
The decision to pull the ads sparked outrage among LGBTQ groups and led Zola to pull all of its advertising from the channel.
“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,” said Mike Chi, Zola’s chief marketing officer, in a statement sent to the AP. “…All kisses, couples and marriages are equal celebrations of love and we will no longer be advertising on Hallmark.”
The LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD created its own petition urging Hallmark Channel to reinstate the ads and spoke out about the controversy on major news outlets, while also holding behind-the-scenes conversations with the Hallmark Channel. GLAAD also attempted to highlight One Million Moms’ previous actions, which involve calling for boycotts of businesses with LGBTQ-friendly policies, decrying representation or depictions of the LGBTQ community, and spreading misinformation about the LGBTQ community by claiming they are trying to carry out a covert agenda of normalizing homosexuality.
The decision to pull the ads also attracted significant criticism from talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and comedienne Sandra Bernhard, as well as other members of the LGBTQ community.
On Sunday, in response to the outcry over the decision to pull the ads, the Hallmark Channel reversed itself, with CEO Mike Perry issuing a statement calling it the “wrong decision.”
“Our mission is rooted in helping all people connect, celebrate traditions, and be inspired to capture meaningful moments in their lives. Anything that detracts for this purpose is not who we are,” Perry said in the statement. “As the CEO of Hallmark, I am sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused.
“Hallmark is, and always has been, committed to diversity and inclusion — both in our workplace as well as the products and experiences we create,” Perry added. “It is never Hallmark’s intention to be divisive or generate controversy. We are an inclusive company and have a track record to prove it. We have LGBTQ greeting cards and feature LGBTQ couples in commercials. We have been recognized as one of the Human Rights Campaigns Best Places to Work, and as one of Forbes America’s Best Employers for Diversity. We have been a progressive pioneer on television for decades — telling wide ranging stories that elevate the human spirit such as August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and Colm Tóibín’s The Blackwater Lightship, both of which highlight the importance of tolerance and understanding.
“Hallmark will be working with GLAAD to better represent the LGBTQ community across our portfolio of brands. The Hallmark Channel will be reaching out to Zola to reestablish our partnership and reinstate the commercials,” Perry concluded.
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis praised the company’s reversal, saying it “sends and important message” to LGBTQ people and organizations that would seek to attack them.
“LGBTQ people are, and will continue to be, a part of advertisements and family programming, and that will never change,” Ellis said in a statement. “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.”
Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, also praised the decision as the right thing” to do.
“After thousands of voices expressed their outrage over Hallmark’s decision, the company did the right thing by reversing this decision,” David said. “Now, Hallmark is on the right path forward. In conversations with the company on Saturday — and by mobilizing our grassroots army — the Human Rights Campaign was able to voice our community’s outrage and garner nearly 70,000 signatures to let Hallmark know that LGBTQ people won’t be erased. Now, the Human Rights Campaign looks forward to working with Hallmark to ensure that the company is one that lives into its values and pursues meaningful LGBTQ representation, both inside the workplace and in the content it creates.”
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