Hallmark Channel has said it is in “active negotiations” to feature more LGBTQ-inclusive content during its 2020-21 holiday lineup.
It comes after the cable channel was accused of having no LGBTQ lead characters in any of the 40 movies announced for the “Countdown to Christmas” and “Miracles of Christmas” films scheduled for this coming holiday season.
In an emailed statement to NBC News, George Zaralidis, vice president of network program publicity at Hallmark’s parent company, Crown Media Family Networks, said Hallmark Channel was “committed to creating a Hallmark experience where everyone feels welcome.”
Zaralidis said the company was in “active negotiations” and would announce further details when they’re available, but said Hallmark Channel’s holiday lineup “will include LGBTQ storylines, characters and actors.”
“Diversity and inclusion is a top priority for us and we look forward to making some exciting programming announcements in the coming months, including announcements about projects featuring LGBTQ storylines, characters, and actors,” Zaralidis said.
Hallmark announced the titles for 18 of its 40 holiday films earlier this month, and received pushback online over fears that they would lack LGBTQ inclusion.
We are not free until a QUEER lonely careerist leaves the big city to run their small-town family business during the holidays and inadvertently falls in love with a generically good-looking person from their past. https://t.co/ei2zzVb6HX
— JP Larocque (@jplarocque) July 15, 2020
It’s not the first time Hallmark Channel has had to weigh in on LGBTQ inclusion.
Last year, Bill Abbott, the CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, told The Hollywood Reporter that he was open to expanding the network’s audience, leaving the door open to the possibility of airing a film featuring a same-sex relationship.
Abbott made the comments after Hallmark Channel was criticized for its lack of inclusion in casting, with only four of the channel’s 24 original Christmas movies featuring black leads. The channel was also questioned about its lack of representation when it comes to religious minorities and non-traditional families.
“In terms of broadening out the demographic, it’s something we’re always thinking about,” Abbott said at the time.
“Always considering and we’ll continue to make the movies where the best scripts are delivered to us and what we think have the most potential.”
After his comments were published, conservatives circulated two petitions demanding that Hallmark refrain from including LGBTQ characters, particularly as leads, in its holiday films and also stop running adverts supporting same-sex weddings.
They argued that LGBTQ-inclusive content runs counter to the channel’s self-branding as a network featuring “family-friendly” programming.
Hallmark responded to the petitions by pulling ads from wedding registry website Zola featuring same-sex weddings, with a spokeswoman classifying the same-sex ads as “controversial” and the debate over them a “distraction” from the channel’s purpose of entertaining.
However, subsequent backlash led to Hallmark reinstating the ads, with Hallmark CEO Mike Perry calling it the “wrong decision.”
After its ads were pulled, Zola’s chief marketing officer Mike Chi issued a statement saying the company would no longer advertise with Hallmark, adding, “All kisses, couples and marriages are equal celebrations of love and we will no longer be advertising on Hallmark.”
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