It seemed that Hallmark had rejected only the ads that showed a lesbian couple.
The move was a victory for a conservative group that petitioned against the commercials, which called them a blow to Hallmark’s “family friendly” reputation and gathered nearly 30,000 signatures. But the decision astonished LGBTQ advocates, who viewed it as a step backward from an iconic brand amid growing representation of different sexual orientations in media. Zola announced it would stop advertising with the channel.
By Sunday night, the owner of the Hallmark Channel had backtracked and apologized for the “hurt and disappointment it has unintentionally caused.” The company said it would reinstate the commercials, work to re-partner with Zola and enlist a nonprofit’s help to improve its representation of the LGBTQ community.
“Across our brand, we will continue to look for ways to be more inclusive and celebrate our differences,” said Mike Perry, president and chief executive of Hallmark Cards, which controls Crown Media Networks, the parent company of Hallmark Channel.
The channel, which did not respond to The Post on Sunday, said earlier that it pulled the ads because the debate they sparked “on all sides was distracting from the purpose of our network, which is to provide entertainment value.” A spokesman told the New York Times that the network followed its normal policies in choosing not to air ads with “overt public displays of affection … regardless of the participants.”
But Zola points out that Hallmark kept showing an ad that features a heterosexual couple kissing at the altar while rejecting a spot with two brides kissing. Its six commercials are similar in content, and Zola has run Hallmark ads depicting same-sex couples going back to 2017, spokeswoman Emily Forrest said.
“All kisses, couples and marriages are equal celebrations of love,” Mike Chi, the company’s chief marketing officer, said in a statement.
Zola’s ads featuring the lesbian brides are airing on more than 100 networks, Forrest said.
Opposition to these latest commercials had grown with a campaign by One Million Moms, a site that is run by a conservative group called the American Family Association and that bills itself as an advocate for parents “fed up with the filth many segments of our society, especially the entertainment media, are throwing at our children.”
Among the site’s other initiatives: urging a TV network to drop an “anti-Christian” show and encouraging Chick-fil-A to resume donations to organizations that oppose same-sex marriage.
One Million Moms asked Hallmark to reconsider commercials showing gay couples as other conservative groups rallied against the prospect of more LGBTQ representation on the channel.
A post on LifePetitions, which says its caters to the “pro-life and pro-family communities,” shares dismay at a leader for the Hallmark Channel’s parent company expressing interest in LGBTQ film pitches. It notes with approval that the channel has never featured a gay main character in the TV Christmas movies it’s known for, though a company leader recently told the Hollywood Reporter that Hallmark will consider gay leads.
One Million Moms says on its website that Bill Abbott, the chief executive of Hallmark owner Crown Media Family Networks, personally confirmed to the group that Zola’s ads with same-sex couples were “aired in error.”
“The call to our office gave us the opportunity to also confirm the Hallmark Channel will continue to be a safe and family friendly network,” the organization adds. “Praise the Lord!”
Representatives for Crown Media did not immediately respond to The Post’s inquiries.
As One Million Moms celebrated Hallmark’s decision as a success, others were incensed. Some turned to the hashtag #BoycottHallmarkChannel.
“Isn’t it almost 2020?” tweeted Ellen DeGeneres, the lesbian comedian and TV host known for breaking down barriers in the entertainment world. “ … what are you thinking? Please explain.”
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, an openly gay presidential candidate, said being “family friendly” is about “honoring love” rather than “censoring difference.”
“Families are built on love — no matter what they look like,” he tweeted.
Families are built on love—no matter what they look like.— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) December 15, 2019
Being “family friendly” means honoring love, not censoring difference. This truth will be more important than ever as we rebuild our nation into a place defined by belonging, not by exclusion. https://t.co/pl5B1BtIdf
LGBTQ advocacy groups condemned Hallmark, too. Human Rights Campaign said Sunday that 60,000 people had participated in its letter-writing campaign against the decision to drop the commercials. And GLAAD, a media-focused nonprofit, noted what it deemed a discrepancy between Hallmark’s actions and executives’ statements embracing more diversity in their programming.
Cutting the Zola ads 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,” GLAAD tweeted.
The organization also hailed Hallmark’s change of heart Sunday evening.
The reversal “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,” GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement.
Scrutiny of Hallmark comes as more media companies grow comfortable showing LGBTQ characters and families. A recent report from GLAAD says one in 10 series regulars on scripted, prime-time programming for the 2019-2020 TV season are part of the LGBTQ community, the highest percentage in GLAAD’s 15 years of tracking.
Another family-focused brand, the children’s magazine Highlights, made headlines in 2017 when it depicted a same-sex couple for the first time — to significant controversy.
“We did expect and received a backlash when we committed to becoming more fully reflective to all the different kinds of families out there,” Christine French Cully, editor in chief of Highlights, told The Post at the time. “We expect this will make some people unhappy.”
This post has been updated with more information about One Million Moms.