The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Highlights children’s magazine to publish image of same-sex couple for first time after controversy

After accusations of homophobia late last year, the children’s magazine Highlights will include an illustration of a same-sex couple in an issue for the first time.

The image, which will appear in the February issue of the magazine, shows two men loading a station wagon for a family trip in an item that invites readers to send letters.

“Has your family ever taken a memorable family trip?” the text reads. “Tell us where you went and what you liked about it.”

The illustration comes after Highlights was accused of neglecting LGBT readers last year, and then criticized by conservatives for agreeing to include them.

“We did expect and received a backlash when we committed to becoming more fully reflective to all the different kinds of families out there,” said Christine French Cully, the magazine’s editor in chief. “We expect this will make some people unhappy. Our focus remains on creating the best possible content for children.”

The controversy began in October, when Kristina Wertz, an LGBT activist in a same-sex relationship, posted about the lack of same-sex couples in Hello, a magazine published by Highlights aimed at children up to 2 years old.

“One of the reasons we appreciate Hello is the diversity represented — families of all races, interracial families, and grandparents,” Wertz wrote on Oct. 14 in a widely shared Facebook post. “We are consistently disappointed, however, in the complete lack of same-sex parents in Hello magazine. . . . Since becoming a parent, I feel keenly aware of the messages kids’ books send to tiny minds. There is a deep need for books that positively reflect back the diversity of the world around us.”

Highlights responded Oct. 16, saying conversations involving same-sex families should be initiated by families.

“We understand your wish to see your family’s situation represented in Highlights Hello,” according to the statement. “For much of our readership, the topic of same-sex families is still new, and parents are still learning how to approach the subject with their children, even the very little ones. We believe that parents know best when their family is ready to open conversation around the topic of same-sex families.”

Faced with outrage, Highlights apologized the next day, saying its initial response wasn’t “reflective of our values, intentions or our position.”

“We want to reiterate that we believe all families matter. We know that there are many ways to build a family, and that love is the essential ingredient,” according to the statement. “This conversation has helped us see that we can be more reflective of all kinds of families in our publications. We are committed to doing so as we plan future issues.”

Highlights’ response sparked concern among frustrated conservatives, so the magazine clarified its position to say it doesn’t discuss relationships among adults. However, the magazine implied same-sex relationships would soon be in its pages.

“Whether incorporating families headed up by a grandparent or single parent, or including adoptive families, blended families, same-sex families, multi-generational families, and multi-racial families, our depiction of families is in support of our mission to help children become their best selves and understand that all families, including theirs, are important,” the statement said.

Highlights’ clarification did little to mollify some parents. On Dec. 21, One Million Moms, a division of the Christian advocacy group the American Family Association, posted ways for people to “urge Highlights to go with their initial decision and not cave into pressure from homosexual activists by including same-sex families in the magazines.”

“Many parents and grandparents buy subscriptions to these magazines as gifts, especially at this time of year,” the group wrote. “They should be warned of the upcoming change of content in these kids’ magazines. This would be a deal breaker for conservative families. Parents are left with no other choice than to cancel their subscription.”

One Million Moms was not immediately available for comment on the upcoming issue of the magazine.

Highlights, based in Columbus, Ohio, and Honesdale, Pa., was founded in 1946 by the same family that owns the magazine today, Cully said. Though the magazine included Bible stories in the 1940s and 1950s, it has been “nonsectarian” for decades, she said, including items on, for example, Jewish holidays and Ramadan.

Cully said the decision to include the image was not immediate, but wasn’t difficult, either.

“It was never a question of if,” she said, “it was always a question of when.”