If one of your favorite winter traditions is relaxing in front of a Hallmark holiday movie, you may have had a rough week.
The renowned holiday entertainment company has made headlines recently for first pulling a Zola commercial featuring a same-gender wedding from its networks, and then reversing that decision.
The commercial in question is silly, sweet, and utterly harmless. Two brides stand at the altar and, instead of proclaiming their love, wonder how using the wedding company Zola might have enhanced their wedding day. It ends the way wedding ceremonies usually do: with a kiss.
The commercial drew the ire of conservative group One Million Moms, which demanded Hallmark pull the ad for the sake of being “family-friendly.” To justify pulling the commercial, Hallmark said it didn’t accept “controversial” ads, and that the couple’s “public display of affection” violated its policies. According to a spokesperson: “The decision not to air overt public displays of affection in our sponsored advertisement, regardless of the participants, is in line with our current policy.”
But the idea that this policy would be upheld “regardless of the participants” fell flat: Hallmark allowed nearly identical Zola commercials featuring a different-gender couple to keep airing. Zola pulled its remaining commercials from the channel soon after.
After massive public outcry following their choice to pull the ad, Hallmark issued an apology and promised to do better.
“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,” said Mike Perry, President and CEO of Hallmark Cards, Inc., in a press release.
“Our mission is rooted in helping all people connect, celebrate traditions, and be inspired to capture meaningful moments in their lives,” Perry said. “Anything that detracts from this purpose is not who we are. We are truly sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused.”
Viewers might have been surprised to see Hallmark pull the commercial — because it’s practically 2020, for one, and because Hallmark has expressed being open to queer content in the past. Hallmark offers dozens of LGBTQ+-themed greeting cards, including numerous cards celebrating same-gender weddings.
The company has also received top marks on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, a report scoring companies on their LGBTQ+ equality and inclusivity — though HRC suspended Hallmark’s perfect score in light of the Zola decision.
Even when they had the higher rating, Hallmark had failed to be inclusive in situations beyond the Zola commercial misstep.
The network has been criticized for its failure to show diverse families and stories in its signature films. Earlier this month, it came to light that of the channel’s two dozen new holiday movies, zero would feature LGBTQ+ characters or stories, and only four would feature Black lead characters.
Bill Abbott, the CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, Hallmark's parent company, responded by saying the company was “open” to showing same-gender couples. That’s why Hallmark’s initial decision may have stung so much; shortly after LGBTQ+ families were told they might finally see themselves in Hallmark’s famous holiday stories, the same network deemed we aren’t acceptable on television at all.
Now that Hallmark has apologized, the network must turn its words into actions moving forward.
Hallmark says it will work with GLAAD to improve its LGBTQ+ representation efforts in the future, a welcome step after a decision that told many Hallmark viewers their own families weren’t “family-friendly” enough. Representation matters, and being told that a wedding like yours isn’t suitable for viewers takes a toll.
Gallup data from 2017 suggests there are more than 10 million LGBTQ+ people in the United States, and more than a million of them are married. In addition, at least two million kids have at least one LGBTQ+ parent. It’s no secret that the conservative definition of “family values” is at odds with what many families look like across the country. But for a company with Hallmark’s clout to say the same is deeply harmful to families — and people — of all kinds.
Legal recognition of queer relationships may be (relatively) new, but LGBTQ+ families are not. It’s long past time for us to see ourselves fully represented in society, in the media, and, yes, in commercials on the channels we turn to for a little holiday escapism. Hallmark did the right thing by changing course — now, let’s keep holding them to higher standards.