Fashionably gay! Department stores standing behind gay media representation

Editor's Note

by O'Neale Atkinson  Editor Emeritus  
Published: March 3, 2012 in Editor's Note

In February both JC Penney and Macy’s came under fire from the organization One Million Moms, a project of the American Family Association, (judging from their Facebook profile they appear to more accurately be 10,000 maniacs) for their public support of the LGBT community. JC Penney became a target for their endorsement of Ellen DeGeneres as the store’s official spokesperson and Macy’s had the nerve to put two groomsmen on top of a wedding cake in a wedding advertisement. Can you believe that?

Macy’s ad placement really should not have come as a shock to opponents of gay rights as the brand has made their stance on marriage equality very clear for a number of years. In 2008, Macy’s ran an ad stating, “First comes love. Then comes marriage. And, now it’s a milestone every couple in California can celebrate” following the Supreme Court of California’s ruling on Prop 8. Images of lesbian brides and gay grooms also appeared in store windows of Macy’s in 2010. Both of these campaigns were much more visible in comparison to the current Macy’s ad controversy which features the aforementioned wedding cake in the trunk of a car. The groomsmen are almost impossible to notice at a glance, which makes me wonder what the big deal is.

In response to the outcry from critics, Macy’s spokesperson Beth Charlton responded on Fox News saying, “We strive to embrace customers of all ethnic backgrounds, ages, races, faith traditions, genders and lifestyles through the products we sell and the content of our marketing.”

A little less subtle than the two groomsmen was JC Penney’s decision to make Ellen DeGeneres their new spokesperson. One Million Moms demanded that they fire Ellen simply based on her sexual orientation; a move that even Bill O’Reilly referred to as a witch hunt. Thankfully, JC Penney has stood behind their decision and the company has no intention of removing Ellen as their spokesperson based on her sexual orientation.

Ellen, who does not typically respond to criticism directly, took a moment on her show to address the issue. In her response, she stated, “I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. That’s what I stand for.” JC Penney’s CEO Ron Johnson reinforced their support of Ellen by telling CBS “Our company was founded 110 years ago on The Golden Rule, which is about treating people fair and square, just like you would like to be treated yourself. We think Ellen represents the values of our company and the values that we share.”

For a consumer-based organization to take a political or ethical stance can be a double-edged sword and many choose to stay silent or remain neutral. Granted, both of these organizations stand to gain by supporting the LGBT community and the potential for new consumers probably weighed heavier in their minds than the notion that they were standing up for social justice. Despite that, by taking a stance, they also risked alienating themselves from existing consumers who are opponents of equality, such as groups like One Million Moms. What I take from this is that both of these organizations value equality and recognize the importance of promoting this message, even if it means losing some of their existing customers.

Macy’s and JC Penney aren’t the only two big names backing marriage equality. In Washington state, large corporations are signing on to the Washington United for Marriage Business Coalition including Microsoft, Starbucks, Nike and Google just to name a few.

The 2012 North Carolina HRC Gala received major sponsorships from organizations such as Bank of America, Time Warner Cable and Wells Fargo, as well as local businesses Charlotte Magazine, Drake Dentistry and Duke Energy among many others. HRC maintains a list on their website of organizations which support equality and stand behind social justice issues. By utilizing resources such as these, we can help to send a message to more organizations that the LGBT community is watching what they do and that we are willing to support businesses that take a stance in favor for equality and inclusion.

While groups like One Million Moms will continue to demand that organizations exclude the LGBT community to diminish our presence, it is nice to see that big businesses are smart enough to disregard them and instead see a greater benefit in supporting our community. Help support these businesses and organizations by taking the time to let them know that you appreciate their support. : :