So you may remember back at the beginning of the year hearing something about a call to boycott the retailer J C Penney because it had hired Ellen Degeneres as a spokesperson? The group, calling itself “One Million Moms,” called for the boycott because Degeneres is “an open homosexual.” For me, this all just seemed too ludicrous to pay attention to, considering that Ellen Degeneres formally came out as gay in 1997. That’s fifteen years ago. Seems like maybe the shock would have worn off by now.
I get it – the boycott is an attempt to draw a line on what will be considered socially acceptable. A spokesperson here, a mayor there — this is how the boundary of the mainstream shifts. (The thought is, “We may not be able to eradicate homosexuality, but we certainly don’t have to encourage it. What happened to the good old days when we could imagine being gay was a rare disorder, because we didn’t ever see it around?”)
Well, Ellen commented, JC Penney’s CEO commented. The retailer retained her as spokesperson, saying, “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. And we think Ellen represents the values of our company and the values that we share.”
This week, Penney’s rolled out its Father’s Day ads, including the one beginning this post. The text reads, “First Pals: What makes Dad so cool? He’s the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver – all rolled into one. Or two.”
That reminded me of the lyrics to Laurelyn Dosset’s recent song against Amendment One here in North Carolina. One verse begins, “Father one or fathers two, your family is my family, too . . .”
Treating people fairly, following the Golden Rule, loving on dads, supporting each others’ families — that all makes me feel so happy and positive. It’s a much warmer feeling than rants against people, children, and families for being sinful, perverse, or socially undesirable. Draping a moniker of “one million moms” over this activist organization does little to add warmth, though it follows a general strategy of cloaking intolerance and ugliness in fuzzy family language. (Kind of like the ubiquitous line, “I love gay people more than anyone in the room, and it’s because I love them so much that I’m willing to tell the the truth — that they’re abominations and doomed to hell if they don’t change their ways.”) One Million Moms is actually a creation of the American Family Association, a group that agitates against pornography, abortion, religious diversity, and homosexuality, among other topics. Citing its “propagation of known falsehoods and demonizing propaganda,” the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) declared the AFA a hate group in November, 2010.
I don’t mind if people tell me they are struggling with their feelings about gay folks. I have many friends and family members who were raised absolutely convicted of the belief that being gay was a taboo as abhorrent as incest — that kind of ingrained disgust is not easily swept aside and it is not subject to rational argument. But I’m pretty tired of the rhetorical strategy that wraps a thin sheet of love and concern around that disgust. It is how we come to terms with our mainstream values containing both the Golden Rule – treat others as you would wish to be treated, and homophobia and racism – it’s OK to hate people who are different than you. Our mainstream has a mean stream.
Whatever you cloak it in, hating gay people leads to tragedy, like murdering a four year-old boy because he might be gay. Every person who pushes to keep homophobia a mainstream value has to share a little responsibility for such events. And every two-dad ad, gay spokesperson, and musical expression of solidarity moves the line a little bit.
So hey, free shipping over $50. Free shipping to stores. $15 polarized sunglasses. Really cool Havanera shirts. If you’re going to shop, feel good about it! http://www.jcpenney.com. And if you just want to call your local Penney’s store manager and say you like their Golden Rule approach, you can find the number here.