Is The Hallmark Channel Making Good on Their Promise to the LGBTQ Community?

Shannon Ashley

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Barely a year ago, I wrote about Hallmark’s disastrous decision to pull a Zola commercial which happened to feature two women getting married. They swiftly pulled the ad in response to Conservative outcry against the so-called “gay agenda,” and then promptly apologized for that choice in response to the resulting backlash.

Last December, Hallmark learned a difficult lesson — nobody can play both sides forever. As long as Hallmark considers their brand a family-friendly space, they’ve got to decide if they’re for all families or only some of them.

And last year, Hallmark declared that they would choose inclusion, despite the protest of many Conservative voices. I should note, though, that there have been queer characters in Hallmark movies before. But their stories have definitely been sidelined and subdued.

Over the summer, Hallmark made a baby step into greater diversity by including its first gay wedding ceremony in one of their films. Of course, Wedding Every Weekend was still a decidedly heterosexual story. It focused on two people — a man and a woman — who fall in love as they attend four weddings in one month.

That said, the inclusion of a wedding ceremony between two women was a meaningful moment for many people, and it managed to spark the predictable outrage from those who don’t want to see queer romances on TV at all.

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Tweet text:
@hallmarkchannel: Get ready to watch an ALL NEW original #SummerNights premiere! See if sparks fly when Brooke @kimberleysustad meets Nate @ThePaulCampbell and they realize they’re attending the same weddings all month long. Tweet with us while you watch #WeddingEveryWeekend Saturday at 9pm/8c! https://t.co/haifTmiZte
Blessed: Nope. Hallmark was the only network families could watch without politics & social justice being pushed down our throat. Disappointed they caved to a few people. Millions of people viewers will not watch anymore.
@hallmarkchannel: We are proud of our movie, Wedding Every Weekend. Our priority at Hallmark Channel is to develop a broad mix of content, characters and stories in order to create a Hallmark experience where everyone feels welcome.

Well, now, just three months later, Hallmark’s Conservative critics have something else to complain about. This year’s countdown to Christmas lineup features a gay couple that’s much more front-and-center.

The Christmas House stars Hollywood veterans Treat Williams and Sharon Lawrence, with Robert Buckley from iZombie and One Tree Hill, Ana Ayora from Captain Marvel, Jonathan Bennett from Mean Girls, and Brad Harder from Aurora Teagarden Mysteries.

Its ensemble cast tells the story of three different couples at Christmas. One couple happens to be two men who are trying to become parents. It’s understandable that some people will still feel frustrated that the movie isn’t solely focused on the gay couple. I get that. On the other hand, others will appreciate the benefits of including a queer romance among two others. There’s a normalizing effect which means they’re just another couple at Christmas.

According to Buckley, who co-wrote and pitched the film to Hallmark, this was all by design:

“This feels like something that should have happened 20 years ago. I’m glad it’s finally happening. When I pitched the movie, I think it was the second thing I said because I wanted to be very upfront about it. It was really important to me that we show a gay couple in the exact same way we’d portray a straight couple. To me it was overdue.
“Pitching it, I pretty much led with that. I was thinking if they’re not on board, it’s cool, we’ll know right away, and also what a great reason to get shot down. But the opposite happened. Kate Redinger, an executive on Love in Store, had heard about this family tradition I had (of completely transforming our house for Christmas) and reached out to ask if I’d be interested in going to lunch and talking about it. I did, and she saw a movie there. So, a big tip of the hat to Kate as she was instrumental in this thing getting off the ground.
“I said, ‘I want my brother to be gay, married, and to show him and his husband doing all the things we’d show straight couples doing.’ They were like, ‘Great, let’s go further with that!’ I said, ‘How about they be in the process of adopting a baby?’ They replied, ‘Great!’ Throughout the development process, it was, ‘Give us more’. So, it was perfect timing. Hallmark was ready to change it up, and I was happy to get the opportunity to be the one to do it.
“It’s not by accident that the gay couple has all their ducks in a row. We didn’t want to shine a spotlight on them and make it be like a big thing. Just show them as a couple. It’s interesting as my character Mike is coming apart at the seams and his parents are having troubles, while his brother has it together.”

Hallmark made a very smart move by completely bypassing any coming out story and instead showing the couple already out, already married, and already accepted by their loved ones. That’s not to say coming out stories don’t matter — they do! But in terms of inclusion and treating gay characters like real people instead of token ones, this is the right move.

Now, it’s a holiday week here at the Ashley house. My daughter is off from school all week and I’m busy cleaning and reorganizing the house for a happier, less-cluttered Thanksgiving. But as soon as I knew I’d be writing this story, I put The Christmas House on my watch list and decided to give it a go today.

The movie’s rated TV-G, so, all audiences. My six-year-old watched it with me. I’ll be honest. As a former evangelical, watching queer characters with my daughter always feels strange. Conservative voices have long demonized and hypersexualized anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+. As you can see in the tweet below, some people actually consider a G-rated depiction of gay marriage to be “more graphic content.”

It’s amazing, and yet, I get it, because I was raised to have the same mindset. Which means it’s weirder for me than it is for my child. She didn’t blink, flinch, or anything. It really was just another wholesome Christmas movie. I’m the one with the old evangelical baggage in my head.

People who oppose homosexuality have a hard time seeing the irony that they’ve sexualized gay love or marriage while declaring heterosexual affection to be family-friendly and not sexual at all.

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Tweet text:
@hallmarkchannel: There are so many changes happening within the Mitchell family! Who else is hoping that this Christmas at #TheChristmasHouse won’t be their last? 🏠#CountdowntoChristmas https://t.co/GLQQWACC2f
Stacey: Won’t be watching Hallmark now
Victoria: No one cares, honey.
Vintage Peony: Actually many do! Many PAY for this channel in order to NOT see certain content just like other people pay for other channels to see more graphic content. Hallmark was special. What makes it special now? I can see this stuff everywhere else. Why pay anymore?

Weird. Am I supposed to cover my daughter’s eyes from seeing a gay couple kiss? I guess we’re just gonna ignore all the kissing in every straight Hallmark family movie?

Coz there’s a lot of it. And sometimes, even strangers end up making out in those movies. Guess that’s not sexual as long as nobody’s gay?

At any rate, yes — we watched the movie, and it was the stereotypical feel-good Christmas movie that we’ve all come to expect from Hallmark.

Was it cheesy? You bet. Was the acting top-notch? Come on, folks, it’s a Hallmark movie. Nobody watches the Countdown to Christmas films for the superb thespian performances. They watch it because it feels good and familiar.

In my book, Hallmark Christmas movies are just one more guilty pleasure. And people need that at the holidays — especially this season. I’m so glad that more people will be able to see themselves in it this year.

Though if One Million Moms had their way, well, Hallmark would suffer for doing the right thing. The Christmas House and Hallmark is just one of their latest boycott targets.

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Let’s be honest. Hallmark still has a very long way to go in terms of inclusion. Overall, their stories are still predominantly white, wealthy, and straight. But that doesn’t mean things can’t change, and I can certainly appreciate that the moviemaker we all thought was so conservatively Christian is making an effort to be more diverse despite upsetting much of its fan base.

I think this attempt was a good one. It didn’t fall for the typical queer TV tropes. The gay men got to exist without any commentary or scrutiny about “alternative lifestyles.”

I noted the healthy and happy sibling rivalry among the two brothers in the movie, and I liked how the topic of homosexuality never actually came up. There weren’t jokes at the expense of the gay brother. Again, these two gay men were allowed to exist without talking about being gay. Or being talked about. When the whole family went over to a neighbor’s house for tamales, there was only love and I know there are many people in the real world who need to see that in the movies.

Heterosexual people have always seen themselves in movies, books, and television. The same thing goes for white people and slim women. Watching the film certainly wasn’t a perfect representation of marginalized voices, and to be honest, I think there could have been more scenes with Jake and Brandon. But representation is a collective thing and not a one-time occurrence.

This is still a step forward, and in today’s cultural climate, I do see it as a big win.

Hallmark didn’t have to do this. They really could have leaned into the Conservative outcry. I’m glad they didn’t, and I really hope the love people have for this new Christmas classic will encourage Hallmark to keep coming out with more diverse tales.

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Single mama, full-time writer, ex-vangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. I cover real-life issues, like family, parenting, relationships, and spiritual abuse.

Cleveland, TN
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