My friends, there’s no denying it: the political and social landscape of 21st century America is changing rapidly. On May 9, President Barack Obama publicly endorsed gay marriage, becoming the first American President to do so. On Saturday the 19th, the NAACP followed suit. These drastic endorsements in the political realm are significant milestones for the gay community – but even in light of such noteworthy advancements, we can’t forget to recognize the achievements of smaller, but equally important, organizations.
Finally, department and outlet stores have begun to integrate “non-traditional” families into the glossy pages of their catalogues. JC Penney’s May catalog features Wendi and Maggie, a “real-life same-sex couple… wearing wedding bands.” Dolled up in JC Penney garb, the couple is smiling, their arms around each other, as they hold their two daughters. (Of course, the women are both white and meet culturally determined standards of beauty. I suppose sometimes we have to pick our battles.)
JC Penney issued a statement explaining their advertising tactic: “As JC Penney focuses on becoming America’s favorite store, we want to be a store for all Americans. In celebration of Mother’s Day, we’re proud that our May book honors women from diverse backgrounds who all share the heartwarming experience of motherhood.”
Is this a victory for equity in media representation? Abso-freaking-lutely! Kudos, JC Penney, for helping to pave the way for LGBT-friendly advertisement. Other major stores have also followed suit. Gap recently debuted an ad campaign with two men cozied up inside one t-shirt, the ad proclaiming “Be One.” Again, we must look critically at this image – why are both men white and stereotypically “handsome?” – but nonetheless acknowledge its progressive attitude.
Individuals have questioned the sudden influx of gay individuals in commercial advertisements, and the answer is not always simple. Suddenly, department stores like JC Penney cannot afford to ignore or exclude a group of individuals that constitutes such a significant portion of our population. Regardless of whether their new advertising tactics are rooted in a desire for sales increases, political endorsement, or both, the fact remains that gay and lesbian individuals are finally beginning to get the representation they deserve.
Unfortunately, JC Penney’s and the Gap’s campaigns have elicited cries of outrage from certain groups – One Million Moms in particular. Decrying the ads on the grounds of religious heresy, One Million Moms stated “GAP Inc. Brands, including Old Navy, Banana Republic, Piperlime, and Athleta, do not deserve, nor will it get, money from conservative families across the country. Supporting GAP is not an option until they decide to remain neutral in the culture war. GAP needs to seriously consider how their immoral advertising affect the youth of our nation.”
So what should we take from this?
1. Department stores are finally publishing lesbian- and gay-friendly advertisements. HOORAY!
2. Oftentimes, these advertisements are not racially inclusive. They also continue to promote culturally acceptable standards of “beauty.” While we ought to applaud these stores’ progressive tactics, our work in calling out racial/beauty exclusivity is far from over!
3. When nationally-recognized stores like JC Penney and Gap advertise in a controversial manner, there will always be some degree of backlash from organizations like One Million Moms. That’s why it is so important that we praise these stores for their newfound tactics and continue to promote equity in advertisement!