Between the Lines: Big Bullies
While the rest of America celebrated the holidays by briefly escaping the workload that now, once again, dominates their lives, one unlucky group never got the chance to take a day off.
I’m not talking about the beleaguered clerks at the Big Box stores that never seem to close, but, instead, those valiant defenders of virtue at the American Family Association (AFA). They were busy trying to stop elves from cavorting with a known lesbian.
In December, One Million Moms, the inexplicably angry online village founded by the AFA, inveighed against J.C. Penney for a holiday ad featuring spokeswoman Ellen DeGeneres.
“JCP has made their choice to offend a huge majority of their customers again,” Moms said in a statement. “Christians must now vote with their wallets.”
Hyperbole is nothing new for the AFA satellite army. When Penney first hired DeGeneres last February, Moms blasted the retailer for “jumping on the pro-gay bandwagon.” Back then, the nasty broadside was wearying, though predictable.
This time, it was just stupid. In the holiday spot, DeGeneres talked gift-shopping with a trio of Santa’s elves. Scary, right?
Reasonable people can disregard the ramblings of a belligerent splinter group (as DeGeneres herself noted, you have to wonder about an organization that calls itself One Million Moms but can barely round up 50,000 Facebook followers). But I continue to be bewildered by the obsessive, mean-spirited activism of the American Family Association itself.
Since its founding in 1977 by a Methodist pastor in Mississippi, the AFA (whose mission is to rid the nation of “ungodliness and depravity”) has sprayed its venomous indignation like buckshot, boycotting any group that bears the faintest whiff of gay inclusion.
Among its countless targets: the Walt Disney Co., for promoting “the homosexual agenda” by providing health coverage for employees in same-sex relationships; the American Girl doll company, for supporting the non-profit youth organization Girls Inc., which it called “a pro-abortion, pro-lesbian advocacy group.”
AFA has also turned its sights on Hallmark, for offering same-sex wedding cards on its racks; the Ford Motor Co., for advertising in gay publications and sponsoring gay pride celebrations; Archie comic books, for allowing its first openly gay character to marry another man in one of its stories; McDonald’s, for joining the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce; and the Campbell Soup Co., for buying an ad in a gay magazine that featured a presumably lesbian couple and their son enjoying a bowl of butternut squash bisque.
These people must be exhausted.
Though the AFA has largely gone after corporations that have the means to fight back, it crossed the line in late 2012 when it chose a new and more defenseless kind of victim: children.
In October, National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, it launched an offensive against Mix it Up at Lunch Day, an 11-year-old national program that encourages kids to seek out new friends in the cafeteria as a way of keeping cliques—and bullying—at bay.
The AFA decried the program as “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools,” and it asked parents to file protests or keep their children home from school on that day.
Supporters of AFA’s efforts argued that anti-bullying campaigns focus too heavily on protecting gay and questioning youths at the expense of non-gay bullying victims. But the fact is, numerous studies—including a survey by researchers at Harvard—have determined that gay kids are one to two times more likely to be bullied than straight kids, and between two to four times as likely to attempt suicide. It is a problem within a problem.
The AFA boycott was ultimately unsuccessful—only about 200 of the 2,500 participating schools reportedly canceled the day’s events—but it underscored the shameful irony at the heart of the brouhaha: that the American Family Association has now, in effect, become the nation’s reigning bully, preying on those who are different.
One would think that the AFA might learn a thing or two from the election season polls, which revealed that most citizens are turned off by negative attacks and, likewise, by those who would pry into their personal lives, including their sexual preferences. One would also think that the AFA might learn a lesson from last month’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn.: that our children are not only precious to us but also frighteningly vulnerable, and undeserving of being anyone’s prey.
It’s time to ask the AFA to stand down. Despite its self-appointed, McCarthy-like crusade to transform this nation into its own image, America doesn’t need its help, thank you.
Bruce Kluger contributes to Parenting, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and National Public Radio.