By Karen Johnson
Originally published on Babble
Highlights magazine is a time-honored publication that brings back fond memories of my childhood whenever I see it. And now that I’m a parent myself, I get to enjoy watching my kids’ excitement as theirs arrives in the mail. It’s a subscription we will absolutely be renewing in light of Highlights’ recent commitment to include same-sex parents in future editions. But unfortunately, while I celebrate the message this sends of diversity and acceptance, others are growing angry over it. In fact, according to a new online petition, One Million Moms is calling for Highlights mag to reverse its decision.
One Million Moms, which is a subset of the conservative American Family Association, says it’s committed to maintaining the “morality” of the traditional family (and therefore fighting against any progress made by the LGBTQ community). Therefore, they assert that it is not the place of a children’s magazine to push “liberal agendas” like acceptance of homosexuality on its readers. The choice of when to expose children to “social issues” like this one should be left to the parents, they argue.
A post by the group, titled, “‘Highlights‘ Magazine Has Caved to the Left” begins:
“Where is the last place parents would suspect their kiddos to be exposed to same-sex ‘families’ portrayed as normal? In the current controversy, Highlights magazine decided to include same-sex families in their magazines. Babies and preschoolers will soon be introduced to this sensitive topic in the Highlights line of magazines. Parents are seeing more examples of children being indoctrinated to same-sex families as normal, especially in the media. Children’s publications are no longer off limits, even those that cater to toddlers and elementary age children.”
But here’s the thing: Those of us who wish to expose our kids to all types of families (including those with gay parents) know full well that the parents behind One Million Moms likely have no intention of exposing their children to this kind of diversity. Ever. Their objective, as they’ve publicly stated, is to “protect” their children from the “decay of morals and values” that is homosexuality. There is no “when” this conversation will occur; there isn’t even an argument that children who read this magazine are perhaps too young for this type of conversation. One Million Moms (and other anti-LGBTQ sites like it) advocates against any conversation whatsoever surrounding this “social issue” — other than to to say it’s wrong.
The announcement from Highlights comes in response to frustration expressed by the LGBTQ community in October that no gay couples were ever featured in Highlights magazines. Sparking the conversation was a viral Facebook post by New York mom Kristina Wertz, who wrote on Highlights‘ official Facebook page after her partner’s written letter went unanswered:
“One of the reasons we appreciate Hello [Highlights‘ popular magazine for younger readers] is the diversity represented — families of all races, interracial families, and grandparents. We are consistently disappointed, however, in the complete lack of same-sex parents … I think a lot about the things that create culture – the subtle and not so subtle messages that our kids get about how the world works. Since becoming a parent, I feel keenly aware of the messages kids’ books send to tiny minds. There is a deep need for books that positively reflect back the diversity of the world around us and I hope that Highlights embraces that diversity because we would love to keep it in our little one’s life as she grows.”
Soon after, Highlights issued the following response to Wertz’s Facebook post — which appeased conservative readers, but angered the gay community:
“We understand your wish to see your family’s situation represented in Highlights Hello. For much of our readership, the topic of same-sex families is still new, and parents are still learning how to approach the subject with their children, even the very little ones. We believe that parents know best when their family is ready to open conversation around the topic of same-sex families.”
Negative backlash to Highlights’ response came swiftly. One reader commented that if “seeing same-sex families in Highlights would be traumatic, then those parents best stay out of our country’s malls, parks, restaurants, and movie theaters, because we are everywhere.”
And it seems that after further consideration, editor-in-chief Christine Cully has changed her tune. According to an email written by Cully and obtained by The American Conservative, the magazine “strives to be diverse in every way [by] show[ing] blended families, multi-generational families, and multiracial families … In the future, we will depict same-sex families in our magazines … in support of our mission to help children become their best selves and understand that all families, including theirs, are important.” (Babble’s emails to Cully went unanswered Tuesday.)
The company has also recently updated their website, clarifying Highlights‘ commitment to diversity and representation, saying:
“When we represent families (or any character) in the magazines, we make it a point to include diversity. We strive to be diverse in every way; the goal is not to specifically call attention to diversity but to represent it within the context of the magazine the way we always have to help kids understand that while differences exist, we are all actually more alike than different. Whether incorporating families headed up by a grandparent or single parent, or including adoptive families, blended families, same-sex families, multi-generational families, and multi-racial families, our depiction of families is in support of our mission to help children become their best selves and understand that all families, including theirs, are important.”
Following this news, it appears the parents behind One Million Moms are feeling betrayed by what they view as a loss of control on the issue. And they’re right: They don’t have control over the issue. Legalization of gay marriage is now national law. Now more than ever, gay couples can enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples. For a site that argues “parents are seeing more examples of children being indoctrinated to same-sex families as normal, especially in the media,” it’s not surprising to see their anger at yet another example of same-sex families being normalized.
As a parent, I too worry about what my kids are exposed to. I worry about their safety — my own kids and other children, as well. I am heartbroken when I hear of kids who are mistreated. (Abuse and neglect continue to plague our nation’s children, with 700,000 children abused on a yearly basis.) I also worry about bullying and the scary world of the Internet that we didn’t have growing up. And do you know who else I worry about? Kids who grow up learning to hate. My kids have gay relatives who love them dearly. I am sad for those who grow up indoctrinated to believe that kind, loving people are inherently bad, just because of who they love.
To raise kind and loving members of society, we must teach our kids to be kind and loving. And for my family, that now includes renewing our subscription to Highlights. I commend Christine Cully for showing all children that their families —regardless of what they look like — are normal.