Today in the conservative outrage cycle: Over 30,000 people have allegedly signed onto a petition urging the Hallmark Channel not to produce Christmas films with gay leads.
The controversy began last week when Hallmark Channel CEO Bill Abbott was asked by The Hollywood Reporter’s “TV's Top 5” podcast whether the network — which is releasing three dozen holiday films this year with no LGBTQ+ characters in site — would consider a gay-themed Christmas movie in the future. While there is no such project currently in development, Abbott responded that he is “open” to the idea.
“We're open to really any type of movie of any type of relationship in any space,” he said.
After Michelle Vicary, the vice president of programming for Crown Media Family Networks (which produces Hallmark’s movies), added that the channel is “looking at pitches for [LGBTQ+] movies,” it set off a right-wing media firestorm. The evangelist news site Reformation Charlotte accused the “homosexual mafia” of turning Christmas “into something completely and totally perverted,” while Godfather Politics claimed the channel was bowing to the “demands of radical gay activists.”
Warning the channel could become “the next Chick-fil-A,” which recently discontinued donations to a handful of anti-LGBTQ+ organizations, the pro-life outlet LifeSiteNews launched a petition urging the Hallmark Channel to “keep sex and sexual practices — including the promotion of homosexuality, transgenderism, etc. — out of [its] movies.”
At publication time, LifeSiteNews claims the petition is a major success, with the website reporting that it “gained more than 25,000 signatures in less than one day.”
LifeSiteNews concludes that the numbers illustrate that the Hallmark Channel’s passing flirtation with inclusivity is a doomed venture. “As this viral petition demonstrates, there is very little demand for Christmas movies with an LGBT theme,” the site claims. “Quite to the contrary, there is significant opposition to the idea.”
While it would, no doubt, not be difficult to find 30,000 conservatives to oppose LGBTQ+ inclusion in media, it does not appear that such is the case here: The numbers seem to be fake. They have been grossly inflated in an attempt to reverse-engineer backlash.
To wit, individuals can sign the LifeSiteNews petition as many times as they want, so long as they list a new name and email address. For instance, Out was able to fill out the petition half a dozen times under names like “Rick Santorum,” “Audrey IV,” “Deacon Rumpy Pumpy,” “Rev. Mr. Kool-Aid Man,” and “The Ghost of Titsmas Past.” A few emails were rejected (email@example.com was sadly a no-go) but most others were accepted. The emails firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com were among those met with a cheery response.
“Thank you!” reads the screen indicating that an individual’s name has been added to the list. “Now help spread the word. Share this petition!”
The tactic of suspicious online petitions through shoddy signature gathering methods is so commonplace among right-wing groups on the internet that it’s become almost expected. It’s just what they do.
When the American Family Association launched a petition in February against the inclusion of a gay couple in a Walmart ad, the organization declined to opt into protocols that would prevent individuals — or bots — from signing it multiple times. NewNowNext signed under names like “Lucy McGillicuddy” and “Diego Montoya.” AFA claims over 172,000 people joined the call for a boycott, but the real number is, thus, likely to be a fraction of that.
But what makes these tactics dangerous is that news outlets often don’t take the time to fact-check them. When the AFA claimed “millions” signed onto its campaign opposing Target’s trans-inclusive bathrooms, The Daily Beast filled out the petition using names like “Cock Lover, Jr.” and “Dick Wetter.” However, The Washington Post and ABC News reported the AFA’s numbers without question.
When leading media gatekeepers don’t call B.S., it allows conservatives to write their own narrative, and that story has a way of sticking. As recently as May, the AFA still claimed that “over 1.5 million families have pledged to stop shopping at Target since it announced it would allow men to enter women's dressing rooms and bathrooms” and continues to take credit for dips in the company’s stock in recent years. Those downturns were actually due to competition from online retailers like Amazon.
A gay Hallmark Channel movie is purely hypothetical at this point, and the idea was always something of a longshot given that the network has one of the most reliably conservative audiences on television. But as LifeSiteNews’ petition numbers continue to rise through nefarious means, the decision as to whether executives decide if queer people get to celebrate Christmas, too, shouldn’t be determined by manufactured outrage.