It is now legal for same-sex couples to marry and to adopt in all 50 states, yet LGBTQ families are all too often still missing from the entertainment and media landscape.
Children’s magazine Highlights has now learned the hard way that people are beginning to pay more attention to this type of erasure and will not roll over when weak responses are offered to questions of a lack of true inclusion.
Parents Kristina Wertz and Kara Desiderio contacted Highlights‘ customer service department in September to express concern that their one year old daughter did not see her family represented in her favorite magazine, according to a statement from Family Equality Council.
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The couple received no response until they expressed their concerns on the publication’s Facebook page.
“My partner emailed you about the lack representation of LGBT families in Hello magazine last month and we have not received a response,” Wertz wrote. “Our one year old daughter loves Highlights! She carries her magazines all over the house and we read them countless times a day. One of the reasons we appreciate Hello 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 in Hello magazine. 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.”
The response, which follows, quickly sparked a backlash:
Hi Kristina, thanks for your message!
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.
Please be assured that it is very important to us that every child see his or her “face” in the pages of our magazines at some point—that every child feels that Highlights is truly for them. We will continue to think deeply about inclusion —specifically, how to address it in developmentally appropriate ways for our broad audience. Your note is a good reminder of how important it is.
Comments on the post came pouring in from other readers expressing their disappointment with how the concern was handled by the magazine’s editors.
The editors realized they had stepped in it and tried to mitigate the damage by releasing another statement, saying it was not a matter of “if” but “how” and “when” they would begin representing LGBTQ families, as if it was a difficult riddle to solve.
“I have fond memories of reading Highlights as a child,” said Anthony Martinez, communications director for Family Equality Council, a national organization working towards equality for LGBTQ parents and their families. “It is painful to look at the statements that were issued by Highlights, especially the one that calls LGBTQ families a ‘situation.’ It is obvious that the staff is in need of education, and we hope that they will take our invitation to work with our organizations towards educating their staff and developing age-appropriate content.”
Highlights followed up their Facebook posts with an official statement on their website, reading:
In the last several days, Highlights for Children has received many comments and questions about representing LGBTQ families in our magazines. In our initial response, our words weren’t reflective of our values, intentions or our position, and we apologize. We want to assure you that we have read every message and are listening carefully.
For those of you who know us—who read Highlights magazine as a child or have given it to a child—you know we have a long history of promoting inclusion and sensitivity. How to do this better and in a way that resonates with today’s kids is an ongoing dialogue in our editorial meetings—and has been for 70 years. Our mission never changes: To help kids become their best selves—curious, creative, confident, and caring. But we are constantly evolving. It may seem to some that we are evolving too slowly.
We want to reiterate that we believe all families matter. We know that there are many ways to build a family, and that love is the essential “ingredient.” This conversation has helped us see that we can be more reflective of all kinds of families in our publications. We are committed to doing so as we plan future issues.
As difficult as these past few days have been, we are always grateful for reader feedback.
Time will tell if the inclusion the editorial team says they are committed to promoting will come to pass. If nothing else, they now know people are watching the situation closely and expect results.
“We have indeed shown LGBTQ families and stories,” wrote Stephanie Hoaglund of Cricket Media’s media relations department. “Our magazines continually feature content that tries to honestly represent the experiences of kids today.
“Cicada, our magazine for kids 14+, continually strives to represent teens in the LGBTQ and other underrepresented groups. Cricket Magazine, our magazine for kids 9-14, also has many examples but you can look to the Jan 2005 issue of Cricket, where we answered a question by one of our young readers recognizing all types of families. And also included an activity about creating your family tree that recognized all types of families.
“These are just a few of the examples where we represent the lives and experiences of kids honestly.”
See, Highlights, it can be done. Your competition figured out how to do it over a decade ago. Your move.