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Re/Max and General Mills mum, after pulling advertising support for programming featuring 'lesbian content'

September 10, 2011-- Big real estate and household companies are finding it increasingly difficult to protect credibility and appear socially responsible as gays and lesbians go 'mainstream.'

Conservative ideologues wage war on gay community via cereal and homes

In August, gay and lesbian blogosphere static rose to a fever pitch when it seemed that General Mills and Re/Max had yielded to pressure from a conservative family values group, the Florida Family Association (FFA), to remove ads from ABC programming. Citing moral incompatibility, The FFA took exception to the advertisers broadcasting on ABC because of young, lesbian characters featured on ABC's show, Pretty Little Liars.

The ABC show has received critical acclaim from gay activist groups for its realistic portrayal of the lives of several young, lesbian women. In July, the FFA, at the leadership of director, David Caton, began a campaign with the expressed aim of pressuring ABC to remove "...explicit lesbianism that is then presented to an audience of girls". In a letter, FFA's leadership has instructed members and followers to write letters to advertisers over what it perceives as a deviant, pro-gay message:

ABC using salacious and glamorizing scenes portraying young, pretty women as lesbians sends the wrong message to these young girls, a message that reinforces and legitimizes this homosexual lifestyle in a manner that could affect these young girls' sexual identity for a lifetime.

As one of the biggest television broadcasters in the country, ABC's lineup of popular, primetime shows attracts major advertising business from blue-chip corporations like General Electric and General Mills. Soon after the FFA's campaign against PLL began, Re/Max and General Mills pulled ads from ABC's airspace.

Unclear if Re/Max and General Mills acquiesced to FFA pressure

Though the FFA has declared a decisive victory over ABC's portrayal of alternative and gay lifestyles in shows like Pretty Little Liars and Modern Family, it remains unclear if Re/Max and General Mills were responding to pressure from the FFA or if it was mere coincidence that the ads were pulled.

The FFA, however, has reproduced documents and emails from Re/Max and General Mills that demonstrate their intentions to immediately remove advertisements that broadcast on ABC and during PLL.

On the official FFA website, David Caton posted an email from Re/Max CEO, Margaret Kelly, that seemingly confirms this:

We have looked into this situation and discovered that, while we purchase advertising on this cable station, we do not purchase advertising on that particular show. We have informed our media company to be sure to reference our list of shows that we do not want to advertise on....this show is on the list. This should not happen again.

According to this e-mail to Caton, Re/Max deliberately pulled advertisements from ABC per FFA's requests. At General Mills, a letter from the Director of Consumer Services, Jeff Hagen, to David Caton appears to affirm that General Mills also felt PLL's message didn't conform to their desired image as an ABC sponsor:

We have investigated this matter and confirmed that our advertising did air as you reported. We have informed ABC Family Channel and our agencies that Pretty Little Liars is not a program that we will sponsor.

According to this email, General Mills, a major producer of domestic brands, believes PLL is out of step with the values of their target audience.

Over at Autostraddle, a popular lesbian affairs blog and magazine, lead blogger "Rachel" was one of the first to break the story and has raised questions as to the legitimacy of Caton's claims to have proximally punished ABC and PLL:

Actually, it seems kind of improbable that General Mills and RE/MAX did, either - they're major corporations with nationwide presence, and one apparently minor organization in Florida seems unlikely to have much pull with them.

Since the story broke in mid-August, Re/Max and General Mills have been far from candid about their individual decisions to break with ABC over the content of Pretty Little Liars- if that is in fact what they did.

Fox News is now reporting that Re/Max and General Mills are scuttling to further disavow relations with Caton and FFA, and want to disabuse LGBT of the perception that they are homophobic. Decisively, neither business has responded directly to allegations that they were acting in accordance with FFA's requests, nor have they subsequently reaffirmed the statements they made to Caton in email.

What is clear is that both Re/Max and General Mills are struggling to navigate the myriad and disparate interests of their huge consumer bases, without damaging their reputations. General Mills has been quick to point out that Jeff Hagen isn't a public relations person and doesn't necessarily represent the views of General Mills as a whole.

Big real estate can't maneuver swiftly enough to satisfy client needs

This imbroglio is particularly injurious for Re/Max, as the housing market around the country continues to feel the effects of a deep recession. Additionally, the National Association of REALTORS recently amended language to its organization's bylaws that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. For gay advocacy groups and gay-friendly realtors, Re/Max's advertising fumble is untimely and irresponsible.

Gay and lesbian real estate business organizations and advocacy groups, like www.gayrealestate.com, are concerned that Re/Max's clumsy, vague response to FFA's backhanding tactics and the indirect insult on the gay community speak to a divided, irresolute business culture at Re/Max over issues native to the LGBT community.

Like ABC television, www.gayrealestate.com is committed to providing high quality, positive programming that prominently features lesbian and gay storylines-except in real life and in real neighborhoods. Gayrealestate.com is a real estate business expressly designed to better serve gay and lesbian clientele. A "big umbrella" approach to selling homes-like anything-can be impersonal and alienating, when it comes time to take sides. As a pillar of both the gay and real estate worlds, gayrealestate.com strives to build communities through listening, consensus, and understanding.


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