It’s a formula that viewers are familiar with: Guy meets girl, usually involving an accident where the girl pours a hot drink on the guy or otherwise injures him. Guy and girl engage in witty banter, and the girl offers to pay for dry-cleaning. Maybe the guy and girl are initially put off by each other, even if it’s clear that there’s chemistry after just one encounter. Fate keeps intervening to throw the guy and girl together; they get to know each other and eventually fall in love, only for miscommunication to push them apart. In the end, the miscommunication gets resolved, and the guy and girl live happily ever after.
Such is the typical plot of a Hallmark movie, but as of 2020, one key change has altered the formula — rather than guy meets girl, now it might be guy meets guy or girl meets girl. Over the past few years, Hallmark Channel’s content has started to include LGBTQIA+ storylines and characters. While these characters may not always be the main love interests, it is now common for there to be at least one non-straight couple featured in every Hallmark original movie. What makes this deliberate act of inclusion so unexpected is that Hallmark is known as a Christian company.
While being a Christian and an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, the gap between religion and sexuality can sometimes be wide. People have pointed to verses in the Bible that they allege condemn homosexuality, verses that purportedly state that the reason for marriage is to have children; however, even the Pope has been supportive of gay rights. Surely, Hallmark expanding its narratives to include gay representation was only the natural next step.
The first Hallmark movie to feature a non-straight couple premiered in the summer of 2020. “Wedding Every Weekend” centered on two straight people played by Kimberley Sustad and Paul Campbell, who have to attend four consecutive weddings. After running into each other at each of these weddings, they become friends and eventually something more. At one point, they encounter one another at a wedding for two women.
“Wedding Every Weekend” was a major milestone, and it was reflected in the reactions of viewers everywhere. Noting the traditional wedding kiss between the women, one viewer tweeted, “OMG. A KISS! Y’ALL! I’M LEGIT CRYING!! 😭😭😭 AND YES SHOUTY CAPS ARE NECESSARY!!” While promoting the movie, Campbell stated, “Love is love.”
One of the brides from the movie, played by Makayla Moore, noted, “It really reflects the world we live in now. It’s exciting to celebrate love in all its forms.” After the channel was urged to include more gay representation, George Zaralidis, the vice president of network publicity for Hallmark’s parent company, stated, “Diversity and inclusion is a top priority for us … We are committed to creating a Hallmark experience where everyone feels welcome.”
Of course, in addition to the praise, Hallmark also faced backlash from certain members of its conservative Christian viewership. The group One Million Moms felt “betrayed” by Hallmark and organized a petition in 2020 that asked Hallmark not to air its movies with LGBTQIA+ content, claiming that they felt “bombarded” by gay representation. The petition, which accrued thousands of signatures, included a Bible verse and a list of Hallmark products they would boycott in addition to the channel as a whole.
Regardless of criticism, Hallmark’s content continued to feature LGBTQIA+ storylines and characters. The first Hallmark movie to feature a non-straight couple in a prominent role was “The Christmas House,” in which a married couple invites their sons home for Christmas to decorate and, in the process, revive a past holiday tradition. The movie follows one son, Brandon (Jonathan Bennett), as he tries to adopt a child with his husband, Jake (Brad Harder).
Hallmark is far from the only company to feature gay representation on screen, simultaneously thrilling some viewers while alarming others. In 2016, the show “Once Upon a Time” on the Disney-owned channel ABC portrayed their version of Little Red Riding Hood falling in love with Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.” The co-creators of the show, Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis, stated that the “episode was just another example of how in a fairy tale, as in life, love is love.” The episode garnered much criticism for various reasons.
Likewise, in 2017, Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty & the Beast” portrayed Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad), as gay. Regarding a scene in which LeFou dances with a man, Gad himself expressed regrets, stating, “It was never intended to be a moment that we should laud ourselves for, because frankly, I don’t think we did justice to what a real gay character in a Disney film should be.”
Like with Disney, some viewers were bound to feel disappointed when Hallmark, too, included gay representation. However, just as it incorporated selfies and social media into its plots, Hallmark modernized, updating its movies to reflect the times by including non-straight couples — except, in this case, the implications were much more personal.
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community felt represented in the popular channel’s original romantic comedies. It was once unheard of for a Hallmark movie to mention divorce, or for a romance to be depicted between anyone other than straight white people. Now, many can identify with and relate to the various couples they see on the screen.
That being said, Hallmark’s minority representation is not perfect. The inclusion of at least one non-straight couple in every movie can feel overwrought, forced and even a bit performative. The characters can even seem stereotypical, similar to the hints of tone-deaf race-related stereotypes that sometimes seep into Hallmark storylines. Nonetheless, now more than ever, when gay rights are under attack in today’s society, it’s nice to take the wins when they come.
Hallmark shows that allyship from a Christian perspective is possible, giving hope that further advances are forthcoming, despite recent events like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill signed into law by Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, which prevents teachers from talking about sexual orientation in the classroom. When things seem bleak, the Hallmark Channel has rom-coms aplenty to lighten the mood and bring cheer, now truly for everyone to enjoy.