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A Round of Applause for the 'Million Moms' and Their Anti-Gay Campaign... Seriously

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The LGBT community owes a great big thanks to the "One Million Moms" (actually, closer to 40,000) for launching the best LGBT-friendly public relations blitz the community has seen in ages, and battering Christian conservative's image in a way the LGBT community could never hope to do.

Not since Rick Perry's "Strong" has an anti-gay campaign played out so poorly for the instigator and so well for the target. This tiny subgroup of the hate group American Family Association recently declared war on arguably America's most popular and likable lesbian, Ellen DeGeneres. The group, reacting to the news that DeGeneres would serve as a new spokesperson for JCPenney department stores, sent out this alarm to "family values" conservatives nationwide:

DeGeneres is not a true representation of the type of families that shop at their store. The majority of JC Penney shoppers will be offended and choose to no longer shop there. The small percentage of customers they are attempting to satisfy will not offset their loss in sales.



JC Penney has made a poor decision and must correct their mistake fast to retain loyal customers and not turn away potential new, conservative shoppers with the company's new vision.



...



By jumping on the pro-gay bandwagon, JC Penney is attempting to gain a new target market and in the process will lose customers with traditional values that have been faithful to them over all these years.

The irony is rich in another part of their release: "Unless JC Penney decides to be neutral in the culture war then their brand transformation will be unsuccessful." JCPenney can only demonstrate their "neutrality" by firing Ellen for being gay? If that's neutral, what's gay-hostile?

In this move the One Million 40,000 Moms have demonstrated that these days, the term "traditional values," as defined by the religious right, is really just code for capricious, indiscriminate cruelty, bigotry, divisiveness, and cowardice. And America saw it as exactly that.

Now, one doesn't get named to the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of hate groups without constantly taking cheap and ugly shots at someone or something. And this latest poutage over yet another sign of the impending apocalypse (lesbians shilling t-shirts for a family department store!) could have gone mostly unnoticed by mainstream culture, as have their wars on Walgreens and Macy's.

But it it was the absolute absurdity of casting the innocuous, likable, almost painfully inoffensive DeGeneres as some sort of radical warrior in the deviant homosexuals' nefarious plan to destroy all things wholesome and American that really made America stop, take notice for just a moment and say, "WTF are these crazy people talking about?! Ellen? They hate Ellen? Really?! Ellen?!"

Now, admittedly, the One Million 40,000 Moms got a little help from GLAAD, who swiftly launched a "Stand Up for Ellen" campaign. This likely drew more attention to the story than the moms could have ever have hoped to draw themselves.

Though GLAAD's ostensible call to action was to persuade JCPenney not to fire Ellen, there may have been an ulterior motive. It's entirely possible that the crew at GLAAD didn't seriously worry about Ellen's continued employment with JCPenney. Ellen would be fine either way: she's rich, she's famous. But GLAAD's messaging picked up on the fact that what the moms were calling for, firing someone for being LGBT, is perfectly legal in most of the United States for those of us who aren't rich and famous already (despite polls showing 90 percent of Americans believe it is illegal). It was a "teachable moment" for America.

We certainly can thank the One Million 40,000 Moms for cooking up a scheme that had enormous amounts of Fail baked right into it from the start. I'm sure JCPenney knew Ellen was a lesbian when they hired her; it isn't a state secret. It's probably a safe bet they actually thought that through before they inked the deal.

Ellen's LGBT activism, like her humor, has always come with soft edges. It's hard to imagine in 2012 what a brave act it was for her to come out in 1997, when she was the star of a major network sitcom. But she was executing the simple act of activism that Harvey Milk tasked LGBT people to do two decades before: "come out." She told Diane Sawyer at the time, "For me, this has been the most freeing experience, because people can't hurt me anymore." And it was that act, by her -- and millions of others -- that inoculated her from this attack. There was a time no major sponsor would touch a gay star. But those days are long gone.

There never was any doubt that JCPenney would brush off the One Million 40,000 Moms. When JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson spoke to CBS News, he called it a "no-brainer" and dismissed that there was even a controversy to be debated. The Moms couldn't have looked smaller or more irrelevant when Johnson said, "[W]e stand squarely behind Ellen as our spokesperson, and that's a great thing. Because she shares the same values that we do in our company. Our company was founded 110 years ago on The Golden Rule, which is about treating people fair and square, just like you would like to be treated yourself."

We can also thank the One Million 40,000 Moms for not being as bright as the average high school bully. Even teenage high school bullies know that if you're going to pick on someone, pick on someone no one likes (because you'll get away with it a lot longer). And America wasn't going to let the One Million 40,000 Moms get away with this.

That is another immense level of Fail the One Million 40,000 Moms really should have seen coming. Just last year the New York Times reported that it isn't just the LGBT community that likes Ellen; America likes her. A lot. A whole lot. The Times described how Warner Brothers and NBC, in mapping out the future of daytime TV in 2010, conducted research into Ellen's market popularity. They knew they had a winner in Ellen, but still, her popularity as measured by a media research firm "startled" them: "The 52-year-old Ms. DeGeneres is seen as relaxed and relatable. Already, she is seen as more likable than Ms. Winfrey, according to the Q Scores Company, which measures consumer preferences." Moreover:

"When the Magid panelists were surveyed about their attitudes toward daytime hosts, Ms. DeGeneres was in a virtual tie with Ms. Winfrey, even though there is a ratings lag, according to Steve Ridge, president of the media strategy group for Magid.



"Ellen already has equity with daytime viewers, which is worth its weight in gold," he said.

Oh, one suspects the folks over at GLAAD might not have worried as much about Ellen's future with JCPenney as about seizing an opportunity to demonstrate to America just how very much the far right Christian conservative base really does hate gay people: "Look, America, you can be Ellen DeGeneres, the queen of nice comedy, and they still hate you and want you to be fired."

And in short while, the LGBT community rushed to Ellen's defense, but not just them. And we can thank the One Million 40,000 Moms for rallying people left, right, and center to the cause of defending Ellen and condemning this sort of divisive, hateful rhetoric.

Very popular radio host Howard Stern described himself as "outraged" at the One Million 40,000 Moms' action and threatened to organize a boycott of JCPenney if they caved. In a 12-minute rant he asked, "What do you want these [gay] people to do? Do you really want Ellen to go away? Do you want her to die? You want a public flogging of this woman?" Co-host Robin Quivers added, "You want her to force herself to be with a man to make you happy?" (That would be yes, yes, yes, and yes, please.)

Not ordinarily known for sensitivity, Stern and Quivers discuss at great length the plight of LGBT teens suffering at the hands of bullies. They mention Tyler Clementi and other teens driven to suicide, and lay the blame on groups like the Moms. Stern takes no prisoners, saying the president should just come out for marriage equality. And then in Stern's typically bombastic style, he goes full-on Godwin on the country's most notorious homophobes:

This Michele Bachman and Rick Santorum, they're the two worst people on the planet. They get up wherever they can, they still feel comfortable getting up in front of an audience in 2012, and fuckin' saying shit about gays, about how they shouldn't be getting married, they feel no qualm about putting out this kind of bigotry. Now, Hitler put this kind of shit out pre-World War II in Germany in beer halls, if the entire beer hall had gotten up and beaten they shit out of Hitler and kicked him in the face, you wouldn't have had World War II, and you wouldn't have had any problems.

He goes on to say they should be "drummed out of the country," "spat upon," and "ignored, shunned, and treated as lunatics."

This language is unlikely to be adopted by any LGBT rights groups, like Human Rights Campaign, anytime soon -- and for good reason. But we can thank the One Million 40,000 Moms for prompting our straight ally Howard Stern for saying what responsible LGBT activists would not.

From the right, we can thank the One Million 40,000 Moms for recruiting the most unlikely of LGBT allies to come to DeGeneres' defense: Bill O'Reilly of Fox News. Bill's segment begins with a snarky introduction that draws America's attention to the inherent cowardice of the anti-gay movement, their reluctance to come out of the closet with their hate: "Now we tried to get one of the One Million Moms to come on the Factor tonight. But we could not. Apparently, all the million moms are busy tonight." Their cowardice was also reflected in their decision to delete their Facebook posting when the story became widely known. The group has made no media appearances to defend themselves or their actions.

O'Reilly chats instead with Fox News contributor Sandy Rios, who attempts to defend the One Million 40,000 Moms. But Bill-O isn't really having it; it's a very combative session, and Rios comes out looking pretty bad. Perhaps it's a libertarian streak in him, but his objections are placed in the Republican frame of free-market captialism; he essentially argues that JCPenney has the right to hire whoever they want, and the One Million 40,000 Moms are conducting a "witch hunt," and worse, "McCarthyism." He asks, "What is the difference between the McCarthy era of the '50s and the One Million Moms saying, 'Hey, JCPenney and all you other stores, don't you hire any gay people. Don't you dare'? What is the difference?" One Million 40,000 Moms? Something went really wrong with your plan when you prompted Fox News' highest-rated commentator to stick up for a lesbian and compare you to one of the most notorious names in American history, Senator Joe McCarthy.

Again, better O'Reilly should call these anti-gay bigots "McCartheyesque witch hunters" than the LGBT community. And we can thank the One Million 40,000 Moms for prompting him to do so. Surely a few Fox News viewers' heads exploded that evening.

The LGBT community themselves could never have planned an action that would prompt personalities as disparate as Howard Stern, Bill O'Reilly, Ron Johnson, and all the other voices, big and small, to chime in and express disgust and outrage at anti-gay bigotry and condemn yet another overreach of the religious right.

We can thank the One Million 40K Moms for that.

For too long the Christian right has presumed to speak on behalf of people who have "values." And for too long, too many people took them at their word that they represented "good Christian values." We can thank the One Million 40,000 Moms for tearing off the mask off that façade before a very wide audience.

Under the guise of "religious freedom," they assert their right to say God hates gays. However, in the case of Ellen, God seems to be smiling on her. She has a loving and lovely wife, extraordinary talent, a long, very distinguished career, and great wealth, and she has endeared herself to millions. So, since God has, thus far, failed to act on his scorn for Ellen, the One Million 40,000 Moms have taken it upon themselves to act on his behalf. They want to be sure God's punishment is meted out in this lifetime, where they can watch.

We can thank the One Million 40,000 Moms for kickstarting another round of conversation about what our "values" are. Ellen has long demonstrated in her career that "meanness" is not among hers. In an era that has increasingly rewarded comedians that belittle, degrade, and ridicule, Ellen never went there. Her brand is as a "nice" comedian, someone who makes you laugh but never at the expense of others. If Ellen takes a shot at anyone, it is at herself, a humble, self-effacing teasing that says, despite her fortune and fame, "I'm really not special."

Which makes her the perfect foil for that cabal of Americans who really do think they are special. The One Million 40,000 Moms think they are the ones who get to decide the best values for JCPenney, the country, and everyone.

Ellen herself eventually spoke on the controversy, and she got the opportunity to address the One Million 40,000 Mom's condemnation of her "values." She said, "Here are the values I stand for: I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you'd want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. That's what I stand for." The studio audience cheered uproariously in agreement. They know she not only speaks but lives those values, like the time, just the previous week, when her show arranged a $100,000 donation to a struggling Pennsylvania school.

It's certainly presumptuous to say anyone "speaks for the LGBT community." But in that moment, I think it's safe to say that Ellen spoke very well for the LGBT community, and she made us, and every kind-hearted American, proud.

And the One Million 40,000 Moms? We can thank them for creating a national jump-the-shark moment for the protectors of "traditional values."