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Hallmark Channel's CEO Is Out a Month After Pulling Lesbian Wedding Ad

Zola Ad
A same-sex marriage scene in a Zola ad

The network's president and CEO Bill Abbott has left the company a month after the decision to censor ads featuring a same-sex couple. 

A month after the Hallmark Channel's dust-up with LGBTQ people over removing an ad for Zola wedding planning that featured a lesbian wedding, the company's president and CEO, Bill Abbott, has stepped down, according to USA Today.

"In a time when there is immense competition among television networks and streaming services, it is more important than ever that we find relevant new ways to grow our business and continue to produce high quality programming that resonates with our growing audience," president and CEO of Hallmark Cards Inc. Mike Perry said in a statement.

While Perry sidestepped the issue of the decision to remove the lesbian-themed ads, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David leaned into the debacle in a statement:

"Bill Abbott's departure from Hallmark just months after the disastrous and wrongheaded decision to censor an ad on their network featuring a loving, same-sex couple continues to make clear: opposing equality isn't just wrong, it's bad for business," David wrote. "That's why within 36 hours of Hallmark's initial call to pull the ad featuring two brides, 75,000 HRC members and supporters had signed HRC's letter calling them out, and why we suspended their 100-point score on our Corporate Equality Index. Hallmark listened to those voices, reversed course and apologized. Companies and their leaders must continue to provide visibility to LGBTQ people across the nation and speak out for equality. "

In December, amid pressure from LGBTQ groups and a call to boycott the Hallmark Channel, the network apologized for its mistake when it removed ads from the wedding planning site Zola that featured a lesbian wedding. The company then vowed to begin re-airing the ads.

Under pressure from anti-LGBTQ groups including One Million Moms, the Hallmark Channel pulled four ads from Zola that feature lesbian nuptials. But Hallmark kept two Zola ads that don't include the same-sex wedding narrative, which resulted in Zola canceling the entire campaign and severing ties with the network. Soon #BoycottHallmarkChannel was trending on social media.

At the time, Perry said in a statement that the company has always been "committed to diversity and inclusion." Perry's statement read:

"Earlier this week, a decision was made at Crown Media Family Networks to remove commercials featuring a same-sex couple. The Crown Media team has been agonizing over this decision as we've seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused. Said simply, they believe this was the wrong decision. Our mission is rooted in helping all people connect, celebrate traditions, and be inspired to capture meaningful moments in their lives. Anything that detracts for this purpose is not who we are. As the CEO of Hallmark, I am sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused.

"Hallmark is, and always has been, committed to diversity and inclusion - both in our workplace as well as the products and experiences we create. It is never Hallmark's intention to be divisive or generate controversy. We are an inclusive company and have a track record to prove it. We have LGBTQ greeting cards and feature LGBTQ couples in commercials. We have been recognized as one of the Human Rights Campaigns Best Places to Work, and as one of Forbes America's Best Employers for Diversity."

Hallmark has also said it will work with GLAAD to "better represent the LGBTQ community across our portfolio of brands."

The company also reached out to Zola in terms of mending that relationship. When the ads were pulled, Zola said it was ending ties with Hallmark for the "foreseeable future."

"We were deeply troubled when Hallmark rejected our commercials for featuring a lesbian couple celebrating their marriage, and are relieved to see that decision was reversed," Zola's chief marketing officer, Mike Chi, said in a statement. "We are humbled by everyone who showed support not only for Zola, but for all the LGBTQ couples and families who express their love on their wedding day, and every day."

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