This summer, the world was convulsing over climate change, hurricanes, terrorism, and Trump. Meanwhile, the far-right group One Million Moms was clutching its pearls over ... Toy Story 4.
In one of its numerous calls to action, One Million Moms asked its followers to sign a petition objecting to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment with a female couple in Toy Story 4. It was just the latest effort for the furtive group, which agitates against positive LGBTQ representations as its cause célèbre.
In reality, One Million Moms, an offshoot of the virulently anti-LGBTQ American Family Association, hasn't been particularly successful in intimidating film studios, TV networks, advertisers, and other companies into doing away with inclusive portrayals. Nor is it likely the group really has a million followers.
“While no one believes they actually have 1 million followers [or] 1 million who are moms, it is nearly impossible to pin down just how many people they actually reach,” a GLAAD spokesperson tells The Advocate. “The parent organization, AFA, claims to have ‘approximately 170,000 subscribers to its monthly flagship publication’ and ‘more than 1 million email subscribers.’ However, these numbers have always been fudged, as AFA is notorious for counting as a supporter anyone who ever fills out one of their forms — something many opponents of the organization do as a way to troll them with oppositional/mocking information.”
The 1 million figure “is almost certainly much more aspirational than reality,” adds Peter Montgomery, senior fellow at People for the American Way.”
To be fair, it should be noted that One Million Moms doesn’t actually claim a million members. “We are searching for one million moms who are willing to join the fight for our children,” the “About Us” section of the group’s website reads. “We want our children to have the best chance possible of living in a moral society.” There is no charge to be a member, and the only requirement for membership is “to participate in at least one project a week,” according to the site. Members don’t have to be mothers either.
And the AFA isn’t talking about how many people have participated in the efforts of One Million Moms. The Advocate sent an inquiry to Hamilton Strategies, the public relations firm that represents AFA and several other Christian right organizations, and received no reply.
But most of the One Million Moms campaigns have drawn far fewer than a million supporters, including the effort against Toy Story 4.
“I do not appreciate Disney including LGBTQ content in the children’s movie Toy Story 4,” the group's petition reads. “There has been a deliberate lack of mentioning this content. Therefore, families are blindsided intentionally by your company. Actions such as this make me continue to distrust Disney.”
The petition, posted June 27, had attracted fewer than 15,000 signatures by October. Meanwhile, Toy Story 4 has sold more than $1 billion worth of tickets worldwide, the fifth Disney film to hit that mark this year. It’s the first studio ever to have five films gross $1 billion in a single year.
Two years ago, One Million Moms denounced a similarly brief gay moment in Disney’s live-action version of Beauty and the Beast — a scene implying that LeFou, the henchman of villain Gaston, was romantically interested in his boss. The group mentioned that scene in a petition that also decried same-sex kisses in the Disney XD animated TV series Star vs. the Forces of Evil. That petition did a little better, with more than 64,000 signatures, but Beauty and the Beast was another billion-dollar-grossing film for Disney, and Star vs. the Forces of Evil continued on the air until this year.
One Million Moms hasn’t had much success with its other campaigns either. The group first rose to prominence in 2011 with a petition against Ben & Jerry’s for marketing an ice cream flavor called Schweddy Balls, based on a Saturday Night Live sketch, GLAAD notes. But it really gained national traction the following year with a campaign to get JCPenney to ditch Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman.
The company stood by DeGeneres, however, and debuted five commercials featuring her during the 2012 Academy Awards. She also received a huge outpouring of support through a Facebook page and elsewhere. One Million Moms gave up on its campaign, with Monica Cole, director of the group, saying it was time to move on.
It has also attacked Disney, one of its favorite targets, because the entertainment company allows the hugely popular Gay Days gatherings at its theme parks. Disney has no sign of trying to stop Gay Days, Montgomery points out.
More recently, it has objected to Whole Foods cosponsoring a drag queen story hour in Atlanta and urged the American Library Association not to allow member libraries to host such events. The Whole Foods petition has drawn only a little more than 12,000 signatures, and the ALA one slightly more than 14,000. The ALA has stressed that the decisions on hosting drag queen story hours are up to individual libraries; it merely provides resources for libraries to use when faced with challenges. Another recent petition, against Mattel's line of gender-inclusive dolls, claiming the dolls promote "sin," has received just over 13,000 signatures so far.
What’s more, One Million Moms has been known to take credit for the cancellation of LGBTQ-inclusive TV series, when really a variety of factors contributed the shows’ fates. For instance, it claimed victory in ABC’s cancellation of The Real O’Neals, about a gay teen in an Irish Catholic family, in 2017 after two seasons. “1MM asked ABC network to cancel this sacrilegious and sex-filled program and followed with an email campaign urging sponsors to pull their support,” the group wrote on its website. “Public outcry, sluggish ratings, and primarily a lack of advertisers played a major role in the blasphemous show’s cancellation!”
Well, One Million Moms may have encouraged some viewers not to tune in, but it’s unlikely that the organization was the sole driver behind the program’s cancellation. And as for public outcry, there was a social media campaign urging ABC to keep the show on.
On the whole, One Million Moms “certainly haven’t been able to purge the airwaves of gay characters,” Montgomery says. Indeed, GLAAD found in its most recent Where We Are on TV report that there is record LGBTQ representation on television.
There’s no disputing that One Million Moms and the AFA spew a lot of anti-LGBTQ hatred. “If you look at [AFA talk show host and columnist] Bryan Fischer ... his show is just a torrent of bigotry,” Montgomery notes. Despite trying to distance itself from him a few years ago and stripping him of a title, the AFA still gives him a platform to liken LGBTQ people to Nazis as well as demonize Jews, Muslims, Mormons, and gay conservatives.
For that reason, it’s worth taking the AFA and One Million Moms seriously enough to counter the bigotry with facts. “I think the AFA has a significant reach,” Montgomery says, noting that it has a $19 million annual budget.
The GLAAD spokesperson adds, “To be clear, the AFA does have a big footprint in conservative circles, evident by its healthy financials. But it would be a major stretch to claim ‘1 million’ for even the whole operation, much less any one of its offshoots.”
But while countering the hate, it’s also important to note that major corporations are not running scared because of the One Million Moms campaigns, and neither should anyone else. The Million Moms and AFA “promote a lot of antigay bigotry, but they’re not having the impact they want to have,” Montgomery concludes.