I have to confess that I have always looked forward to Super Bowl Sundays. I did so for other reasons than most people do, however. It was not to watch “the game”, but rather, to go out and enjoy venues that were normally packed on a Sunday afternoon, now under-populated with the vast majority gathered around television sets across the nation. Last year, those plans changed when my son Jesse announced that he wanted to watch the game. Oh, where did I go wrong? (Kidding!)
I thought with his attention span, this would be a short-lived exercise, but it was not. He avidly absorbed the game and got into it for the full duration. “We were robbed by that black out,” he grumbled as he saw his team fight back, but come up short in the end. “Next year.”
His team did not get in this year, but as it turns out, his family, or a representation of us, did. Coca cola knocked out a surprise commercial featuring the diversity of America. It portrayed a diverse snapshot of the cultures, religions and orientations of our country all while voices sang “America the Beautiful” in different languages. About halfway through, there is the depiction of a gay family, two dads and their daughter, ice skating. It was the first time in history that a family such as mine was shown in a Super Bowl ad. It was a sixty-second rendition, but the waves it created have reached much further.
Waves of hatred for the commercial hit Twitter immediately, most around the complaint that America the Beautiful should only be sung in English, and most projecting more xenophobia than homophobia. Immigrants and non-whites were un-American to these offensive and offended voices.
The dissenters might be a bit distressed to know that it is unlikely the author of America the Beautiful herself would not be counted among their number. Katharine Lee Bates reportedly left the Republican party late in her life due to its growing xenophobia at the time. Moreover, the inclusion of a gay family would have likely been applauded by Ms. Bates as well. According to Biography, “Bates wrote a set of sonnets to honor her love Katharine Coman. She and Coman, both been professors at Wellesley, lived together for roughly 25 years. Bates was heartbroken over Coman’s death in 1915.”
I have to confess, that in watching the commercial, I needed to be told that it featured a gay family. The footage moves fast, and literally, if you blink, you will have missed it. The inclusion is spelled out much more fully in the excellent video Coke released called “Coca Cola-It’s Beautiful-Behind the Scenes”. Within this five minute video, one of the gay dads states, “It’s been very hard for my family when it comes to the gay issue, and it’s what caused us so much pain over all these years… Today I see people, you know, asking us to hold hands, people embracing us as a family and respecting us.” Another participant in the video states, “You should know who you are, you should embrace who you are.”
So. Here is my note to the Coke advertising executives:
Dear Coca Cola,
Thank you. I know that you have taken a great deal of flack over your commercial “It’s beautiful”. The commentary has been anything but beautiful from a certain faction of our country.
By the time I checked the #coke twitter stream last night, the comments had swung out hard in your defense, and I think the viral buzz around your 60 second spot will give you more than your money’s worth of exposure.
In my home, your visibility was well beyond a fleeting glance. As a gay dad, I wanted my sons to see the promotion you had given to important American principles. I showed them your commercial and the “behind the scenes” video. My sons are both now eleven years old, both came from drug addicted parents, and both were adopted by me through foster care. My sons have two dads.
Last year, my son Jesse was glued to the Super Bowl, and he saw nothing that reflected back the picture of our family. You changed that this year, so again, thank you. This year, my kids loved your commercial and embraced all for which it stood. Jason’s heritage is Mexican and he appreciated his background being acknowledged.
After the ice skating scene, both heads swiveled towards me and said in unison, “Dad! When can we go ice skating?!” I admit, they are not aware that the public depiction of a family with same sex parents as a big deal. To them, such a family playing on ice is the novelty. I am glad that is their perception.
It cannot be the perception kids like them in Russia have, however. Families like ours in the country hosting the Olympics are currently living in fear. The gay parents there are not dreaming of strangers asking them to hold hands, they are afraid of legislation that is a vote away from taking their kids from them. Here in America, I can send your “behind the scenes” video out through my social media contacts. For a Russian gay dad to do so, is a criminal act. My sons have had the love and safety of a home for their entire lives, in Russia, kids such as mine number over 400,000 and are locked away in orphanages with parents like me prevented from adopting them.
You have been deservedly under fire for your sponsorship of the Sochi Olympics. Now you have shown great courage in the United States on behalf of diversity. There are those who are cynical that you may be playing both sides and looking for the maximum in financial gain. To use your own branding catch phrase, they are asking, and I am asking, about your support for freedom and diversity: is it the real thing? Will you blindly fund a regime that would deem your current public outreach as a crime or will you still stand for diversity in a country whose population is not yet open to hearing it?
I am begging for you to do so. Thank you for remembering my family. Please do not forget our Russian counterparts. They need your voice even more than my kids do. Please make this real and not some marketing ploy. We’ll be watching.
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