UPDATE, May 7, 2014: HGTV has announced via its Facebook page that it has "decided not to move forward" with the Benham brothers' show—a wise business decision considering the network's inclusive corporate image. Predictably, some conservative Christian sites are already crying persecution and "discrimination."
Et tu, HGTV? Fans of the home-improvement and real-estate-porn network are feeling the sting of betrayal today as news spreads that the channel has given a green light to a new home renovation series that will be hosted by known right-wing extremists David and Jason Benham. Called Flip it Forward, the fall 2014 show would follow the North Carolina-based twin brothers as they help (presumably hetero-only) families with fixer-uppers, using the knowledge they’ve accrued working in the speedy real estate rehab game. This program would be an unremarkable iteration on HGTV’s existing successful programming (see Property Brothers), were it not for the Benhams’ repellant and well-documented ultra-conservative activism. Brian Tashman of Right Wing Watch broke the story yesterday:
What [HGTV’s] announcement didn't mention is that at least one of the Benhams is not just a real estate dealer but also a dedicated right-wing activist in the mold of his father, Flip Benham, who has headed the abortion-clinic protest group Operation Save America ever since it split from the militant anti-choice group Operation Rescue.
Flip's son, David Benham, led a prayer rally — Charlotte 7:14 — outside of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2012, which he told conservative radio host Janet Mefferd was needed to stop “homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation” and “demonic ideologies tak[ing] our universities and our public school systems”
[David Benham:] “We don’t realize that, okay, if 87 percent of Americans are Christians and yet we have abortion on demand; we have no-fault divorce; we have pornography and perversion; we have a homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation; we have adultery; we have all of the things; we even have allowed demonic ideologies to take our universities and our public school systems while the church sits silent and just builds big churches. We are so complacent, we are so apathetic and we are very hypocritical in the church, that’s why the Bible says judgment begins in the house of God. So when we prayed at 714 we asked God and our city to forgive us for allowing these things in the house of God.”
The litany of extremism goes on from there, encompassing old standbys like anti-Muslim sentiment alongside rabid invective against marriage equality and safe access to abortion services. While the Benhams’ personal political and social views could theoretically have been kept separate from a home improvement show, their particular zeal for “saving” entire cities makes the pair an odd choice for HGTV, a network widely considered to be one of the most progressive on the cable dial. Indeed, as a fairly avid viewer of House Hunters and the like myself, I have always been impressed by the channel’s matter-of-fact presentation of diversity; same-sex couples and families are regularly featured across the various programs, as are home buyers/improvers from a range of ethnic and religious backgrounds.
As my Outward colleague June Thomas found while reporting a 2012 story on the network’s success, the diversity is no accident. “We absolutely seek it out,” HGTV’s then-general manager Kathleen Finch told Thomas. “Our goal is to represent our viewing base, and our viewing base is very diverse, so one of the things that we make sure that we do is to have as diverse of a homeowner population as we can. And I'm glad that you notice, because we work hard to do it, and it really is reflective of the American population.”
While conservatives obviously make up a significant proportion of the “American population,” hardcore activists like the Benhams are outliers, relatively speaking. I suspect the initial green-lighting of their series was an oversight and not some misguided attempt on the part of HGTV to include anti-gay (among other antis) in their notion of diversity. That kind of hatred just doesn’t fit with the neutral, welcoming, and, it must be said, rather Canadian tone of the network; nor, I suspect, will it appeal to viewers—many of whom I know for a fact are as gay as a pastel-painted en suite. Luckily for the network, there’s still time to renovate the fall lineup—let’s hope they make the appropriate improvements before the big reveal.