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Who Defines “Family Values?”

March 9, 2010

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It’s no secret that Florida is an unfriendly environment for its LGBT residents. So it should not come as a surprise that the state is now attempting to censor the portrayal of LGBT people — and other images of “nontraditional family values” — in the media.

From The Palm Beach Post:

Movies and TV shows with gay characters could be ineligible for a “family-friendly” tax credit in Florida under a little-noticed provision tucked into a $75 million incentive package that Republican House leaders hope will attract film and entertainment jobs to the state.

The bill would prohibit productions with “nontraditional family values” from receiving a so-called family-friendly tax credit. But it doesn’t define what “nontraditional family values” are, something the bill’s sponsor had a hard time doing, too.

In an attempt to create more jobs and stimulate Florida’s economy, this bill will uphold the benefits already available to “family-friendly” films produced in Florida, and it will take the matter a step further:

State tax laws allow for a tax credit worth 2 percent of a movie’s production costs if it is “family friendly.” That is defined as a movie suitable for a 5-year-old: It has “cross-generational appeal” and includes “a responsible resolution of issues.” Smoking, sex, nudity and profane language are prohibited, as are “obscene” productions as defined by the state’s sex crime laws.

Precourt’s proposal would boost the credit from 2 percent to 5 percent and expand the list of taboos to include any “exhibit or implied act” of nontraditional family values and gratuitous violence.

Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger said nontraditional family values could include anything from “drug abuse to excessive drunkenness to homosexual families.”

To be clear: I completely support states that offer film and television production tax credits. Production tax credits have done wonders for the economy in my home state of Massachusetts. But it doesn’t seem right to reward certain films over others. The wording of the bill sounds archaic; as Steve Pep points out on Towleroad, these “proposed changes make Florida guidelines seem even more like the Hays Code that censored Hollywood from the the ’30s to the ’60s.”

The ultimate question this issue brings up for me is, what are “family values?” And who gets to define them? Certainly, I am not opposed to efforts to create more films that are appropriate for young children. I am, however, opposed to the notion that “nontraditional family values” are harmful for children. What message will Florida be sending to children who have gay parents, or a single parent, if they only see images of two-parent heterosexual families in the media? Will this be another way for children of color to be marginalized as well? By deeming certain images “nontraditional,” we are ignoring the people, families and communities that fall under that “nontraditional” umbrella. By having such a narrow definition of “family values,” we are forgetting about the families that teach their children other values — values like the fact that all people (and families) are equal, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, marital status or anything else. That’s a value that I hold as highly as shielding young children from gratuitous violence, and it’s one that I wish defined the term “family values” in its typical context.

Tax incentives for film and television productions are worthwhile economy boosters. Florida’s efforts to create jobs and strengthen the state’s economy with tax credits is a wise idea. But this is not the right way to do it. Filmmakers should never be punished for telling stories about LGBT people, or working mothers, or interracial relationships, or anything else that could conceivably be deemed “nontraditional.” More importantly, the children who are thrown in the middle of this need for “family-friendly” entertainment should not be prevented from seeing the images that best reflect their lives. Not all children grow up in “traditional” families, so not all children’s films should reflect “traditional” values.

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