The furniture store Ikea has come under fire for omitting an interview with a lesbian couple from the latest issue of the store’s magazine.
The interview they removed was with an England-based couple, Clara and Kristy. According to The Independent, the interview featured Kristy saying, “We’re two mums bringing up our baby boy in Clara’s loft. We’re not your average family in your average home, but if my nan can raise two sons in a tiny caravan, we can make it work in our little loft.”
Oh my gosh. This interview sounds as boring and trite and uninteresting as what you’d expect from a magazine from a furniture store, but apparently it’s too scandalous for a Russian audience. Ikea removed it and instead is featuring an article about a single Chinese designer.
According to an Ikea spokesperson, the company is just trying to follow the law against promoting homosexuality to minors. She also said that it was an effort to “remain neutral” on the issue.
I can’t fault a company — or a person, for that matter — for trying their best to stay on the right side of the law. Had that been Ikea’s only justification I’d still be angry, but not at the international furniture chain. I’d be angry at Russia for being such awful bigots. However, because Ikea took out this interview in an effort to be neutral on the topic, I have to be angry at them, too, for doing neutrality so, so wrong.
Here’s the thing about neutrality when it comes to systemic discrimination and oppression: It doesn’t exist. Ikea took affirmative steps — removing the interview — to appease a homophobic culture. That is taking a position.
Look at it this way. There is the world as it is currently; the status quo. It didn’t just pop into being out of thin air. It’s built on the past, and that past was dismissive and downright hostile to gay men and lesbians. Gay people hid in the shadows. Social pressures effectively erased them from history. (This is of course true for people of color and women, as well.) When a group is devalued in society, their contributions are not credited, and suddenly it looks like gay people just popped on the scene very recently, when of course they’ve been around the whole time. We just weren’t looking for them.
Burying oppressed groups doesn’t make their problems go away, it just hides them from people who don’t want to think about them. By taking part in that erasure, Ikea is actually promoting homophobia in Russia.
It’s such a shame, too. Ikea used to be very progressive on this issue. Back in 1994 they featured a gay couple in a commercial. In 1994, people! Gay people in a commercial seems like the least a company can do, but in 1994 that was kind of a big deal.
Ikea may have removed the interview for legal reasons, but, given the history (and present) of erasing gays and lesbians, they cannot argue they are doing it because they want to be neutral.
Image credit: Thinkstock