The JCPenney Dads Helped Bring Gay Familes Into The Hearts Of American Shoppers

Tying in to the arrival of NBC’s The New Normal, Queerty is launching Our New Normal, where we’ll introduce you to LGBT families of all different stripes—be they same-sex couples raising kids, straight parents raising gay kids, or close-knit groups who view themselves as family.

And we want to meet your family, too: Share your story—whether you’re related by blood or linked by love—by uploading photos, videos or notes on our special Our New Normal platform. You could win a vacation for four—not to mention some serious bragging rights!


Clockwise from top: Cooper, Claire, Todd and Mason Smith Koch

Proud dad Cooper Smith Koch is used to being a spokesman for gay parents: He and his family—partner Todd, and their kids, Mason and Claire—have been featured in the Dallas Voice, after all. And he runs the parenting site TwoDaddiesOneLove.com.

But he admits he wasn’t prepared for all the attention they received after the entire Smith Koch clan appeared in a historic Father’s Day ad for JCPenney. “We knew it wouldn’t go unnoticed,” Cooper, who also runs Gay List Daily, tells Queerty. “But we didn’t expect it to be as huge as it was. In that first month, the photo of the ad was viewed something like 50 million times. That freaked me out.”

The situation happened randomly—or perhaps was destined, if you believe in such things—late in 2011: Cooper, a publicist, was contacted by a casting director who said he had seen photo of the family on Facebook. “He was a friend of a friend… and he asked if he could send our photos to a ‘client.’ But he didn’t say who it was.”

By February, when the campaign was shot, the family knew who that “client” was. But they hadn’t been told when to expect to be thrust into the spotlight. “We didn’t hear a word—we knew it was for Father’s Day but didn’t hear anything more about it.”

When the ad finally ran, Cooper and Todd received calls, emails and letters from almost everyone they knew—and plenty they didn’t. “Oh, it was everything from old classmates to other parents to complete strangers. We got an email from one of the dads on OWN’s Two Dads, Ten Kids. He wanted advice on how to handle the media scrutiny. [And] We became friends with [lesbian Boy Scout leader] Jenn Tyrrell.”

Thankfully, the responses were almost entirely supportive: “I got one negative email,” says Cooper. “90% of it was positive, which was kind of inspiring. I got a lovely note from [actress] Mia Sara, who said we had a beautiful family.”

But why do an ad for JCPenney, a company not previously known for its gay-positive branding? (This was before Ellen DeGeneres became the company’s spokeswoman.) “We knew we could reach middle-class American families who shop at Penney and help normalize the idea of same-sex parents for them,” Cooper says. “Sure, we could have done something like Neiman Marcus but those people don’t really need to be reached.”

Cooper and Todd, who have been together 13 years, were proud to make a statement about LGBT families. But did they worry Mason and Claire, both 3, might bear the brunt of bigotry? “Thankfully the kids are really too young to understand the rhetoric,” he says. “But Dallas is more progressive than people think. We have three other gay families in the school—our church does sermons that are pro-gay-families, and our pastor is a huge cheerleader.”

As the publicity has died down, the Smith Kochs have been able to enjoy the summer like a normal family. “We were in Hilton Head South Carolina for a week over Memorial Day,” says Cooper. “We had a blast—we go every week with my husband Todd’s family.” But, he admits, being thrust in the national spotlight has had its perks, too: “We went to New York City over Pride weekend and rode on the JCPenney float,” he says. “And we were asked to lead the gay Pride parade in Spartanburg, South Carolina, at end of September.”
Now share your family’s story by uploading photos, videos or notes on our Our New Normal page. The best submission wins a family vacation, but the deadline to submit is September 11 at 11:59pm ET. So don’t delay!


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