Dutch newspaper under fire over protest against kissing men ads

Suitsupply's 'Find Your Perfect Fit' ad campaign
Suitsupply's 'Find Your Perfect Fit' ad campaignPhoto: @suitsupply / Twitter

Dutch newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad (RD) faced a storm of social media criticism after the Christian newspaper distributed flyers calling for protest against a Suitsupply ad campaign showing kissing men with its newspapers on Monday. 

The flyer is part of a campaign by foundation Civitas Christiana called 'Family in Danger'. Flyers were distributed with around 40 thousand RD newspapers on Monday, according to NU.nl. In it's own words, Family in Danger is committed to "the protection of the family consisting of father, mother and children" and against "the uncontrolled sexualization and harmful gender ideology". On the flyer the Christian foundation states that with the "distasteful campaign" Suitsupply exposes small children on the street to "very sexual scenes, namely kissing men in erotic poses". The flyer also includes a picture of a Suitsupply ad with a big red cross drawn over the faces of two kissing men. 

RD's Twitter account is now being flooded with videos, photos and GIFs of kissing men, according to NOS.

Many Twitter users find it incomprehensible that the newspaper supports such a protest, calling it contrary to the values of tolerance and brotherly love that Christianity should stand for. "I find the RD action so terribly bad. Especially the fact that it now again looks like all Christians and above all God are against homosexuality. That is not true. God loves me. The way I am. Including my love for Louise", a female Twitter user tweeted. Another said: "You should be ashamed, you are actually reinforcing a climate in which the LGBTI community is at risk."

Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven of Education, Culture and Science, which includes the emancipation portfolio, also responded on Twitter: "Rainbow families are families too. This shows the importance of breaking through stereotypes", she said. 

In a statement on the RD website, commercial manager Cees Hovuis responded: "Like with any advertisement, we as commercial department of RD checked whether this is a flyer that should be refused on the basis of the criteria we use for advertisements. That is not the case." He stressed that RD does not take responsibility for the content of this advertisement. "If we add a flyer to the newspaper with advertisements for furniture, for example, we are not responsible for those products. People should also not come to us for further information about those products."

RD chief editor Steef de Bruijn told NU.nl that the flyer reflects the opinion of a significant part of his readers. "I can put myself in the values of this movement on the issue of homosexuality. That is not news either, we as newspaper have been expressing that position for years." He added that the newspaper does not necessarily conform to all the viewpoints and methods of the Family in Danger campaign. "But the Bible gives a clear vision of relationships and marriage, and a commitment in this way between men and women of the same sex is not in line with what God intended with marriage."

When Suitsupply first launched this ad campaign early in March, the posters and billboards were vandalized on a large scale. The clothing company also lost thousands of followers on social media. The Netherlands' Advertising Code Committee rejected a handful of complaints about the campaign. The vandalism of these ads show that LGBT emancipation still has a long way to go in the Netherlands, LGBT interest groups responded.

On Tuesday Suitsupply CEO Fokke de Jong told NU.nl that the company has not yet received any Family in Danger flyers. "I especially think that the group is pretty late with this campaign", he said. "The posters have already disappeared from the streets." He is well aware that some people are offended by the ad campaign. "But the majority of the responses are very positive. It brought us many new customers." Suitsupply doesn't intend to respond to the campaign. "Our slogan is 'find your perfect fit'. Around that motto we will definitely be developing some more campaigns in the future. I count on it that this will be enough for a few angry postcards from Family in Danger."

According to media ethicist Huub Evers, it is not so strange that a newspaper like RD will distribute a flyer like the Family in Danger one. "Every newspaper works from a certain social, political or philosophical conviction", he said to broadcaster NOS. In many newspapers that is not very visible, but it is strongly profiled in a newspaper like RD. "It measures its policy in all respects on its reformational principles. Not only their journalistic choices, but also their editorial, policy and commercial statements."

What Evers does find strange, is that RD chose to distribute the campaign in a separate flyer. "There is more emphasis now than if they had just put it on an advertisement page in the newspaper." He thinks there's a good chance that this campaign will only serve as advertisement for Suitsupply.

And this seems to be the case. Jasper Klapwijk started a crowdfunding campaign under the name 'Celebrate love in the RD'. The campaign is raising funds to buy advertising space in the newspaper to "celebrate love" by posting a picture of two kissing men. More than half of the target amount was raised in less than an hour, according to NOS.