Toms Shoes and company founder Blake Mycoskie found themselves in a storm of disapproval with the gay community last week when Mycoskie spoke at a Focus on the Family event.

The controversy began after Mycoskie appeared at the event "Feet on the Ground" in Irvine, Calif., on June 30, as the Christian group was "working to become a Toms international distributor in Africa," according to a July 1 article in Christianity Today.

The slip-on shoes are widely popular and the company "has a large gay clientele," LA Weekly points out. After the Feet on the Ground event and Christianity Today article, gay blogs and publications lit up with news about Toms and Change.org started a petition for the company to cease affairs with Focus on the Family and it quickly received more than 400 signatures.

"This affiliation with a group founded on anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-choice principles tarnishes the company's reputation as a force for good. What's more, Toms' affiliation with this extreme right-wing group serves to legitimize the fringe organization," the petition said.

The company and Mycoskie released an official apology July 9 saying, "Toms, and I as the founder, are passionate believers in equal human and civil rights for all."

In the same Christianity Today article that started the controversy, it goes on to discuss the progress Focus on the Family has made since President Jim Daly's stationing in 2005. A more liberal dress code, budget cuts and moving away from politics have all been applied at his hand.

"We tend to shut down the ears of people to hear the gospel because they only see you in a political context or as a conservative. Christianity must transcend politics in order to change culture and politics," Daly said.

Not all blogs expressed outrage but saw good in the partnership.

"You don't need to pass an ideological test to want to make life more livable for the world's poorest people," Alyssa Rosenberg, ThinkProgress blogger, said. "If Toms Shoes make it easier for more African kids to walk to school, or for folks to get to health clinics, or make it easier for them to carry clean drinking water, that's a good thing. This collaboration may not be good for Toms brand in the long run, and I think it's worth watching closely, but if it works out, it could help a lot of people."

Focus on the Family still hopes to air a broadcast with Mycoskie on it, giving the impression that Toms has not gone so far as to revoke all support, according to BrandChannel.

In response to the attacks on the organization, Focus on the Family posted a news release on its website.

"This is an unfortunate statement about the culture we live in, when an organization like ours is deemed unfit to help children in need simply because we hold to biblical beliefs about marriage and family," Daly said. "It's also a chilling statement about the future of the culture we live in. We have to wonder: What will someone decide we're unfit to do next? Fortunately, as Christians we have the greatest example of all to follow in situations like this — Jesus."

Though the religious organization feels it is a threat, gay rights activists feel it is a step in the right direction.

"It's a good day for LGBT rights in a way when a company like Toms is worried about being linked to any organization that believes gay and lesbian people are somehow less human and deserve less rights," according to Philly Mag.

EMAIL: crosenlof@desnews.com