US retailer JC Penney is being thanked for hiring Ellen Degeneres after a group said she should be sacked because a lesbian spokesperson would lose them business.

But the GLAAD petition, which has 22,500 signatures today, also aims to highlight the lack of protection gay and transgender people face in the workplace in most of the states.

The website OneMillionMoms.com, a project of the American Family Assocation, had asked readers to call the retailer and demand she be replaced with a straight face.

The website said: “Funny that JC Penney thinks hiring an open homosexual spokesperson will help their business when most of their customers are traditional families.

“More sales will be lost than gained unless they replace their spokesperson quickly.

“DeGeneres is not a true representation of the type of families that shop at their store. The majority of JC Penney shoppers will be offended and choose to no longer shop there.”

In response, GLAAD set up the Stand Up for Ellen petition to thank the retailer for hiring the gay TV star and to raise awareness that in most US states, it is legal to fire gay employees on the basis of their sexuality.

Herndon Graddick, GLAAD’s senior director of programs and communications “Since Ellen came out 15 years ago, the nation has evolved and support for LGBT people is at an all-time high.

“Although it is still legal to fire someone for being gay in 29 states, Americans are fair-minded people who know that firing someone just for being gay is not what this country is about.

“J.C. Penney is standing with Ellen and so do we.”

GLAAD also points out for transgender people, the figure is worse: In 34 states a person can be fired for being trans.

The Los Angeles Times ran a reader poll which showed 96% support for keeping Ellen as the face of JC Penney.

Ellen’s name was called into question last month. Australian radio host Jackie O, whose middle name is also Ellen, told listeners it now “sounds a bit lez”.