Remember when companies wanted to be friends with the LGBTQ community? Maybe not so much anymore. Target says that due to threats of violence in its stores, it is pulling some Pride merchandise from its store shelves. The Minneapolis-based retailer has offered special Pride collections for the last ten years, stocking everything from baby onesies to rainbowed T-shirts.
"Since introducing this year's collection, we've experienced threats impacting our team members' sense of safety and well-being while at work," the company says in a statement. "Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior."
The decision comes as anti-trans rhetoric has become increasingly violent, leveled not just at those in the LBGTQ community but at brands and organizations that have positioned themselves as allies.
Advocates quickly pointed out the obvious: By giving in to extremists' threats, Target is abandoning its LGBTQ customers and employees.
"Anti-LGBTQ violence and hate should not be winning in America, but it will continue to until corporate leaders step up as heroes for their LGBTQ employees and consumers and do not cave to fringe activists calling for censorship," says Sarah Kate Ellis, president and chief executive officer of GLAAD, in a statement.
"The fact that a small group of extremists is threatening disgusting and harsh violence in response to Target continuing its long-standing tradition of offering products for everyone should be a wake-up call for consumers," she says. "An avalanche of research shows that Americans are comfortable seeing LGBTQ people in ads and marketing and that consumers, especially younger ones, prefer companies that include LGBTQ people internally and externally."
The National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization representing Black LBGTQ+ people, called the move a betrayal. "Let's be clear," says David J. Johns, executive director, in its statement. "Removing items from its Pride Collection, or hiding them in the back of the store - is tantamount to insisting we all go back in the closet. At a time when LGBTQ+ rights and people are under attack, at a time when extremist political forces want to exterminate us, pushing our diverse history, experiences, and ways of being into the shadows - we need everyone to speak out for us - including major corporations like Target, and Budweiser."
He accuses Target of wanting to profit from both sides of the culture wars. "Target, like hundreds of other major companies, will declare their support to the LGBTQ+ community, switch their logos to rainbow colors, drape everything in pride flags, and sell products specifically designed to boost their bottom lines. They will do this because the vast majority of the American people support LGBTQ+ rights.
"But you can't have it both ways. You can't only support human rights where you are "safe" from confrontation. Shame on Target."
Gavin Newsome, governor of California, took to Twitter to accuse Target of "selling out the LGBTQ+ community to extremists."
Target made its decision following a barrage of criticism from the right, mentioning specific items like a tuck-friendly bathing suit. Critics include Ben Shapiro, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Graham Allen, who hosts the conservative Dear America podcast, with some calling for boycotts.
GLAAD, a nonprofit that monitors media coverage of the gay community, says Target's move reflects how rapidly anti-trans rhetoric has turned dangerous. More than 160 LGBTQ community events have been targeted with violence and threats in the past year, including a firebombing of a doughnut shop and armed militias showing up at public libraries.
Target's move is especially problematic since it's centered many of its growth objectives around Gen Z. In that cohort, more than 20% identify as LGBT. And Pew reports that just over 5% of people under 30 describe themselves as trans.
GLAAD's research finds that 75% of non-LGBTQ people are comfortable seeing ads that depict LGBTQ people, a number that has remained stable.