Target has pulled certain items from its 2023 Pride collection citing “threats impacting our team member’s sense of safety and well-being while at work.”
The retail chain found itself at the center of a heated anti-LGBTQ campaign in recent weeks as far-right commentators spread misinformation about its Pride products. On Wednesday, it released a statement saying it would make “adjustments” given the “volatile circumstances,” including removing items “at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.” The announcement followed reports this weekend that the retailer had been moving, shrinking or eliminating its Pride displays in select stores, particularly in the South.
“Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year,” Target said in its statement.
Much of the initial backlash centered on a tuck-friendly swimsuit—a functional piece of swimwear designed for trans women who have not had gender-affirming surgery—that far-right pundits erroneously claimed was targeted toward children. Though Target only ever sold the swimsuit in adult sizes, prominent social media users latched onto the falsehood, telling their followers that the retailer was “grooming” children. Myths of queer individuals “grooming” young people date back decades but have regained popularity in recent years among conservative politicians pursuing and enacting anti-LGBTQ policies.
Right-wing commentators also zeroed in on the work of Erik Carnell, a trans designer who they inaccurately labeled as a “Satanist.” Carnell, whose London-based brand Abprallen has sold products using occult imagery, including a pin that says “Satan respects pronouns,” addressed the backlash on Instagram this week, noting that he had received “death threats.”
“I am, believe it or not, not a Satanist,” Carnell wrote on Abprallen’s Instagram story. “Satan isn’t real, and because he isn’t real I can mould and shape him to fit my art, I can use him as a metaphor for the very few items I carry depicting him. It’s camp, it’s fun, it’s metal af [as f**k]. But it’s a fairy tale.”
Target only ever sold three Abprallen items: a tote bag, messenger bag and sweater. None of the pieces reference Satan. Instead, they say “Cure transphobia, not trans people,” “Too queer for here” and “We belong everywhere.” Carnell told USA Today that two additional products were “intended for launch but have now been, I assume, scrapped.”
“When I was approached to create products for Target they told me that my work such as ‘Satan Respects Pronouns’ wouldn’t be a good fit, they were observant enough and had the necessary critical thinking skills to realise that my use of occult imagery is as harmless as any horror movie targeted towards adults but wanted my collection for adults to be a bit less gothic,” Carnell wrote on Instagram.
The designer told USA Today that he had received “hundreds of hate messages and death threats.” Approximately 60,000 items were manufactured for the collaboration, he said.
When Carnell first unveiled his collaboration with Target on May 9, he was enthusiastic about the collaboration and the opportunity it presented.
“When they approached me to design a range for Pride I realised that I had an opportunity to create something huge,” he wrote in a message shared across social media. “I imagined what it would be like for a younger version of myself to see something more specific, more tailor made than a lacklustre rainbow flag. I wanted to create a range that would embrace younger me and tell him that who he is is more than OK, that being trans is special and wonderful and that the closet is not made for him to thrive in.”
The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group that last year awarded Target a perfect score in its Corporate Equality Index, released a statement Wednesday saying the retailer “should not be responding so easily to criticism and threats from the likes of the Proud Boys.”
“Target should put the products back on the shelves and ensure their Pride displays are visible on the floors, not pushed into the proverbial closet,” HRC president Kelley Robinson said in a statement. “That’s what the bullies want. Target must be better. Extremist groups and individuals work to divide us and ultimately don’t just want rainbow products to disappear, they want us to disappear. For the past decade, the LGBTQ+ community has celebrated Pride with Target—it’s time that Target stands with us and doubles-down on their commitment to us.”
This past year has been the worst on record for anti-LGBTQ legislation, with states banning medically necessary gender-affirming care for youths, and in some cases, effectively for adults as well. Across the country, state legislatures are also attempting—and in some cases in succeeding—in passing bathroom bills that would jail transgender people for using the correct bathroom.
This push to strip away LGBTQ rights has been accompanied by an attack on companies that are perceived as supporting the queer community. Earlier this year, this campaign resulted in a conservative boycott of Bud Light for collaborating with the transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth addressed the controversy weeks later saying the company “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people.” The reversal alienated the queer community, with the HRC suspending the company’s perfect Corporate Equality Index score earlier this month.
Matt Walsh, a far-right pundit who has focused much of his attention on the trans community, has praised the Target boycott, explicitly comparing it to the one targeting Bud Light.
“The goal is to make ‘pride’ toxic for brands,” Walsh wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “If they decide to shove this garbage in our face, they should know that they’ll pay a price. It won’t be worth whatever they think they’ll gain. First Bud Light and now Target. Our campaign is making progress. Let’s keep it going.”
Walsh telegraphed this exact strategy in early April, saying his followers should “pick a victim, gang up on it, and make an example of it.”
“We can’t boycott every woke company or even most of them,” he wrote. “But we can pick one, it hardly matters which, and target it with a ruthless boycott campaign. Claim one scalp then move onto the next.”
U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, the first openly LGBTQ+ congresswoman from Target’s home state, released a statement Wednesday saying it was “disappointing” see Target give in to threats and harassment. “It is important that we do everything we can to keep employees safe in their workplace, but giving in to bullies only emboldens their behavior,” she said.