Target accolades for second backlash after removing LGBTQ Pride Month merchandise
NEW YORK — Target once distinguished itself by boldly supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
Now he risks losing that status after removing some LGBTQ+-themed products and hiding Pride Month displays in some Southern locations, in response to online complaints and in-store confrontations he says were a threat to employee well-being.
Target is facing a second potential backlash from customers who are upset by the discount retailer’s reaction to aggressive anti-LGBTQ+ activism, which has also swept through Republican state legislatures. On Wednesday, civil rights groups chastised the company for caving in to anti-LGBTQ+ customers who knocked down displays and expressed outrage over flowing swimsuits.
“Target should be putting products back on shelves and making sure their Pride displays are visible on floors, not pushed into the proverbial closet,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said in a statement. “That’s what bullies want.”
The uproar over Target’s Pride Month marketing — and its response to criticism — is just the latest example of how companies are struggling to respond to different customer groups in a time of extreme cultural divides. , particularly around transgender rights.
Bud Light is still facing fallout after an attempt to expand its customer base by teaming up with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Its parent company is tripling its marketing spending in the United States this summer as it tries to restore lost sales.
In Florida, Disney has been embroiled in a legal battle with Governor Ron DeSantis since he voiced opposition to state-imposed limits on classrooms for discussing gender identity and sexual orientation.
Allen Adamson, co-founder and managing partner of marketing firm Metaforce, said Target should have anticipated the backlash and varied the products it sells by region in the first place.
“Once they retreated to the more extreme edges of the problem, they lost their footing,” he said. “If you can change a big mark just by knocking down a screen, then they’re on defense and you never win on defense.”
Shares of Minneapolis-based Target fell nearly 3% on Wednesday.
According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 21% of Gen Zers identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, compared to 3% of baby boomers. Gallup also found that younger consumers are more likely to want brands to promote diversity and take a stand on social issues.
“Pulling out is the worst thing they could have done,” said Jake Bjorseth, who runs trndsttrs, an agency that helps brands understand and reach Gen Z customers. potential is not understanding what (LGBTQ+) members go through on a daily basis.”
Not too long ago, Target was considered a pioneer among retailers in the way it embraced LGBTQ+ rights and customers.
It was among the first to introduce themed products to honor Pride Month, which takes place in June, and it has been at the forefront of developing relationships with LGBTQ+ vendors.
In 2016, when the national debate exploded over transgender rights, the company released a press release stating that “inclusivity is a core belief at Target” and said it supported transgender employees and customers using the restroom or dressing room “corresponding to their gender identity.”
After facing boycotts and backlash from customers, Target announced months later that more stores would provide a single-toilet bathroom with a lockable door.
The company now operates in a very different environment.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures since the start of this year. At least 17 states have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors, though judges have temporarily blocked enforcement in some states.
The controversy at Target has been exacerbated by several misleading videos circulating online. In some cases, people have incorrectly claimed that the retailer sells “tuck-friendly” swimwear for children. “Tuck friendly” costumes allow trans women who have not undergone gender affirmation surgery to conceal their private parts.
“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 behaviors,” Target said in a statement Tuesday.
Online vitriol against Target’s Pride Month merchandise is nothing new. Last year, law enforcement monitored a social media threat from a young Arizona man who said he was “waging war” on Target over its Pride Month merchandise, and he encouraged others to take action.
But business was business as usual at many Target locations on Wednesday.
At Target in Topeka, Kansas, the Pride display remained up front, visible as shoppers walked past a corral of shopping carts just past the entrance. It included Pride-themed clothing for children, as well as women’s t-shirts and swimsuits for adults.
“I love that our local stores here have it front and center when you walk in,” said Shay Hibler, an independent small business owner from Topeka who shops with her 13-year-old daughter and supports rights. LGBTQ+.
Megan Rusch, a Kansas City-area resident who is studying criminal justice at Washburn University in Topeka, was shopping at the same store and said that while stores in other areas might be concerned about their image locally, “it’s quite a diverse area”.
She said she thinks it’s good for stores to have Pride displays so LGBTQ+ customers feel included.
• Durbin contributed from Detroit. AP Writer John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas contributed to this report.
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