By ANNE D’INNOCENZIO and DEE-ANN DURBIN (AP Business Writers)
NEW YORK (AP) — Target once distinguished itself by boldly supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
Now that status is tarnished after removing some LGBTQ+-themed products and moving Pride Month displays to the back of stores in some southern locations in response to online complaints and in-store confrontations that it says him, threatened the well-being of the employees.
Target is facing a second backlash from customers 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 grappling with the fallout of when it sent transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney a can of beer with his face on it, which Mulvaney later displayed in an Instagram post, sparking a backlash. Bud Light’s parent company is tripling its U.S. marketing spend 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 thought about the potential for backlash and taken steps to avoid it, such as varying the products it sells by region.
“The country is much less homogeneous than it has ever been,” he said. “For any brand, it’s no longer ‘one size fits all’.”
Shares of Minneapolis-based Target extended their slide Thursday, down 2.6% in morning trading. On Wednesday, the stock closed down 3%.
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 backlash is not understanding what (LGBTQ+) members go through on a daily basis.”
“Once they retreated to the more extreme edges of the problem, they lost their footing,” Adamson added. “If you can change a big mark just by knocking down a screen, then they’re on defense and you never win on defense.”
Target has long been considered a pioneer among retailers in the way it embraces 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.
He also faced backlash. In 2016, when a national debate erupted over transgender rights, the company said “inclusion is a core belief at Target” and said it supported transgender employees and customers using the restroom or bathroom. fitting room “corresponding to their gender identity”.
But even after being threatened with a boycott by some customers, Target announced months later that more stores would provide a single-toilet bathroom with a lockable door.
Just last year, law enforcement was brought in to monitor a social media threat from a young Arizona man who said he was “waging war” on Target for his Pride Month merchandise, and he encouraged others to take action.
But the company now operates in an even more politicized 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.
Target on Wednesday declined to say what items it was removing from its stores. But women’s “tuck friendly” swimsuits, which allow trans women who haven’t had gender-affirming surgery to conceal their private parts, were among Target’s Pride items that caught the most attention. attention. Designs by Abprallen, a London-based company that designs and sells occult and satanic-themed LGBTQ+ clothing and accessories, have also created backlash.
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.
“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.
The company pledged its continued support for the LGBTQ+ community and noted that it “stands with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.”
Indeed, 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 studies criminal justice at Washburn University in Topeka, was shopping at the same store and said other places might be concerned about their image: ‘It’ is quite a diverse region.
She said she thinks it’s good for stores to have Pride displays so LGBTQ+ customers feel included.
Her shopping buddy, Blake Ferguson, a Colorado resident studying accounting and finance at the University of Ottawa, simply added, “Love is love.
Durbin contributed from Detroit. AP Writer John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas contributed to this report.
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