Target Fumbles Into Branding Nightmare With Backlash Over LGBTQ Kids Clothing

Target Fumbles Into Branding Nightmare With Backlash Over LGBTQ Kids Clothing

Target LGBTQ

Pride Month merchandise at Target in Nashville, Tenn., May 24, 2023. (AP/George Walker IV)

The eighth-largest retail chain in the U.S has allowed itself to be taken hostage by an anti-LGBTQ campaign, saying Tuesday it would remove some products related to Pride Month after some customers made employees feel unsafe about the products.

Target has sold rainbow-colored clothing, décor and other items related to Pride Month for more than 10 years as part of the early summer celebration of the LGBT community, the Wall Street Journal reported. The company has always received some criticism for it, but the negative reaction became more aggressive this month, especially in recent days, a spokeswoman said.

“Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work,” she said. 

People have knocked down Pride merchandise displays, confronted workers in stores and made threatening posts on social media with video from inside stores.

Last week Target moved its Pride collection section away from the front of stores in some Southern states.

The company will continue to sell Pride-related items in stores but will remove some that are freaking people out the most, including a transgender-friendly swimsuit that some online objectors mistakenly thought was for children. Target said it’s only available in adult sizes.

“Tuck friendly??? Wtf target,” far-right Twitter account Clown World posted on May 16 with a video clip that suggested the swimsuit was for children. The tweet was deleted Tuesday after getting 6,000 likes and a million views.

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“Despite their claims that the retailer is ‘destroying our kids’ by selling bathing suits to toddlers with ‘extra crotch coverage,’ the reality is that Target only offers the ‘tuck-friendly’ items in adult sizes as part of its Pride month collection,” Justin Baragona wrote for The Daily Beast.

Conservative activists are having a field day and claiming victory when it comes to eroding LGBTQ rights in America, with 480 anti-LGBTQ bills filed in state legislatures so far in 2023, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Lawmakers have enacted laws to ban education on LGBTQ issues in schools, drag performances and transition-related healthcare. 

Target joins a growing list of brands and companies, including Walt Disney, caught in increasingly heated partisan culture wars centered around LGBT rights.

“It’s always been best practice in my view for brands to stay away from super controversial issues that are not directly related to their business,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “The problem is that today there are many issues that are controversial.”

Bud Light sales decreased after the beer brand partnered with transgender social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney earlier this year, and calls went out to boycott the company, NBC News reported. Two marketing executives were put on leave as part of the company’s response.

Right-wing political commentator Matt Walsh wrote that his “goal” is to “make ‘pride’ toxic” for brands.

“First Bud Light and now Target,” Walsh tweeted. “Our campaign is making progress. Let’s keep it going…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.”

Homophobia — the irritational dislike of, or prejudice against, people who are LGBTQIA+ — “is apparently associated with homosexual arousal … that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies,” according to a 1996 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

Target’s response to the anti-LGBTQ campaign has angered supporters of gay and transgender rights, who say the company caved to bigots.

“CEO of Target Brian Cornell selling out the LGBTQ+ community to extremists is a real profile in courage,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Tuesday.

Corporate leaders must support their LGBTQ employees and consumers and “not cave to fringe activists calling for censorship,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization.