Target is dialing back on Pride merchandise after right-wing backlash

Target is dialing back on Pride merchandise after right-wing backlash
  • PublishedMay 12, 2024

Target is limiting the number of stores that will sell LGBTQ-themed merchandise for Pride Month in June following a boycott from right-wing activists last year that took a toll on the brand’s bottom line.

This year, Target said it will sell only Pride-themed “adult apparel” and home goods “in select stores, based on historical sales performance” — a drastic reversal for the chain that had typically sold the items in many of its US stores for the past decade.

About half of its 2,000 stores will sell the Pride collection, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the news. The assortment will also be sold on Target’s website.

A Target spokesperson said in a statement to CNN that it’s “committed to supporting” the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, citing internal programs and presence at local Pride events, including in its hometown of Minneapolis.

“Most importantly, we want to create a welcoming and supportive environment for our LGBTQIA+ team members, which reflects our culture of care for the over 400,000 people who work at Target,” the company said in a statement.

The changes are a “sensible approach,” Neil Saunders, managing director of retail for GlobalData, told CNN. But he warned “it runs the risk of Target being accused of not being proud of Pride.”

“Unfortunately for Target, it has been dragged into the culture wars and is in a position where it can’t win whatever it does,” he said.

The Human Rights Campaign fired back, releasing a statement saying that selling Pride merchandise “means something,” and since the LGBTQ community makes up 30% of Generation Z, the HRC said, “companies need to understand that community members and allies want businesses that express full-hearted support for the community.”

“Target’s decision is disappointing and alienates LGBTQ+ individuals and allies at the risk of not only their bottom line but also their values,” said HRC President Kelley Robinson.

Pride problems

Last year, Target pulled Pride merchandise from some stores after the company and its employees became the focus of a “volatile” anti-LGBTQ campaign, which included threats against its store workers.

The company previously told the Wall Street Journal that people have confronted workers in stores, knocked down Pride merchandise displays and put threatening posts on social media with video from inside stores. Some people have thrown Pride items on the floor.

Prominent right-wing activists, Republican political leaders and conservative media outlets have focused their attention on a women’s swimsuit that was described as “tuck friendly” for its ability to conceal male genitalia. Misinformation spread on social media that it was marketed to children, which it was not.

That, plus the soft demand for discretionary goods, caused Target’s quarterly sales to fall for the first time in six years during the quarter that encompassed Pride assortment sales.

A Target executive said on the earnings call that there was a “strong reaction” to Pride merchandise and the reaction was a “signal for us to pause, adapt and learn.”


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