LGBTQ orgs call on Target to double down community support amid extremist threats

A selection of Pride merchandise at Target.

National and local LGBTQ advocacy organizations are calling on Target to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in light of recent threats from extremist groups targeting the retailer’s Pride-themed apparel. In response to complaints and confrontations from right-wing groups like the Proud Boys, Target leaders cleared away LGBTQ-centric merchandise and relocated Pride displays to the back of some of its Southern stores. 

Family Equality, GLAAD, GLSEN, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), National Center for Lesbian Rights, National LGBTQ Task Force, National Black Justice Coalition and Philadelphia Family Pride are calling for Target to release a public statement reaffirming their dedication to LGBTQ communities, to fully return Pride apparel to sales floors and online, and to guarantee the safety of team members working on the store’s front lines. In addition, over 100 LGBTQ+ organizations and allies, including the Eastern PA Trans Equity Project, National Black Justice Coalition and Garden State Equality have signed a similar statement.

“As an organization that supports LGBTQ+ led families, it horrifies us that fringe hate groups are stooping to terrorizing Target employees over rainbow shirts,” said Philadelphia Family Pride Executive Director Stephanie Haynes. “Everyone deserves to feel safe in their workplaces, schools, and communities — from Target employees to transgender children. But beyond safety, LGBTQ+ led families like ours deserve to see themselves represented and celebrated.”

According to a joint press release from the aforementioned national LGBTQ rights organizations, research indicates that if a brand outwardly supports LGBTQ rights, American consumers are twice as likely to buy the brand’s products. Plus, young Americans 18-34 are 5.5 times more likely to work for a company that publicly commits to supporting LGBTQ rights.”

“Businesses that are silent or are retreating at a time when anti-LGBTQ+ hatred, from statehouses to social media platforms, is at an all time high are abdicating their responsibility to stand by their values of diversity, equity and inclusion,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said in a press release. “We’ve seen it again and again: businesses that stand up for the values they espouse send a powerful message to their employees, shareholders and customers that equality is not up for debate.” 

Target issued a public statement explaining its reasoning for pulling some of its LGBTQ-themed merchandise, which reads: 

“For more than a decade, Target has offered an assortment of products aimed at celebrating Pride Month. Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work. 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 behavior. 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.”

USA Today reported that Target stores in Utah, Ohio and Pennsylvania recently received bomb threats because of their Pride collection, though Salt Lake City police reported “no credible threat.” Target said in a statement to USA Today that its stores were open and operating. Part of what fueled the extremist fire: videos that falsely claimed that Target was selling “tuck-friendly” bathing suits for kids, which make it easier for trans women who have not had bottom surgery to conceal their genitalia. 

“Target should not be pulling their Pride collections because of threats from domestic terrorists,” Pennsylvania Youth Congress wrote in a Facebook post. “While the potential for any violence should be taken seriously, validating their opposition to LGBTQ inclusion is not the right approach. We hope they will reverse course and add extra public safety personnel at the targeted stores, including one in Beaver County, PA.”

Target is not the only big company experiencing threats from anti-LGBTQ hate groups; the brewing company Anheuser-Busch received backlash against its Bud Light beer because trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney promoted the brand in sponsored Instagram posts. 

The anti-LGBTQ attacks come in the context of over 540 bills introduced in state legislatures aimed at stripping rights from American LGBTQ communities. According to the HRC, 45 of the bills have become law, including bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth, barring LGBTQ topics from being taught in schools and criminalizing drag performances. 

“Anti-LGBTQ violence and hate should not be winning in America, but it will continue until corporate leaders step up as heroes for their LGBTQ employees and consumers and do not cave to fringe activists calling for censorship,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis wrote in a Facebook post. “An avalanche of research shows that Americans are comfortable seeing LGBTQ people in ads and marketing and that consumers, especially younger ones, prefer companies that include LGBTQ people internally and externally.”

Erica Cobb, a co-host on the nationally syndicated talk show Daily Blast Live, said during the May 24 broadcast that “allyship is not meant to be comfortable. Why is it not meant to be comfortable? Because the people that you are aligning with aren’t comfortable. The whole point of allyship is to join forces, is to amplify minority voices. That means that you are in it with that group regardless. So if you are going to back down from what you were doing, essentially just monetizing off of LGBTQIA+, then that means that you were never about it to begin with. So any company that wants to stand down and say that they don’t want the backlash, and they want to play both sides of the fence… You try to get everybody, you’re gonna get no one.”