June is upon us, and with that Pride season.
This year, in particular, Pride feels tenuous, as if the whole festivity is hanging by a string. Many, in states such as Florida, have had to be canceled due to onerous bans on drag that have chilled the event, while others will be clouded over with the anti-drag, anti-trans, and anti-queer attitudes pervasive in 2023.
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how many Pride seasons are left, given the current political trajectory. Yet one thing clearly remains, and that is corporations glomming onto Pride as a feel-good marketing gimmick. Setting aside the worst offenders — like big banks or defense contractors seeking to “pink wash” reputations or otherwise court the LGBTQ dollar without doing more than a vaguely worded, “love is love” statement coupled with a rainbow icon on social media — I can’t help but notice that most retailers are at least trying their best to get on the bandwagon.
Every ad in my email and every store I walk in seems to have some attempt at capitalizing on Pride Month. Even my supermarket was selling kits for decorating rainbow-themed sugar cookies in the same spot that recently had Easter eggs and shamrock treats.
I’m not a big fan of companies co-opting pride to line their pockets
At the same time, I know that when a young LGBTQ child or even a deeply-closeted adult sees a pride display in a store like Wal-Mart or Target in their hometown, it makes a difference. It shows they matter, especially in an increasingly hostile world. We may sneer at the basic old store and their sometimes questionable, rainbow-colored goods — and I’m right there with you, wondering who thought a green jump-suit with the word “Gay” in yellow emblazoned on the back was a tasteful product for the local Target — but I know that for some, this does make a huge difference. That in itself should be applauded.
Yet, I do want to talk about Target, as well as Hersheys, Bud Light, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, each of which have stories to tell this Pride season.
Way back in March, Hershey’s launched their “Her For She” campaign, promoting five female activists as part of an International Women’s Day campaign in Canada. One of those five women, Fae Johnstone, was transgender. Needless to say, Johnstone’s presence riled up conservatives who felt that she was somehow “erasing women” by being part of the campaign.
Likewise, Anhueser-Busch, who I’ve spoken about before, created a single can featuring Dylan Mulvaney, a trans women influencer. It was part of a marketing deal, with Mulvaney pushing the brand on her TikTok channel. This led to large boycotts, including bomb threats aimed at Anheuser-Busch distilleries.
After this, the L.A. Dodgers planned a Pride Night, including honoring the L.A. chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. After complaints from Catholics, as well as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the invite to the drag nuns was rescinded.
Finally, Target. Like previous years, Target made a big deal out of a pride display in their store, with several LGBTQ-themed items. As well as the aforementioned jumpsuit, this display included “tuckable” swimsuits for adults as well as a sweatshirt and two bags designed by a UK trans-led company, Abprallen.
Target, like the others, faced threats of violence from angry, right-wing, anti-trans bigots, including direct threats to their employees as well as the same sort of bomb threats that Anheuser-Busch suffered.
Also, like Anheuser-Busch and the Dodgers, Target caved in, removing the items designed by Abprallen, as well as the swimsuits and potentially some other items as well. Just like the others, this was a mistake.
Those pushing these have made it clear that this is designed to be incremental, taking out one company at a time, expecting smaller companies to fall into line to avoid controversy.
“The goal is to make ‘pride’ toxic for brands,” said right-wing provocateur Matt Walsh. “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.”
The attacks on Target — and other brands — are still ongoing, with the right claiming that the swimsuits were marketed to children (they weren’t) and that the Abprallen designs featuring Satanic imagery were being sold in stores (they weren’t). No one is apparently going to let the truth stand in the way of a successful moral panic.
Meanwhile, each time a brand does cave in, it also leads to backlash from our own community, who — rightfully — see just how shallow the corporate commitment to LGBTQ people is.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, to their credit, did reverse their decision, and the Sisters are allowed at their pride night — though I expect to see the Dodgers quietly shutter pride in the future. Bud Light has all but reversed course from Dylan Mulvaney, while Target — still very much being attacked by the right — is trying to figure out what they did wrong, all while their designer partners face their own direct attacks from the right. I, too, expect them to scale back in future years, while other stores do what they can to avoid the watchful eye of right-wing protestors.
I said before: it is important for those of us who may be in areas where it is that much harder to be ourselves to see that the big-box store will cater to them. — but if the store is unwilling to weather any hint of protest, then I don’t think it’s helping anyone. At the very least, it’s not the sort of corporate allyship that serves anyone’s needs.
Gwen Smith did get a couple of the pride items at Target, but no jumpsuit. You’ll find her at www.gwensmith.com/.