Target is being, er… targeted by anti-LGBTQ+ extremists for daring to display Pride-themed merchandise in its stores. There are videos online of people throwing fits inside of Target stores over the rainbow-hued goods.
In one video, a man saunters down the aisle before he punches the Pride display sign and then knocks it down and stomps on it. When someone off camera is, like, WTF? He says, “It’s disgusting” and, “It’s devil worship.”
And it is to people like him that Target is capitulating by removing items from their Pride display and relocating their Pride displays to the back of the store in response to “threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work.”
Keep in mind that Target has had displays of Pride merchandise for years. This isn’t a new thing. What is new is the concerted right-wing attack on the LGBTQ+ community based on lies that we are a danger to children. This isn’t a new argument. But its resurgence is particularly ugly right now as Republicans elected to legislative bodies across the country have made attacking transgender people, especially trans youth, their number one priority.
There are people in an uproar that there are children’s Pride shirts and onesies. They say that this is proof that there is some kind of grooming campaign afoot. You know who buys this stuff? I do. LGBTQ+ people like me have kids. I have nieces and nephews whose parents support me and my family. It is not perverted for a baby to wear a onesie with a rainbow on it. And it won’t make that baby gay or trans, either.
There is no concerted effort to “turn” kids gay or trans. The fact is, the majority of LGBTQ+ people were raised by heterosexual cisgender parents along traditional (either/or) gender lines.
“The pride flag symbol, we need to make that toxic. We need to have companies think twice about it,” Michael Knowles said on his Daily Wire show on May 24. “And then once we make these things culturally toxic or as we’re making these symbols culturally toxic, we’ve got to bring in the cavalry, we’ve got to come back in with more political force to ban some of this stuff.”
This is the same guy who said that Democrats have “a bizarre sexual interest in children.”
Here’s the thing: Hate cannot be satiated. It is a bottomless void that no amount of concession will ever fill. The people fueling the Target uproar aren’t just regular folks going into Target to buy milk, socks and a lawn chair. These are people who literally want us dead. They want to erase LGBTQ+ people. They want us gone forever.
To say that Target’s response to this nonsense is troubling is an understatement. They have decided that keeping hateful people as customers is more important than standing up against anti-LGBTQ+ hate.
“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,” Target said in a statement. “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.”
Standing with us, huh? Target might seem progressive and cool on the surface, but behind the scenes, they give plenty of money to Republican politicians who hate us. And that has far more consequence than selling a pair of rainbow stripe slide sandals.
That said, Target’s Pride display has been a visible symbol of societal acceptance for years, and to see them cave like this shows us that they were only interested in co-opting Pride and selling it back to us.
Reports are that Target is now expanding its removal of Pride items, but it seems that artist Erik Carnell’s items were the first to be pulled due to the backlash, including a sweatshirt that read, “Cure transphobia not trans people.”
“I’ve been told I’m going to hell since I was 11, if I was going to change I would have done it by now,” Carnell said on his Instagram. “Please don’t waste your precious time engaging with a stranger on the internet, I have not and will not respond to any of you. Instead, support your local community, take care of your fellow man. There’s so much good you could be doing in this world, don’t let your time go to waste.”
Wise words, indeed.
D’Anne Witkowski is a writer living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBTQ+ politics for nearly two decades. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.