Target relocates and removes LGBTQ Pride collection from stores following customer threats

Target stores Pride Collection from Target website
Target stores Pride Collection from Target website

Critics angered at the store for caving to “homophobic extremists”

Target, one of the nation’s largest retail stores, has decided to pull some of its Pride 2023 Collection from its shelves. The store claims the decision was made for employee safety. 

For over a decade, Target has embraced the LGBTQ Pride month of June by rolling out a large collection of queer-themed items. Some notable merchandise includes rainbow-patterned clothing for all ages, embroidered with LGBTQ slang and culture; books covering topics such as pronouns, same-sex relationships, and LGBTQ history; and general party supplies for celebrating Pride month. 

However, this year, on May 24, Target released a statement saying it would be removing certain Pride-themed items from their stores that have caused customer backlash. 

“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.” 

Reuters reported that, while a number of Target’s Pride Collection items are up for reconsideration, the only current Pride products that are being removed come from the LGBTQ brand Abprallen. The brand has underlying controversy due to its ties to the London-based, transgender designer Erik Carnell, who’s been known to use pentagrams and other symbols related to Satanism in his designs.

On Instagram, Carnell shared his opinion on The Satanic Temple and the LGBTQ community. 

“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about The Satanic Temple, and to a lesser extent, The Church of Satan, how they’re so frequently misunderstood and demonised (pun not intended) and how LGBT+ people are so often referred to as being a product of Satan or going against God’s will,” Carnell wrote. “Satanists don’t actually believe in Satan, he is merely used as a symbol of passion, pride, and liberty. He means to you what you need him to mean. So for me, Satan is hope, compassion, equality, and love. So, naturally, Satan respects pronouns. He loves all LGBT+ people.” 

Target previously sold three Abprallen Pride Collection items: a $18 “too queer for here” tote bag, a $25 slogan sweater with the words “cure transphobia not trans people”  and a “we belong everywhere” fanny pack. None of these items are currently listed for sale on the Target website. 

Target is also reconsidering some of its Pride swimsuit line. While no bathing suits have yet to be removed, the company is reviewing some attire meant for the transgender and non-binary community, such as a “tuck-friendly” women’s swimsuit. 

In some stores, mainly in rural, Southern states, a Target Cooperation spokesperson confirmed the company was moving its Pride Collection to the back of the store after employees received backlash. Known occurrences of this happening are in Arkansas, South Carolina and Georgia. 

The Los Angeles Blade reported that, in Georgia, customers were destroying Pride Collection displays and verbally attacking employees with harsh words. 

Organizations across the country are speaking out against the removal and relocation of Target’s Pride 2023 collection. Many are appalled that the company is giving in to the heightened homophobic atmosphere of the country. 

“It is beyond disappointing that Target is caving to violent political extremists and betraying its commitment to the LGBTQ+ community by removing and relocating items in its Pride Collection from some of its stores,” Dr. David J. Johns, executive director, of the National Black Justice Coalition, the nation’s leading Black LGBTQ+ civil rights organization said in a statement. “It’s giving pride pimping, which is beyond problematic.” 

He continued, “Let’s be clear: removing items from its Pride Collection, or hiding them in the back of the store, is tantamount to insisting we all go back in the closet. At a time when LGBTQ+ rights and people are under attack, at a time when extremist political forces want to exterminate us, pushing our diverse history, experiences, and ways of being into the shadows, we need everyone to speak out for us including major corporations like Target and Budweiser. You can’t only support human rights where you are ‘safe’ from confrontation. Shame on Target.”

A joint statement from The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) calls for Target to stand its ground and fight for its support of the LGBTQ community. 

“Doubling down on your values is not only the right thing to do, it’s good for business,” NCLR said. “Research shows that if a brand publicly supports and demonstrates a commitment to expanding and protecting LGBTQ+ rights, Americans are 2x more likely to buy or use the brand. Americans ages 18-34 are 5.5x more likely to want to work at a company if it publicly supports and demonstrates a commitment to expanding and protecting LGBTQ+ rights.”  

They continued, “Target, and all businesses, can leverage the support of LGBTQ+ organizations to navigate this hate, so that together, we can let extremists know unequivocally that, just as with every other failed anti-LGBTQ+ campaign of the past, fear will not win.”