Target, one of the largest retailers in the US, has been selling Pride-themed merchandise for over a decade. However, this year, the company faced an anti-LGBTQ campaign that went viral on social media. The campaign, fueled by far-right personalities, falsely claimed that Target was marketing one product for transgender adults to children.
Amid threats levied against Target employees and instances of damaged products, the company was forced to make an impossible decision to safeguard its employees and stores or continue to support customers who wanted to buy the products it was selling.
The anti-trans campaign spread misleading information about the company’s Pride Month products and business practices. According to marketing professor Yoram Wind, Target was trying to reach a growing LGBTQ market of customers and employees, one of the largest minority groups in the country. Around 7% of Americans identified as LGBTQ in 2021, according to Gallup, up from 3.5% in 2012.
The campaign made false claims that Target was marketing a product for transgender adults to children. Target sold a women’s swimsuit that was described as “tuck-friendly” for its ability to conceal male genitalia. The bathing suit was available for adults only, according to screenshots of the items when they were available online.
In response to the campaign’s hostility, Target opted to protect employee safety by removing certain items that it said caused the most “volatile” reaction from opponents. However, this decision has angered LGBTQ advocates and led to criticism that Target was caving to extreme elements of American society. CEO of Target Brian Cornell was even accused of selling out the LGBTQ+ community to extremists by California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Pressure on Brands
More brands are being caught in cultural issues in part because of social media. Disney has been caught in a protracted fight with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stemming from legislation he signed that prohibits teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in class, known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay.” The Los Angeles Dodgers this week also reversed course and extended a new invitation to a drag group after earlier disinviting them from the team’s upcoming Pride Night at Dodger Stadium. Although Target was acting to protect employees, some corporate marketing experts say the company’s response could embolden gay and transgender rights opponents to target other brands.
Target became the focus of the anti-LGBTQ campaign’s ire for its Pride Month merchandise, but the campaign misrepresented Target’s ambitions. Target was selling Pride-themed merchandise to customers who wanted to buy them. It’s ultimately a business decision in the interest of enriching Target’s shareholders. “It’s helping us drive sales, it’s building greater engagement with both our teams and our guests, and those are just the right things for our business today,” Target CEO Brian Cornell said.
Target’s decision to remove certain Pride merchandise has come under fire for caving to bigoted pressure. While the company was acting to protect employee safety, some experts say the move could set a dangerous precedent. As more brands are caught in cultural issues, it’s important for companies to take a stand for their LGBTQ employees and customers and not cave to fringe activists calling for censorship.