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US retailer Target pulls some LGBTQ+ merchandise after conservative backlash

An employee walks outside a Target store in Colorado, United States.
An employee walks outside a Target store in Colorado, United States. Copyright David Zalubowski/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright David Zalubowski/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Anca UleaAP
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Target, which has nearly 2,000 stores across the country, said it wants to protect employees from harm. Critics argue it sends the wrong message.

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US retailer Target – known for its accessibly-priced clothing and home goods – has announced it will remove some items with LGBTQ+ themes from its in-store Pride collection, following intense backlash from conservative customers.

“We’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work,” Target said in a statement on Tuesday. “Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the centre of the most significant confrontational behavior.”

The retailer, which has nearly 2,000 stores across the country, has been expanding its LGBTQ+ displays to celebrate Pride month for roughly a decade. Target begins selling Pride merchandise in early May, a month before the month-long celebration officially begins.

This year, however, those Pride displays have become a flashpoint for right-wing conservatives and radical Christians, who have called for a boycott of Target, accusing the store of grooming young children.

Online, misleading videos claimed that Target was selling children’s swimsuits that were “tuck friendly” to allow trans girls who haven’t had gender-affirming surgery to conceal their private parts. These claims have been debunked by several media outlets, including the Associated Press and Politifact.

One of the videos spreading misinformation that Target is selling children's "tuck-friendly" swimsuits. This has been debunked.

But for many conservatives and conspiracy theorists, facts are less important than maintaining their vicious campaign against a minority group that represents just 5 percent of adults under 30 in the United States.

The campaign against LGBTQ+ content in Target has seemingly worked. In some Southern states, Target confirmed that it will move its Pride merchandise to the back of the store after confrontations between employees and shoppers, which sometimes became violent.

Which items are being removed?

Target is offering more than 2,000 products, including clothing, books, music and home furnishings as part of its Pride Collection. The items include "gender fluid" mugs, "queer all year" calendars and books for children aged 2-8 titled "Bye Bye, Binary," "Pride 1,2,3" and "I'm not a girl."

While the retailer hasn’t specified which Pride merchandise it was removing from stores, the items that received the most backlash include the “tuck friendly” women’s swimsuits and several items made in collaboration with London-based company Abprallen.

Designed by British designer Eric Carnell, who goes by Erik on his website, the Abprallen x Target collection include a pastel pink sweatshirt that read “Cure transphobia, not trans people”, a saddle bag reading “We belong everywhere” and a tote bag reading “Too queer for here”.

On 19 May, Abprallen wrote on Instagram: “Being able to sell my stuff in Target stores is incredibly exciting, knowing that people are seeing it without (necessarily) explicitly seeking LGBT-related stuff is wonderful, and I’m especially happy at the thought that young closeted people will see it, and I hope that in some way they’ll feel a bit more comfortable in themselves, as we all deserve to feel.”

Conservatives and conspiracy theorists have harassed Carnell on Twitter over some of the items on his UK website that feature pentagrams and other satanic themes.

“These people are sick and evil and they’re the ones who are promoting the trans agenda on your children,” wrote US conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin in a Twitter thread calling for a boycott of Target.

What has the response been?

Target said it acted in order to protect employees from violence directed towards them. But many critics say that removing Pride merchandise will only encourage more violence.

Twitter user @sgbuggs wrote: “I am fairly certain the bigots are still gonna say they're not going to shop in your store anyway *and* you've pissed off all the mainstream Alphabet People who would have shopped in your store.”

Twitter user Drew Savicki suggested that “Target making it clear that violence is now acceptable.”

Target is the latest company to get caught up in the US culture wars. Last month, Anheuser-Busch felt the wrath of both sides of the US political divide when it hired trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney to promote its Bud Light beer.

After initially ignoring conservative backlash, Anheuser-Busch backtracked and put two marketing execs on leave. The botched damage control operation lost the company even more customers and saw its stock price plummet.

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Bud Light’s parent company said it will triple its marketing spending in the US this summer, as it tries to restore the sales it lost.

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