Pride Month collection at a Target store

Target CEO Defends Decision To Remove Pride Merch Following Conservative Hate

Target CEO Brian Cornell has defended the retailer’s decision to remove Pride merchandise during Pride Month due to conservatives’ hateful reactions. Cornell said the decision was necessary to protect employees, but also failed to condemn the horrific, aggressive, and disruptive behavior of conservatives.

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Back in May, Target started rolling out its annual Pride collection to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month in June. For over a decade the retailer has routinely rolled out new merch to commemorate Pride Month and this year was no different—almost. Unfortunately, this year’s Pride collection sparked unprecedented backlash. Conservative parents began inciting hysteria by spreading false information that the Pride collections were specifically targeted at children and that Satanists created the merch. It didn’t take long for the hysteria to spread across the nation as these people continued sharing hateful lies about how the LGBTQ+ community, Satanists, and Target were out to get everyone’s children.

Videos soon surfaced on social media of conservative bigots trashing Pride displays, confronting employees, and threatening violence. Several stores received bomb threats, while one social media user’s threat to “hunt” LGBTQ+ supporters at Target sparked a police investigation. It didn’t take long for Target to cave to the bigots, with the company announcing in May that it was removing some items in its collection and reviewing others. Some locations also started moving their collections deeper into the store to hide them. Of course, this also drew criticism as no one should be bending to these hateful and aggressive people, encouraging them to think that threats of violence are an effective tool for getting their way. Cornell, though, is doubling down on that decision.

Target CEO defends caving to conservatives

In an interview with CNBC, Cornell addressed the Pride collection backlash and Target’s response. First, he refuted claims that Target made tuck-friendly swimsuits for children or was selling Satanist merch, confirming that these were blatant lies and there was no basis for the inciting allegations.

However, Cornell also claimed that the store didn’t have any option but to pull the merch. Cornell described the extent of conservatives’ aggression, which included threats, destruction, and disruption, with agitators threatening to light products on fire. While society has been through some turbulent times navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and the response to the murder of George Floyd, Cornell said that nothing has compared to the level of violence and threats Target faced from conservatives over Pride items. He stated, “What I saw back in May is the first time since I’ve been in this job where I had store team members saying, ‘It’s not safe to come to work.'”

Even though he knew it would spark backlash, Cornell chose to pull Pride merch to “prioritize the safety of the team.” However, he didn’t explain why Target never released a statement condemning the hatred. It easily could’ve made a statement expressing the truth—that the disgusting and horrific response from conservatives was making employees’ jobs unsafe and that it’s unacceptable. It also could’ve explained that removing merch was an emergency response intended to help keep employees safe, but that it would continue rolling out its Pride collection while coming up with a plan to combat the heightened threats.

Additionally, Cornell doesn’t clarify why removing the merch was the only option. Target is a massive retailer worth tens of billions of dollars. It had the power to go after all of these agitators and charge them with harassment, property damage, and disorderly conduct, as well as ramp up security measures in stores.

Cornell mentioned that he knew removing the merch wouldn’t be “well received.” However, it goes much deeper than that. It’s not just that we’re upset that the merch was removed, but that we’re concerned about the precedent it sets. Target claims it did this for the workers, but what about workers at other corporations? What happens to them when their company shows the slightest bit of support to marginalized communities, and conservatives begin attacking that business because it worked last time? What happens when conservatives are emboldened by what happened at Target and display even more aggression?

Shutting everything down for safety should be an option, but not before other options have been considered and exercised. Target had a lot of resources to try, but there’s not a lot of evidence that it tried everything. That should be concerning. It does need to protect its team, but it also needs to think about the most effective way to protect its staff rather than going with what seems to be the cheapest and easiest option. After all, this decision won’t protect Target if it ever rolls out this merch again, and may actually make it even more dangerous for employees next Pride month.

(featured image: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.