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'Target doesn't have a spine': Workers slam retailer's decision to pull LGBTQ Pride-themed products amid backlash

By James Rogers

Many Target employees believe the company pulled Pride products in order to salvage sales, worker-advocacy group says

Amid Target's decision to pull Pride-themed products from some stores after intense anti-LGBTQ backlash, many of its employees believe the company has caved to a bad-faith campaign in order to salvage sales, according to the worker-advocacy group Target Workers Unite.

Target (TGT) has been offering a range of Pride-related products in the run up to June's Pride Month. However, the chain has removed some LGBTQ-themed products and hidden Pride Month displays in certain Southern locations following online complaints and in-store confrontations that the company says placed employees at risk, the Associated Press reports.

But that response has sparked criticism from within Target.

"A lot of workers think that Target doesn't have a spine," said Adam Ryan, who works at a Target in Christiansburg, Va., and is an organizer for Target Workers Unite, which describes itself as an independent initiative run by rank-and-file employees of the retail giant. "They are conceding to the hysteria -- this supposed concern about the safety of employees is patronizing and disingenuous," he told MarketWatch.

Related:Trans designer speaks out after Target pulls products: 'I've had a lot of death threats'

"I think it's really that they don't want to suffer any loss in sales," Ryan added. There were more bad customer interactions when Target employees enforced COVID-era mask-wearing policies and showed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the organizer. "When workers tried to show solidarity with the George Floyd protests, they had customers yelling at them because they were wearing BLM masks," he said.

Target did not immediately respond to a MarketWatch request for comment.

The hostile response to Target's Pride collection reflects a current climate of transphobia, Ryan told MarketWatch. "It's part of the culture war," he said. It comes hot on the heels of a backlash against Anheuser Busch InBev-owned (ABI.BT) Bud Light as a result of its partnership with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

Related: Target on the defensive after removing LGBTQ-themed products

The Target controversy was exacerbated by false claims the retailer was selling "tuck-friendly" swimsuits for kids, according to the AP. Target has been selling adult "tuck-friendly" bathing suits for trans women who have not received gender-affirming medical care.

U.K.-based designer Erik Carnell was also caught up in the Target furor after the retailer began selling three products from his brand Abprallen. The products are no longer available on Target's website, and the designer has been targeted amid the right-wing backlash against Pride products. Carnell said he has received a deluge of threats and hateful comments, as well as an "unprecedented number of orders" from supportive customers.

In a statement provided to MarketWatch earlier this week, a Target spokesperson said the company had "experienced threats impacting our team members' sense of safety and well-being while at work" since introducing this year's Pride collection.

"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," the spokesperson said. "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."

Target has offered Pride-related products for more than a decade, according to the spokesperson.

Related: Target removes some LGBTQ merchandise from stores ahead of Pride month after threats to workers

Ryan, the Target Workers Unite organizer, said he had heard from an employee at one Target who was told they had "maybe 36 hours" to pull items off the floor. "A lot of people have said nothing has changed," he added. "A few people that are in the South are saying that their [Pride] displays were moved further back in the stores."

Meanwhile, Target has faced criticism from across the political spectrum. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, tweeted Tuesday that Target CEO Brian Cornell was "selling out the LGBTQ+ community to extremists." On Thursday, Conservative Political Action Coalition chair Matt Schlapp slammed Target's "apparent embrace of radical gender ideology" in a letter to Cornell.

See: 'Cleaner' Target enjoying margin recovery, analysts say

The retailer has not yet responded to a request for comment on Newsom's and Schlapp's respective criticisms.

Target's stock was down 1.7% Friday, compared to the S&P 500 index's gain of 0.6%.

Bill Peters contributed.

-James Rogers

This content was created by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently from Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.


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05-27-23 1154ET

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