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Corporations Embolden Hate When They Cave to Anti-LGBTQ Fury


Target Pride merchandise display in June

A Target Pride display from last year includes a range of rainbow-themed clothing, mugs, paper products and other trinkets. (Blurred Bylines photo)

May 31, 2023 ~ By Shari Rose

When Target removed Pride products from its shelves after a firestorm of death threats from anti-LGBTQ hate groups, it just emboldened future tactics

For the last 10 years, Target has sold Pride apparel and various merchandise in its stores during the month of June. Each store typically features a display or two of rainbow-themed clothing, buttons, mugs, and other items. These LGBTQ products often include funny play-on-words like “Live, Laugh, Lesbian” or simple messages such as, “Love is Love.” 

In the past, there has been little public outcry against these Pride displays. But this year was different. 

Pride Merchandise in Target Stores Causes Right-Wing Firestorm

With the rising tide of anti-LGBTQ hate among right-wing fringe groups that continues to spill into state legislatures across the country, many sought to capitalize on the moment and fire up their base. Ben Shapiro, one of the loudest voices in the anti-LGBTQ movement and noted anti-trans crusader in recent years, shared a video on May 18 where he spread a lie that Target was selling “tuck-friendly” swimsuits to children. 

Transgender swimsuit lie debunked

The Associated Press debunks the popular lie in right-wing spaces that Target was selling tuck-friendly swimsuits to children. The product was only offered in adult sizes. (Source)

Though the Associated Press quickly debunked the false claim that Target was selling trans suits to kids (they were offered in adult sizes only), the lie spread like wildfire in conservative circles on social media. This lie helped further a favorite falsehood in these hate groups that gay and transgender people are groomers, child abusers, etc. More voices on the right spread the vitriol to their audiences on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms, garnering hundreds of thousands of likes and millions of views.

Then came even more fury when it was discovered that one of the small Pride shops that partnered with Target also sells shirts that feature pastel-colored Satans and witchcraft imagery. The UK-based shop, called Abprallen, has shirt designs that say things like “Satan Respects Pronouns,” “Only a Snowflake Would Want to Ban Drag” and “Transitioning Saves Lives.”

Abprallen brand features LGBTQ merchandise

UK-brand Abprallen features pastel-colored, pro-LGBTQ merchandise on its Instagram profile. (Source)

None of the designs that included Satan or occult imagery were offered in Target stores. Those products were never part of the partnership. But that didn’t matter to the right’s internet outrage machine. Erik Carnell, a gay trans man and owner of the shop, said he stopped counting the death threats he received after hitting 500. 

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“I have received innumerable death threats and threats of violence, these only being outnumbered by the sheer volume of hate messages I’ve received,” he told Rolling Stone over email. “I am upset over the lies that have been spread about me and the falsehood that I designed so-called ‘satanic’ items for children in Target. I designed items only for the adult sections, none of which had any occult or otherwise ‘satanic’ imagery.”

Still, voices on the right continued to stoke anti-LGBTQ outrage and backlash against Target. And some individuals, emboldened by the hate they immersed themselves in online, took matters into their own hands. 

Target Caves to Anti-LGBTQ Demands After Threats Against Employees

Target employees, both on the corporate and in-store employees, received a deluge of threats against their physical safety and well-being. Videos began surfacing of angry men confronting store employees or destroying Pride themed decorations in Target stores. 

Target anti-pride outrage video

A video from May 25, 2023, shows a man angrily confront a Target store employee in Missoula, MT while standing in front of a Pride display he damaged. He apparently harassed a transgender couple before taking aim at the store display. (Source)

The threats of violence in response to Pride merchandise being sold in stores became successful when Target quickly broke down and removed some LGBTQ-made products from its shelves and online. A spokeswoman for the brand said “We’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work,” and have removed some of the “items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.”

Target cut ties entirely with Abprallen, and every single one of Carnell’s products was removed from its stores and online marketplace. The apparel collection included pastel colored shirts that read “Cure Transphobia, Not Trans People” and another with a colorful UFO that read “Too Queer For Here.”

Man destroys pride display at Target

In a video from May 24, 2023, a man later identified as Ethan Schmidt through his use of gay dating apps, is seen tearing down a Pride sign and stomping on it. (Source)

Another small business that had partnered with Target for its Pride collection was called Ash+Chess, and most of their LGBTQ Pride products were removed from the stores as well. Products in their collection with Target included shirts that read, “Ask Me About My Pronouns” and “Trans People Will Always Exist.”

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With regard to protecting its employees and merchandise, Target has never shied away from investing in stronger security measures over the years. In the early 2000s, it launched a decade-long program called Safe City that created new partnerships with dozens of law enforcement agencies across the U.S. to catch shoplifters. Every store is equipped with a vast array of security cameras and security guards, as well as rumored loss prevention features that allegedly go far beyond what the average retailer is willing to do to find shoplifters.

Ash + Chess statement about Pride products removed in Target

LGBTQ brand Ash + Chess release a May 26 statement on Instagram that says most of their products have been removed from Target stores and online due to threats. (Source)

And right before the aforementioned online outrage broke out, Target announced it was installing more protective glass structures throughout its stores to cut down on retail theft. Clearly, Target is comfortable in investing in protective measures that secure its employees and its brand against harm. 

But in this case, Target backed down immediately when faced with criminal behavior in its stores. Instead, it allowed the groups who threatened and harassed its employers to get exactly what they wanted. That choice ultimately hurts everyone. 

Perhaps the decision makers at Target thought that allowing concessions to these hate groups would quell their anger, but it just encourages them to escalate attacks. Their past threats and outrage were successful in forcing a massive corporation to remove Pride products from its stores, so why wouldn’t they do it again with the next brand? This achievement encourages copycats in future attacks against the LGBTQ community and those who support them. Right-wing darling and self-proclaimed ‘theocratic fascist’ Matt Walsh explained it best in a tweet on April 5:

Matt Walsh "pick a victim" tweet

Matt Walsh tweets the right-wing playbook on anti-LGBTQ hate on April 5, 2023. He writes in part, “Pick a victim, gang up on it, and make an example of it.” (Source)

Rather, Target pulled a Bud Light by publicly conceding to hate and infuriating just about everybody else. In a statement to the press, President and CEO of GLAAD Sarah Kate Ellis responded to Target’s decision to remove Pride products:

“Anti-LGBTQ violence and hate should not be winning in America, but it will continue to until corporate leaders step up as heroes for their LGBTQ employees and consumers and do not cave to fringe activists calling for censorship. The fact that a small group of extremists are threatening disgusting and harsh violence in response to Target continuing its long-standing tradition of offering products for everyone should be a wake-up call for consumers and is a reminder that LGBTQ people, venues, and events are being attacked with threats and violence like never before.”

Rising Anti-Trans and Anti-Gay Hate in the U.S.

The fury over Pride inclusion in corporate marketing and merchandise is part of a larger escalation of threats and violence by fringe groups against trans, gay and queer people in the U.S. In the last year alone, these groups have sent ongoing bomb threats to children’s hospitals in Boston, Pittsburgh and other metro areas because they offer gender-affirming care to patients. Proud Boys have attacked multiple Drag Story Hours across the U.S., physically assaulting people who carried nothing but rainbow flags and pro-LGBTQ signs. Earlier this month, literal Nazis disrupted a drag brunch in Ohio, yelling slurs, carrying flags with swastikas, and performing the very recognizable Hitler salute. 

Right-wing bomb threats in response to LGBTQ rights

A small collection of bomb threats that right-wing groups and individuals have made against an array of organizations in the last year, including children’s hospitals, schools and a Planned Parenthood clinic. (Source)

And it’s not just the far-right fringe groups on the internet that are seeking to silence, intimidate, punish, and erase LGBTQ identities in the U.S. So far in 2023, Republicans have introduced nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ bills in the U.S. These include outright bans on gender affirming care for both transgender kids and adults, book bans in schools that target LGBTQ characters or themes, bathroom bills that make even the most basic human needs unsafe for trans people, drag bans that effectively also ban Pride events, and so called “forced-outing” bills that force teachers to tell parents if a child is using different pronouns. 

Anti LGBTQ bills introduced in legislatures in 2023

A record number of anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced into state legislatures in 2023. This chart shows 417 new bills since the start of the year through April. With the inclusion of May’s totals, there are nearly 500 bills so far this year. (Source)

We are in the middle of an onslaught against civil protections that generations of LGBTQ people fought so hard to achieve. But here’s the thing. Anti-trans and anti-gay laws that seek to harm the LGBTQ community are massively unpopular. These fringe groups really are on the fringe of the issue. The vast majority of Americans don’t hate transgender, gay, bisexual and non-binary people.

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When Target bowed to the demands of a few loud and angry people, it upset their actual consumer base. Most of Target’s buyers may not consider themselves LGBTQ activists, but they certainly don’t agree with what Proud Boys, Nazis and other hate groups are doing to the community. And capitulating to their demands hurts the brand’s perception everywhere. Bud Light acted similarly when faced with anti-trans backlash from the right, and the brand’s revenue still has not recovered from boycotts on both the right and left.

Target does not get to claim to support the LGBTQ community after removing Pride products  that did not harm anyone. The right-wing fury they faced was based on lies concerning trans bathing suits for kids and satanic shirts in stores – neither of which were ever true! Neither of these products were ever sold at Target and the corporation still caved to anti-LGBTQ hate groups anyway. It doesn’t matter how many rainbows they throw in their television commercials or social media ads, there is no swift brand recovery after doing this. 


We have two sides here. LGBTQ people who want to protect their rights and their lives, and anti-LGBTQ groups who want to eradicate the existence of LGBTQ people in American society. These are not equally opposing sides of an issue. One is borne out of love and acceptance, the other out of hate and violence. 

We do not make concessions to those who seek to eradicate our very existence. There is no middle ground. Some brands, like Nike and Northface, have understood that from the beginning and held firm against right-wing hate after their recent marketing featured trans and drag spokespeople. Other brands, like Target and Bud Light, have made irreversible mistakes in acquiescing to hate and continue to pay for it.  

Proud Boys attack LGBTQ demonstrators at drag story hour

Members of far-right group Proud Boys physically assault pro-LGBTQ demonstrators as they hold rainbow flags and signs. The Proud Boys originally showed up to intimidate spectators at a Drag Story Hour in Maryland. (Source)

And like the massive corporations who wave the rainbow flag every June while quietly donating millions of dollars to anti-gay and anti-trans lawmakers across the US, the brands who seek middle ground with hate groups do nothing but show their true colors to the rest of us. 

Under the guise of ‘protecting children,’ these lies proliferated online. These anti-LGBTQ, right-wing fringe groups are the same people who believe a 12-year-old girl should be forced to give birth to her rapist’s baby. These are the same people who believe that guns should have more rights than the children who are shot to death in their classrooms.

While it’s certainly obvious to those who pay any attention to these issues, it’s still worth noting that the recent explosion in anti-LGBTQ furor isn’t about ‘protecting children’ at all. It is about eradicating transgender, gay and queer people from public life. 

Finally, I want to acknowledge an argument I’ve seen crop up every so often in queer spaces. Some contend that these anti-LGBTQ organizations really just hate transgender people, and will spare gays, lesbians and bisexual people from their crosshairs. But that’s not how this works. Coming after trans people’s rights and lives is the starting point, not the finish line for these hate groups. Just last year, Ted Cruz argued that the Supreme Court was wrong in legalizing gay marriage. And with the current political composition of the highest court of the land, everyone’s rights are in danger. An attack on one is an attack on all, and the LGBTQ community must continue to show up and out that we stand tall together. 

Happy Pride, and stay safe out there.  

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Shari Rose

Shari Rose

Owner of Blurred Bylines💖💜💙

I created Blurred Bylines in an effort to bring stories from marginalized perspectives into the national conversation. As a former copy editor at the largest newspapers in Arizona and Colorado, I’ve seen first-hand the potential of accurate and accessible information to change minds and affect national policy. 

My stories focus on individuals fighting for justice and their own rights as Americans, survivors of violent crime who rebuilt their lives after tragedy, shifting political trends that seek to strip the LGBTQ+ community and other minority groups of their freedoms, and forgotten figures in U.S. history whose fights for equality persist today.

Through writing these articles, I stumbled upon the power of search engine optimization (SEO) to attract interested audiences to my writing. In addition to the ad-free and paywall-free stories I write at Blurred Bylines, I also perform SEO services for businesses, nonprofits, and fellow freelancers around the country so they can grow their organizations through search engines. 

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