Target confirmed that it would not carry Pride Month merchandise at all stores in June after the discount retailer experienced a backlash and lower sales over its collection honoring LGBTQ+ communities.

In May of 2023, right-wing media outlets helped to radicalize a handful of efforts by Conservative activists to bash Target for selling “tuck-friendly” women’s swimsuits that allowed some trans women to hide their genitalia.

False rumors were also spread online that the products were made for children, and offered in various kid sizes. The ignored truth was the swimsuits were only made for adults.

The manufactured outrage was a classic “Culture War” tactic used by anti-LGBTQ+ groups. The social media lies were followed by violent threats to employees at Target stores, which forced the retailer to withdraw the swimsuits as a safety precaution for its workers.

Target, which operates roughly 2,000 stores, said decisions about where to stock Pride-themed products, including adult apparel, home goods, foods, and beverages would be based on “guest insights and consumer research.”

A Target spokesperson declined to disclose the number of stores where the merchandise will not be available, but the company said its online shop would offer a full assortment.

“Target is committed to supporting the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month and year-round,” Target said in an emailed statement. “Most importantly, we want to create a welcoming and supportive environment for our LGBTQ+ team members, which reflects our culture of care for the over 400,000 people who work at Target.”

Kelley Robinson, president of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said Target’s decision was disappointing and risks alienating LGBTQ+ individuals and allies at the risk of not only profits, but also their values.

“Pride merchandise means something,” Robinson said in an emailed statement. “LGBTQ+ people are in every zip code in this country, and we aren’t going anywhere.”

Last year, Target removed some items from its stores and made other changes to its LGBTQ+ merchandise nationwide ahead of Pride Month after intense reaction from some customers who confronted workers and tipped over displays. Target also moved displays to the back of its stores in certain Southern locations last year.

But Target faced a second backlash from customers upset by the discount retailer’s reaction to aggressive, anti-LGBTQ+ activism, which has also been sweeping through Republican state legislatures.

Civil rights groups scolded the company for caving to customers who expressed outrage over a selection of gender-fluid bathing suits it carried last year. The anti-LGBTQ+ customers also posted threatening videos on social media from inside the stores.

Target’s latest moves are just another example of how companies are struggling to cater to different groups of customers at a time of extreme cultural divisions, particularly around transgender rights. Last year, beer brand Bud Light angered some customers with its attempt to broaden its customer base by partnering with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

Minneapolis-based Target and other retailers, such as Walmart and H&M, expanded their Pride Month offerings a decade ago or longer. But transgender rights, including to gender-affirming health care and sports participation, have become politicized social issues, prompting lawmakers in some states to try to reverse activists’ previous gains.

Target’s effort to scale back its presence of Pride merchandise for this year was not unexpected.

Last August, CEO Brian Cornell told reporters that Target learned from the radical and extremist backlash, and said the company would be more thoughtful about merchandise decisions for heritage months that celebrate the achievements of marginalized groups.

Target said it would have a slightly more focused assortment and would reconsider the mix of its own and national brands with its external partners.

“As we navigate an ever-changing operating and social environment, we’re applying what we’ve learned to ensure we’re staying close to our guests and their expectations of Target,” Cornell said.

Anne D’Innocenzio and MI Staff

Associated Press

NEW YORK, New York

George Walker IV (AP) and Lynne Sladky (AP)