Target and a sales partner, the Phluid Project, have at least temporarily ceased selling a T-shirt with the famed ACT UP “Silence = Death” message after complaints from ACT UP New York.
In response to an inquiry on Twitter, ACT UP NY posted Friday that the companies had not asked permission to use the message and accompanying image of a pink triangle. The logo is in the public domain, as those who designed it intended, but the issue is that corporations are seeking to profit from it, ACT UP NY tweeted.
Target responded by taking the shirt off its website.
"This shirt was designed by our vendor partner, The Phluid Project, who is working directly with ACT UP to address their concerns," Target spokesperson Brian Harper-Tibaldo told The Advocate in an email. "The item is only available on Target.com and we've temporarily pulled it from our assortment until the concern is resolved."
Rob Smith, the gay, HIV-positive man who owns the Phluid Project, told the Los Angeles Blade that he had spoken to Target officials after he learned of the complaints on Twitter and that he was also communicating with ACT UP NY. His company specializes in genderless fashion and seeks to empower the LGBTQ+ community, he said.
In addition to the tweets, the controversy was first reported by Rolling Stone in an article available only to subscribers.
ACT UP NY has spoken out against corporate use of the “Silence = Death” message previously, as in a 2018 dispute with Nike, the Blade notes. The message has become one of the best-known images of the fight against HIV and AIDS.