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Target CEO Defends Pulling LGBTQ+ Pride Merchandise, Cites Unprecedented Safety Threats

Target Store LGBTQ Pride Merchandise Display
Image: Shutterstock

Brian Cornell reveals serious safety threats faced by Target employees due to conservative attacks on the store’s Pride Month collection.

Cwnewser

Target CEO Brian Cornell divulged the daunting challenges faced by employees due to the company’s Pride Month collection this year, which propelled him to remove some of the merchandise from shelves, in a new interview.

For more than a decade, Target has celebrated Pride Month every June with a distinctive collection that honors the LGBTQ+ community. Nonetheless, this year’s collection, inclusive of items tailored for transgender customers, evoked a sharp backlash.

This adverse reaction mirrored a larger national discourse where several states have enacted laws restricting medical care and bathroom access. In addition, they have framed guidelines on social issues discussed in classrooms, particularly those impacting transgender individuals.

Related: 7 Republican Attorneys General Probe Target’s ‘Obscene’ LGBTQ+ Pride Merchandise

This hostile climate didn’t just result in in-store confrontations but also contributed to a slump in Target’s sales during the second quarter, a point Cornell conceded.

On Thursday, Cornell told CNBC about the grave in-store situations employees found themselves in, with instances of "very aggressive behavior," threats, destruction of merchandise, and disruptions in the cashier area being reported.

Some people escalated the hostility by yelling at employees and threatening to “light product on fire” within the stores.

“I’ve seen natural disasters,” Cornell said. “We’ve seen the impact of COVID leading into the pandemic. Some of the violence that took place after George Floyd’s murder. But I will tell you, Becky, 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.’”

Related: State AGs to Target: We Support You, but You Shouldn’t Have Pulled Pride Merch

Drawing a parallel, beverage company AB InBev also encountered a wave of backlash earlier this year around its Bud Light brand following a partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

The reluctance to defend the endorsement led to a boycott that continues to dent the beer's sales.

Although the financial sting from the Pride collection backlash seems to have eased, Cornell pointed out that Target is wrestling with other enduring challenges as consumers are reigning in their spending, even on groceries.

Despite the financial headwinds, the overriding factor driving the decision to pull certain controversial merchandise off the shelves was the pressing need to safeguard the Target team, Cornell said.

Target is set to unveil its fiscal third-quarter earnings on November 15, shedding more light on the economic ramifications amid the company’s shifting positions.

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).