Target Scales Back LGBTQ-Friendly Pride Collection After Mass Backlash

By: James Dorman | Published: Jul 07, 2024

Despite facing backlash for it last year, Target is back with a Pride selection this year. However, the impact of last year’s firestorm is definitely being felt by the retailer.

Target has announced that its Pride selection this year will be just 75 items — a drastic reduction from last year’s lineup of more than 2000 items, according to reports.

Financial Backlash

The Minnesota-based retailer is likely responding to financial backlash from last year’s scandal, where the brand became embroiled in a social media firestorm over clothing and accessories marketed at children during last year’s Pride month.

Advertisement
A large pile of $100 bills spread out haphazardly. Bills cover the entire image.

Source: Mackenzie Marco/Unsplash

The chain saw its bottom line take a significant hit last year, losing $10 billion in 10 days amidst the controversy.

Advertisement

Toning Down

In addition to slashing its assortment of Pride products by over 90% down to a mere 75 items, a report from Business Insider indicates that Target is also toning down the flamboyant nature of the products.

Advertisement
Large red sign on the side of a brick building with the white “Target” logo and store name. Cars are parked in the foreground.

Source: Shabaz Usmani/Unsplash

Target says the move is based on “guest insights and sales trends,” which no doubt references the financial backlash from alienating conservative customers last year.

Customer Outrage

Boycotting customers singled out a few products as causing particular outrage, seething at “tuck-friendly” women’s swimsuits targeted at trans shoppers who had not undergone gender-affirming operations and wished to conceal their genitalia.

Advertisement
A large crowd of people outside a brick building with the “Target” logo on the side.

Source: Max Bender/Unsplash

Those calling for a boycott of the retailer also directed their ire at rainbow-themed children’s clothing emblazoned with pro-LGBTQ+ slogans.

Target Pressured into Removing “Satanic” Products

Anti-trans sentiment seemed to be very much at the heart of last year’s Target boycott. Target was pressured into removing some items from the apparel brand of transgender designer Erik Carnell.

Advertisement
A closed eye with eye makeup in the colors of the transgender flag.

Source: Kyle/Unsplash

This came after some conservative news outlets and Republican politicians labeled Carnell and his designs as “Satanic” and falsely claimed his products were marketed to children.

Target Removing Items From Certain Stores

Threats to staffers and the spreading calls to boycott the chain at the time prompted Target to pull some of its Pride merchandise and scale back its in-store displays.

Multiple multicolored rainbow flags held aloft against a blue sky in the street.

Source: daniel james/Unsplash

To try and get ahead of any similar controversy this year, and to prevent the same sort of financial losses, Target management announced that it would be limiting the number of stores this year that will be offering LGBTQ+ merchandise.

Advertisement

Similar Backlash to Brands Trying to Be More Inclusive

Target isn’t the only brand that has faced backlash in recent years over Pride-centric marketing and product offerings. The backlash mirrors that directed at Bud Light.

Large blue truck covered in Bud Light branding and images of bottles of the beer.

Source: MobiusDaXter/Wikimedia Commons

The Anheuser Busch-owned beer brand sparked controversy for partnering with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. The company’s response to the hate-filled and transphobic backlash that followed was tepid at best, merely saying it “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people,” without directly addressing the hateful rhetoric or signaling support for Mulvaney.

Advertisement

Target’s Earnings Hit

Target’s motivation for being incredibly careful with how far they push their pro-Pride merchandising is obvious — money.

A pair of hands organizes coins into shacks. There are two stacks of equal size, one smaller stack, as a stack of pennies in the person’s hand about to be set down.

Source: Towfiqu Barbhuiya/Unsplash

Reported earnings for the brand fell short of Wall Street estimates amidst customers scaling back their spending as they feel the hit on inflation. They can’t face another boycott and the impact that would cause alongside already declining sales.

Advertisement

Plummeting Stock Price

Target’s stock has plummeted recently also, perhaps somewhat in response to last year’s Pride controversy. This stock decline is unsurprising given the downward sales trend.

A green line graph on a computer screen, with the line spiking up and down with peaks and troughs as it moves horizontally across the screen.

Source: Markus Winkler/Unsplash

The situation is a pretty bleak one for Target. Since November 2021, the brand has lost market share to rivals like Walmart and Amazon and seen its stock price fall by more than 40%.

Advertisement

Other Brands Showing More Pride

Despite Target’s struggles and other brands’ noticeable trepidation regarding Pride merchandising this year, not every company is being quite so cagy.

Top left corner of a computer screen browsing the Walmart website with the Walmart logo prominent.

Source: Marques Thomas/Unsplash

Walmart, one of Target’s main competitors, has been promoting its own new Pride apparel on social media. They’re not nearly as reserved as some brands, with promotions for the “Pride Always” collection featuring products like a tote bag with the slogan “totes gay” and a “beyond gender” notebook.

Advertisement

Brands Are Perhaps More Subdued This Pride … And That May Be a Good Thing

Analysts and advocates agree that in general, Pride marketing is far more toned down this year compared to previous years. But some see a silver lining in this. Despite certain brands reacting to calls for boycotts by eliminating Pride entirely from their strategy, some see the new low-key landscape of Pride support as a move from one-off gimmicky marketing to ongoing, more enduring allyship.

Closeup of the shoes and lower legs of a group of people standing on the street. The person most prominent in the frame has a pair of Nike sneakers over multi-colored rainbow socks.

Source: Antonio Vivacer/Unsplash

For instance, while Nike won’t offer a pride collection for the first time since 1999 after receiving criticism for its marketing partnership with a transgender athlete, they say they will instead focus programming on ongoing support for the LGBTQ+ community.

Advertisement

Retailers Cagey Amidst Cultural Division

The move by Target and other brands to be more reserved in the Pride activities marks an attempt to navigate a cultural divide among consumers, not wishing to fully alienate any segment of a potential customer base.

Mural on a white wall of a rainbow with the message “Love is Love” written across it.

Source: Yoav Hornung/Unsplash

While it may be depressingly contrary to the spirit of Pride to be so cagey about showing support and advocacy to the LGBTQ+ community, it makes sense as a financial decision. At least these big brands haven’t had a complete U-turn and denounced any support whatsoever for Pride.

Advertisement