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Target Removes Pride Merchandise in Face of Workplace Violence Threats

After receiving threats to workplace safety, retail giant Target pulled some of its Pride products from the shelves.

"Target, one of the largest American general-merchandise retailers that operates more than 1,900 stores nationwide, said it has offered products celebrating Pride Month, typically in June, for more than a decade,” The Washington Post reported.

However, this year's collection resulted in “threats imperiling the safety of its staff,” according to a statement from Target spokeswoman Kayla Castañeda to the Post.

The decision was made after some customers confronted employees and knocked over in-store Pride displays, according to the Associated Press. Other threats were made via social media videos, which were apparently created from inside Target stores.

“Target’s Pride month collection has also been the subject of several misleading videos in recent weeks, with social media users falsely claiming the retailer is selling ‘tuck-friendly’ bathing suits designed for kids or in kids’ sizes,” the AP noted.

Far-right social media accounts—such as Libs of TikTok and Gays Against Groomers—have actively moved to generate anti-LGBTQ sentiment and toxicity against brands celebrating or supporting Pride Month, according to USA Today.

“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,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD (an LGBTQ+ advocacy group), in a statement to USA Today.

The decision has already negatively impacted some LGBTQ employees, with some frustrated over how the company is handling the situation both internally and customer-facing. “An LGBTQ employee said there was no mention of safety in the display-removal instructions they received via an internal messaging system,” Business Insider reported. Instead, the instructions said the decision was made to help the store and organization meet sales goals.

“Target declined to specify Wednesday which items it was removing but among the ones that garnered the most attention were ‘tuck friendly’ women’s swimsuits that allow trans women who have not had gender-affirming operations to conceal their private parts,” the AP reported.

Stores removed Pride merchandise from the fronts of retail sites to the back in some Southern U.S. stores after the confrontations. Exactly which stores will be shifting their merchandising arrangements is unclear; an unidentified spokesperson told Reuters news agency that the products are being removed from all stores and Target’s website, according to BBC News.

In a separate explainer, the AP noted that the company did not pull its entire collection of Pride merchandise, but rather just select items before 1 June.

Retail Pride merchandise and displays have expanded in U.S. stores for about a decade, however, transgender issues and rights have developed as a contentious topic in U.S. state legislatures in 2023. The issues have ranged from athletic participation, bathrooms, and gender-affirming health care.