Every June for Pride Month, companies show their support for the LGBTQ+ community in the form of Pride products, logos and other marketing. While some companies use their profits to support the LGBTQ+ community, others are accused of “rainbow washing”. Rainbow washing is a term meant to describe companies that make “superficial LGBTQ-friendly gestures meant to elicit positive feelings about a brand in order to sell something, with no real support going to the community.” This can be in the form of selling products with rainbow colors, marketing with same-sex couples or changing a logo to incorporate a rainbow theme when the company isn’t supporting queer staff or consumers. This could be donating to anti-LGBTQ+ organizations or political campaigns, not hiring or supporting queer employees, or not donating any money to support the community.
Not all companies rainbow wash. For example, TEVA and Abercrombie & Fitch have donated $25,000 and $400,000 in profit from their respective Pride collections and campaigns to the Trevor Project. In 2021, Nike sold their “Be True” sneakers and donated $625,000 to LGBTQ+ grant recipients. Apple created a pride version of their Apple Watch wristband, along with the company and their openly gay CEO avidly supporting LGBTQ+ causes and opposing discriminatory legislation.
In years past, Target has faced backlash and controversy for rainbow washing and creating Pride merchandise that was out of touch with the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. After large criticism from their 2021 collection, the company hired a team of LGBTQIA+ designers to “authentically represent and celebrate the community, its culture and intersectionality” for their 2022 Pride collection.
Now, Target’s 2023 Pride collection has caused major backlash for different reasons. With a rise in anti-trans legislation this year, Target faced conservative backlash and violence for their trans-inclusive clothing and Pride wear. One source of backlash was the Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC), which issued a statement addressed to the company “on the disturbing news that they have partnered with a Satanic designer in promoting demonic paraphernalia in their stores.” Claims of “demonic paraphernalia” come after Target’s partnership with the LGBTQ+ brand Abprallen that makes designs featuring pastel skulls, gothic imagery and Satan, even though none of Abprallen’s products with Target feature satanic imagery.
In response, on May 24, Target released a statement addressing “threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work,” and said that given the backlash they’d be “removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.”
The company declined to specify which specific products they’d be removing, but it has included Abprallen’s products and their collection of swimsuits for trans women. Their removal of items has garnered a second wave of controversy from the LGBTQ+ community and activists due to the company “caving to anti-LGBTQ+ customers who tipped over displays and expressed outrage over gender-fluid bathing suits.”
Kelley Robinson, the President of the Human Rights Campaign, released a statement following Target’s on May 24. Her statement included calls for Target to put their Pride products out on display, not pushing them into a “proverbial closet” because that is “what the bullies want.” She addressed the growing threats to the LGBTQ+ community and noted that “extremist groups and individuals work to divide us and ultimately don’t just want rainbow products to disappear, they want us to disappear.”
Robinson addressed the need for businesses to play a larger role than ever in increasing LGBTQ+ inclusion and representation, and Target has been celebrating Pride for over a decade. The Human Rights campaign believes “it’s time that Target stands with us and doubles-down on their commitment to us” and “businesses that are silent or are retreating at a time when anti-LGBTQ+ hatred, from statehouses to social media platforms, is at an all-time high are abdicating their responsibility to stand by their values of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Since May, Target has not released any new statements, but shares in the company have dropped over 2 percent and have lost $13.8 billion in stock. Some outlets like Fox News have reported these losses are due to the Pride collection, but others like CBS News emphasize the losses are a part of a large wave of retail stocks sinking.