Editorial: Target's the definition of 'performative'

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday May 29, 2024
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Target has most of its 2024 Pride collection on its website. Image: Screengrab via target.com
Target has most of its 2024 Pride collection on its website. Image: Screengrab via target.com

We have allies and haters. Generally, the LGBTQ community is quick to spot the difference. Then there are the "performative" allies, those whose actions don't measure up to their words, like Target, the retail giant that buckled under pressure from right-wingers last year during Pride Month and has maintained that weak retreat this year.

Target, the sixth-largest retailer in the U.S., according to the National Retail Federation, has taken pains to point to its pro-LGBTQ employee policies and the fact that the Minnesota-based company will "have a presence" at Pride events in Minneapolis and elsewhere. "Most importantly, we want to create a welcoming and supportive environment for our LGBTQIA+ team members, which reflects our culture of care for the over 400,000 people who work at Target," the company stated in response to our questions about the Pride collection 2023 debacle. "We have long offered benefits and resources for the community, and we will have internal programs to celebrate Pride 2024."

All of that is great — we certainly want companies to offer benefits and resources to their LGBTQ employees. The national Human Rights Campaign gave Target a score of 95 (out of a possible 100) in its Corporate Equality Index for 2023-24. But when it comes to front-facing actions that customers see on a daily basis when they walk into a Target store, well, the company falls far short. In other words, it's performative.

Last year, Target abruptly shifted its long-standing Pride display practice and relocated the merchandise to the back area of stores or moved it entirely online. That was because it gave in to conservative haters who posted nasty comments on social media because Target dared to sell merchandise — much of it created by LGBTQ designers — that really spoke to LGBTQ customers, and was cute. After that fiasco ended up pleasing no one, this year Target decided it would not sell Pride collection merchandise in many stores, particularly those in conservative red states in the South, and most of the items are for purchase only online.

We reported on four of the artists whom Target approached in 2022 to design merchandise for the company's 2023 Pride collection. In separate Zoom interviews, Jennifer Serrano and Veronica Vasquez, a queer Latina couple who own JZD, and Ash Molesso and Chase Needham, a queer couple who own Ash & Chase, spoke about the excitement they felt when they were asked to create items for Target. They all expressed frustration and anger as the events unfolded last year that led to many of their items being removed from stores and sold only online. These companies are both small businesses that created some really great items for Target. They said they were given creative control and that the Target staff they worked with never indicated there would be problems.

Then, when the criticism came raining down, Target officials pulled a bait and switch on the designers. First they claimed they had to move the LGBTQ merchandise so that they could promote swimwear. Then they changed course and said it was due to employee safety. The swimwear claim was bogus. Anyone who's been to a Target knows that this time of year swimwear is always at the front. In many instances, the Pride collections were nearby.

The employee safety matter is obviously more serious. We have no doubt that Target employees, especially in those red states, were met with MAGA-like outbursts from crazed shoppers, many of whom filmed their profanity-laden tirades and posted the videos on social media. This, of course, fed the right-wing victim machine, as Jon Stewart so aptly described it on one of his recent episodes of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. In fact, as Stewart pointed out, the right-wingers who constantly complain they are being victims of cancel culture aren't canceled at all. (Well, except for Republican Liz Cheney, who dared to speak out against former President Donald Trump and lost her Wyoming congressional seat because of it, as Stewart noted.)

"Trump is the real cancel culture," Stewart said.

Instead of caving in to the haters, Target should have kept its Pride collections up and hired more in-store security. Instead of giving up by having most of its 2024 Pride collection online, Target should have gone back to having displays in stores. But it was too afraid of what happened to Bud Light, which suffered a drop in sales last year after partnering with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. The beer giant provided a single can of Bud Light with Mulvaney's picture on it for her to crack open on social media, and all hell broke loose. To the point of transphobe Kid Rock showing himself shooting at cases of the product. Target, too, has suffered a sales decline for the last year, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported. The article did not attribute the decrease to LGBTQ issues, but rather price increases, according to CEO Brian Cornell.

So instead of taking the harder road, Target chose the easier path followed by Bud Light's parent company, Anheuser-Busch, a subsidiary of Belgian brewer AB InBev. And like Bud Light, Target basically threw the LGBTQ designers under the bus. Fortunately, in the case of JZD, they did not have to pay for the countless items that went unsold; Molesso and Needham of Ash & Chess got the rights back to their designs. But the bottom line is that Target did not stand up for them. It did not issue a statement of support for the LGBTQ community — something that both couples said they asked for — and kept giving them the runaround as the designers received hate mail.

Vasquez told the B.A.R. that Target "is the definition of a performative ally," and, yes, that's the definition of performative. We hope that Target executives can somehow see through the manure spread by the right-wing haters and get back on track for its 2025 Pride collection. It needs to once again be loud and proud.

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