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Target slashed this year's Pride collection after last year's backlash, leaving some LGBTQ+ insiders feeling alienated

Dominick Reuter   

Target slashed this year's Pride collection after last year's backlash, leaving some LGBTQ+ insiders feeling alienated

On Tuesday, May 14th, members of Target's LGBTQ+ employee resource group logged on for a much-anticipated virtual meeting to preview the 2024 Pride collection, two council members told Business Insider.

A few days before that meeting, following the news that only a fraction of stores would be carrying Pride merchandise this year, VP of Brand Management Carlos Saavedra promised to "share all the details" about the celebration in an internal preview.

The two council members said that in prior years, members of the 3,700-person group, known internally as the Pride+ Council, were able to participate in selecting vendors and products to feature in the collection.

Pride+ Council members joined the May 14 meeting to find that only presenters could speak, comments were disabled, and no products were shown, the two council sources told BI.

It's a far cry from just over a year ago, the members said, when Target was doing something that few large companies had ever done: embracing both halves of the LGBTQ+ acronym.

For two years in a row, the company had offered a line of functional garments and a range of apparel and accessories boasting slogans that acknowledged and celebrated transgender and nonbinary members of the community.

By this time last year, Pride products had already been on sale online for weeks by mid-May, and each of the retailer's nearly 2,000 US stores had displays near their front entrances.

This year, the online collection that once boasted over 2,600 items now consists of several dozen items — some rainbow-themed apparel and accessories, a few alcoholic drinks, pet gear, and a cutting board emblazoned with "It's Giving Charcuterie."

Target declined to address specific questions when contacted by Business Insider and instead referred to its previous statement on the Pride 2024 collection.

"We have long offered benefits and resources for the community, and we will have internal programs to celebrate Pride 2024," the statement said. "Additionally, we will offer a collection of products for Pride, including adult apparel, home products, food and beverage, which has been curated based on guest insights and consumer research."

At a time of the year when corporations are often accused of "rainbow washing" for Pride month in June, members of the LGBTQ+ community held Target up as an example of what true ally-ship could look like.

But late last May, conservative protesters took aim at Target's Pride collection, falsely claiming the merchandise was "Satanic" and sexualized minors.

In response to what it said was a mounting security threat, the retailer pulled merch and shrunk in-store displays, alienating some of its LGBTQ+ employees, customers, and vendor partners in the process.

Even as conservative groups claimed victory, the backlash continued in the form of a shareholder lawsuit and related shareholder proposal arguing that the company's diversity initiatives are harmful to shareholder value.

Target says it rejects those assertions and is defending itself in court.

However, the two Pride Council members and multiple LGBTQ+ vendors who worked on past Pride collections told BI they feel the company hasn't done enough to rebuild its relationship with its LGBTQ+ partners over the past year.

Erik Carnell, the trans designer whose Target merchandise was pulled due to Satanic references elsewhere in his portfolio, told BI the company declined to provide him an explanation about its decision beyond what was included in its public statements, and he hasn't heard from them since.

"I don't expect to hear from them again," he said.

"I don't doubt that there are people working high up in Target who do genuinely care about or are part of the LGBT community and did honestly want to support the trans community, but these people aren't necessarily responsible for certain decisions," he continued. "At the end of the day, the pink dollar isn't quite as strong as the Christian Right dollar."

Humankind, the trans-friendly swimwear brand that was at the center of the firestorm, first began working with Target in 2021 in preparation for the 2022 Pride collection, according to founder Hayley Marzullo.

After Humankind products were pulled from shelves, a Target representative did reach out to Marzullo, according to emails seen by BI.

"We understand this has an impact to you and your team and wanted to check in to see how you're doing and if there are any questions you might have," the Target representative said.

The emails show that Target and Marzullo discussed a year-round assortment of gender-inclusive apparel in partnership with Humankind, but Marzullo told BI the idea eventually stalled.

She said she eventually learned through a non-Target source that Humankind was not going to be part of this year's June collection.

"Everything was set to continue to expand," Marzullo said. "We spent time and energy developing new products and new colors, only to be cut."

Leslie Garrard, the CEO of TomboyX, said her company was invited to sell through the marketplace after a successful 2022 in-store collaboration.

The brand still has over 60 items listed online — not in stores — but Garrard told BI she has noticed some items delisted in recent weeks, including a Pride rainbow design and a tucking underwear bottom. TomboyX fulfills all orders itself as Target does not generally stock or ship marketplace products.

"If you're taking your Pride assortment and you're taking out a ton of apparel, or you're just associating Pride with cake mixes, tablecloths, and dog leashes, you're not really showing up for your community," Garrard said.

One of the employees involved in the Pride Council told BI that a lot of LGBTQ+ people, herself included, joined Target specifically because of its stated support for trans and queer rights.

Target's handling of Pride this year so far tells her that "they are here for the L, G, and B, but not the T, Q, I, A, and plus," she said. "This feels very much like a betrayal."

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