Target Pride artist responds after stores pull collection: ‘They haven’t contacted me once’

Erik Carnell

An artist who designed items for Target’s 2023 Pride collection has shamed the company’s response to anti-LGBTQ+ backlash, which saw the US store remove its collection from many of its stores.

Queer artist Erik C, who was commissioned to create some of the 2023 Pride items alongside other queer creators, claims he wasn’t informed that several of his designs would be pulled from shelves or moved to the back of stores.

This action was taken following violent threats by right-wing extremists, angry at the store supporting Pride Month and LGBTQ+ lives.

“They haven’t tried to contact me once,” Erik told PinkNews.

“In terms of informing me what I can do with my product, I’m very, very, very low priority.”

Erik’s Target collection includes t-shirts, badges and bags, with pro LGBTQ+ messages.

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The American store chain announced it would be making changes to its Pride collection in 2023 following intense right-wing backlash over several pro-LGBTQ+ products.

A spokesperson said that stores had “experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and wellbeing,” which resulted in its decision to remove a few of the clothes and accessories that were originally on offer.

But the store has been criticised for “caving” to right-wing attacks.

Comparisons have been made to a recent wave of anti-LGBTQ+ backlash after beer company Bud Light sponsored trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

Erik, who is from the UK, said the collection had started production “around a year ago” after he was contacted by a distributor to create designs for Target.

“I designed a bunch of items, put together a pitch, and we ended up getting a handful of those designs manufactured into pins and bags and tanks tops and a sweatshirt.”

He said the opportunity was the biggest in his career and that he was “incredibly excited” to showcase designs similar to those he sells in his online store.

But Erik became concerned almost immediately after the launch of the collection, due to the online response.

“I have been keeping an eye on the website,” he said. “Because my stuff was getting review bombed by conservatives, giving it one star reviews, and so I was keeping an eye on that.”

He said Target “haven’t contacted me once”.

“Every so often, one or two or my products would be taken down from the website, or the link to my brand page… with no explanation or communication.”

He said the company should have done more to anticipate anti-LGBTQ+ backlash and to protect its members of staff.

“I think it was anticipated that there would be pushback, I don’t think anybody anticipated that it would be quite this extreme,” he said. “I think with Target, it’s very much a case of everyone scrambling to do what they think is the best thing for the next five minutes.

“I don’t think they have a plan for what they’re going to do going ahead with the rest of this collection.

“They’ve already taken down a number of Pride displays, mostly in the south, or moved into different areas [of the stores], instructing their employees to do this in the space of five or six hours.”

He added that, while the decision was undoubtedly disappointing, he could see “from an objective standpoint” the company’s priority to keep “employees safe and keeping their finances safe.”

“If I lived in a country where gun violence was as prevalant as in American and I owned a corporation like Target, I might also do what they’re doing.”

Footage shared online shows people attack Pride displays inside Target stores.

However, despite Target’s response to the right-wing backlash, Erik completely stood by pro-LGBTQ+ activists’ criticism of the decision, saying it’s “entirely justified” and that a different approach could have been taken.

“I think that, with the current political climate in America, huge companies like Target absolutely need to take a very clear stand on how they feel about LGBTQ+ people. Walmart has a Pride collection as well, but that hasn’t seemed to receive any negative press.”

Erik also urged those who were criticising Target to also help by supporting LGBTQ+ community-driven designers, as well as ensuring the safety of queer people.

“Ensuring trans people, particularly trans people of colour are looked after and cared for, making sure that local queer clubs, bars, cafes are getting the funding that they need, I think that’s far more important right now.”

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